Aging is an inevitability of life. With age man exchanges the physical prowess of youth for the wisdom that comes through experiencing the trials and triumphs of life. As an individual enters late adulthood, age 65 and older, they experience many physical, emotional and mental changes never previously encountered and which may require an adaptation of their earlier lifestyle. Some of these late adulthood changes are primary and secondary aging, issues regarding health and wellness, family and personal relationships, and the milestone of retirement.
Understanding these changes can help late age adults better cope with the challenges and opportunities that arising during advanced aging. Primary and secondary aging are the two basic forms of aging. Primary aging is the gradual and inevitable deterioration of the body over time. As you grow older, the body produces fewer trophic (hormonal) substances, such as estrogen and testosterone. The result is thinning and graying hair, wrinkled skin, a decline in height and loss of bone mass and muscle fiber.
An individual may experience a decline in vision, sense of smell, touch and taste and a weakening of the immune system. Primary aging is unavoidable. Secondary aging, however, is aging that occurs as a result of lifestyle choices. The body experiences secondary again as a result of lack of physical activity, unhealthy activities (smoking and drinking), poor nutrition, exposure to hazardous materials and disease. (Pearce, 2012, p. 1) Healthy habits and daily routines are essential for promoting health and wellness into late adulthood.
Smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, and overeating cost many individuals their ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle as they age. Exercise and a healthy diet avert many common diseases and increases energy in the elderly. Changing daily habits, even late in life can help diminish some of the effects of aging. (“Psychological Musings,” 2011, para. 2) Understanding the aging process, and the contribution of genetics and individual health choices can help the individual make better choices to life a healthy and long life.
Although genetics and the effects of primary and secondary aging play a significant role in the health of an individual during the years of late age adulthood, an individual’s mental health and sense of wellbeing are significant to the quality of life of an aging adult. Individuals who modify destructive lifestyles and make healthier choices, as well as enjoy time with friends, family members and a socially active life will experience an improvement in their health and an overall sense of wellbeing.
A positive sense of wellbeing is aids in preparation for Late for the final years of the lifespan and helps individual to refrain from stereotypical thoughts associated with the negativity of ageism, which can contribute to their premature decline. With technology and high quality medical care, aging adults continue to be a valuable resource for younger generations and in doing so enjoy the most from their later years in life (“Psychological Musings,” 2011, para. 1) Another important part of the aging process is the role of family and relationships.
According to family gerontologists who study the social ties of older adults, particularly their family relationships, individuals who have rich and varied social lives thrive in comparison to those who live isolated from family members and friends. Maturity in adulthood is often judged by one’s capacity for love and for work; later-life adults exhibit tremendous capacity for both. Gerontologists have illustrated how work—both paid and unpaid—remains pivotal for shaping aging adults’ identities and ties with others.
Furthermore, an older persons’ participation in social relations and their engagement in productive work create a context that enhances their visions of themselves and in their world. (“Understanding the family lives of older adults,” 2013, p. 1) Encouraging and maintaining healthy familial relationships as well as a sense of purpose associated with working ad service aid in enjoying late age adulthood. While the physical, emotional and social aspects with aging may be experienced in varying degrees and in a variety of ways, the milestone of etirement is a prospect that is universal in the Western world. In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Previously, low life expectancy and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until death. Nowadays most developed countries have systems to provide pensions on retirement in old age, which may be sponsored by employers and/or the state. Today, retirement with a pension is considered a right of the worker in many societies. “Retirement,” 2013, p. 1) Retirement is a milestone which, to most, marks the entrance to “old age”, the point at which an individual is socially recognized for their long years of service and permitted to spend the remainder of their “golden years” enjoying the fruits of their labors. While this perspective is an ideal, retirement carries with it a social status that can be both beneficial, when viewed as a reward, and detrimental, when considered by the retiree to be a sign of being obsolete.
Preparing for the changes that come with retirement, and in this day and age the inability to retire due to economic hardships, are vital to physical, mental and social wellbeing of an aging adult. The process of aging is universal. All men will age, and in doing so, all men will face the effects of primary and secondary aging, issues regarding health and wellbeing, the importance of family and personal relationships, and more likely than not, the prospect of retirement.
However, there is a stigma associated with advanced aging that does not attach itself to the universal inevitabilities associated with other life stages. Studies, and the example of previous generation, teach us that contrary to societal expectations, advanced age experiences are not to be wholly feared. If understood, prepared for and recognized as natural elements of a new stage in life, just as those that preceded it, the experiences of late age adulthood can be just a rewarding as any other life stage, if not more so, given the years of knowledge that can only come through time and experiences.