Decreasing population growth rates and increasing longevity have resulted in a growing population of the elderly the world over. Caring for the steadily growing aging population is a global concern today. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2002): We are in the midst of a silent revolution. It is a revolution that extends well beyond demographics, with major economic, social, cultural, psychological and spiritual implications.
And it is a revolution that hits developing nations harder than others, and not just because the majority of older persons live in developing countries, but because the tempo of ageing there is already – and will continue to be – far more rapid. Among the developed countries, the United States of America is an example of the rapid growth of the aging population. In 1991, the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 75.
According to the U. S. Bureau of Census (1996), persons aged 65 and older formed 13% of the total population; current projections put this figure to reach about 20% between the years 2020 and 2030. Aging primarily is a physiological life-long process, starting at conception and ending with death (Kart, 1994). Persons grow old whether they like it or not. These changes, both positive and negative, place demands on the aging person’s abilities to cope with and adapt to new life situations. It is a challenge for any given society to assist their aged in coping with the new life situations they are facing.
Unfortunately, the rapid social changes taking place in society do not always lend themselves toward helping the elderly meet the demands of their life situations. For one, the attitude toward this population is not helping them cope with it as well. According to historian Fischer (1977), the old is regarded as useless, unattractive, and unwanted especially in the west. Colonial America, for example, was a place in which the old, not the youth, was exalted and venerated, honored and obeyed. Today’s America, however, is characterized by more negative than positive sentiments about aging and old age transformation.
A period of gerontophobia has slowly succeeded the era of gerontophilia (Fisher, 1977, in Doress-Worters, & Siegel, 1994). Traditional cultures have often held their elders in high regard, seeing them as storehouses of wisdom to be transmitted to the next generations; older women, especially, are often seen as healers (Doress-Worters & Siegel, 1994).
The book of Exodus (20; 12) says, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” and the book of Sirach (3; 12,13 ff.) says, “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength…” To adjust and to thrive in a new environment, the elderly need to be physically healthy, to have societal support, adequate finances, medical care, recreational facilities, and have defined social roles and the like. Agencies and private personnel which set up homes for the aged may look at the increasing number of ageing people as just business opportunities.
Most of these homes-for-the-aged may not have trained personnel to deal with the psychological and emotional problems the elderly face especially the issues related to their having to be “institutionalization”, or being “abandoned” by their children (Butler et al. , 1998). Even some counselors have the attitude that their time and energy are better utilized working with younger people who may eventually contribute to society, than wasting it on the older people (Gladding, 2000). It is unfortunate that the old have, in some sense, become the new outcasts of this society.
This study therefore, looked into the experiences of the senior citizens of Gladys Spellman in the home for the aged, their understanding or idea of well-being and the components of well being based from the perceptions of Gladys Spellman administrators. As more and more elderly are placed under institutionalized care in contemporary society, a study such as this is needed to explore this phenomenon. It would shed light into the subjective lived experiences of the aged from an administrators’ view point. This would also contribute to the literature in this area and serve as groundwork for further studies in this area.