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“Perceptions of the aged’s worth, as well as their demographic and socioeconomic status have varied enormously according to historical time and societal context “(Achenbaum & Stearns, 1978). As discussed in the text, attitudes and perspectives on older women and men throughout history have been both positive and negative. For example, the Greeks and the Romans viewed the aging process as unappealing, whereas Native American groups viewed their elders in a more positive light and they respected and valued them (Bonder & Bello-Haas, 2018).
In contemporary society, because I have more than a few members of my immediate and extended family in the 65+ age range appearing to be living life to the fullest, I do not believe I have any preconceived perceptions about this population. These individuals that I refer to are my role models for successful aging. “Older adults’ attitudes and behavior differ in ways than can dramatically affect their quality of life and life satisfaction” (Bonder & Bello-Haas, 2018). As I reflect on these family members, I notice that they accept the physical and psychosocial changes that are a natural progression of the aging process.
For example, when their loss of hearing began to negatively impact their daily lives, they were proactive in pursuing medical help and now wear hearing aids. Also, in retirement, they pursued new interests and cultivated a new group of new friends. Therefore, I see these people as making proactive decisions that influence their aging and daily lives.
Of course, on the other hand, there are those individuals that do not appear to age well.
So many factors impact the aging process. Components such as genetics, socioeconomic, health care, personality, and lifestyle choices. For example, they may suffer from painful diseases, live in isolation, or simply make poor lifestyle choices. They may choose to smoke, eat poorly, ignore doctor’s orders, or fail to exercise. Each experiences aging uniquely.
As a professional, it is important to cognizant of the significant changes that occur during later life as we treat individuals in this age bracket. “Later life is characterized by significant change —change in physical capacity, change in roles, change in family constellations, change in living arrangements. All these changes can present daunting challenges in the absence of a sense of purpose and meaning” (Bonder & Bello-Haas, 2018). Therefore my role as an occupational therapist will be to help my clients navigate the aging process by helping them adapt to these inevitable changes so they can continue to live life to the fullest.
I believe working with the elderly is very similar to working with other populations because each client/patient is unique. We treat the ‘whole person’ and age is one of the factors to be considered. If we understand that aging is a process that each person experiences in their own way, then preconceived notions should not exist or interfere with treatment. Aging is a continuum and occupational therapists need to be knowledgeable at all points on this continuum to best serve our clients. My therapeutic use of self is encouraged, motivated and determined by the set of client factors that I am presented with during each treatment session. Whether I am treating a 5, 15, 35, or 75 year old, therapeutic use of self is driven by the set of circumstances at that moment with a specific client that will demonstrate certain characteristics. No matter what age, no two people are exactly alike, so therapists need to be well versed in all aspects of human development.
During my fieldwork experience with older adults with developmental disabilities, I look at each person as a unique individual with unique characteristics that will influence and guide my therapeutic use of self. Therefore, preconceived notions about the aging process do not have any relevance in treatment.
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