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The Phenomenon of Aging Essay

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Aging is an existential phenomenon, which is a natural part of development of universal significance (Erickson, 1963 & Havighurst, 1959, in Ponzo, 1992). It is a biological, psychological, and sociological phenomenon. People have specific tasks to accomplish, as they grow older. For example, Erickson views middle age and late adulthood as a time when the individual must develop a sense of generativity and ego integrity or become stagnant and despairing. Jung (1969) believes spirituality is a domain that those over 40 are uniquely qualified to explore.

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Despite an increased understanding of aging and an ever-growing number of older adults, the elderly have to deal with age-based expectations and prejudices. As with other minority groups, elderly individuals are subject to negative stereotypes and discrimination. For instance, “older people often are tagged with uncomplimentary labels such as senile, absentminded, and helpless” (McCracken, Hayes, & Dell, 1997, in Gladding, 2000). This negative attitudes and stereotypes, which are known as ageism, prevent intimate encounters with people in different age groups and sometimes lead to outright discrimination (Butler & Lewis, 1973; Bulter et al., 1998).

In a review of attitudes towards older individuals, Atkinson and Hackett (1998) found that elderly persons are considered to be rigid, and not adaptable in their thought processes; thought to be in poor health and not very intelligent or alert; inappropriate to have sexual interest or activity. Negative attitude toward elderly persons were present in college students, and among medical staff who feel uncomfortable around elderly patients. Jokes about old age abound and are primarily negative in nature.

These negative stereotypes lead to elderly peoples being viewed as less valued members of society. Older women are even more likely to be viewed negatively by society as a whole. Elderly individuals may come to accept these views and suffer a loss of self-esteem (Sue & Sue, 1999). Unfortunately, individuals who are growing old often deny and dread the process, a phenomenon that Friedan (1993, in Belsky, 1999) calls “the age mystique. ” Even counselors are not immune to ageist attitudes (Belsky, 1999). Healthy Old Age

Old age can be emotionally healthy and a satisfying time of life with a minimum of physical and mental impairment. Butler et al. (1998) observed that besides the general lack of interest in older persons, science and medicine have been more concerned with treating “what went wrong” than with clarifying the complex, interwoven elements necessary to produce and support health. Medicine and the behavioral sciences have mirrored societal attitudes by presenting old age as a grim litany of physical and emotional illness.

Until 1960, most of the medical, psychological, psychiatric, and social work literature on the aged was based on experience with the sick and the institutionalized, even though only 5% of the older people were confined to institutions. Decline of the individual was the key concept. Fortunately, research studies that have concentrated on the healthy aged give indications of positive potential for the entire age group. What is healthy old age? In 1994, the World Health Organization first defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

” This represents an ideal with many possible interpretations. But the broad elements of health -physical, emotional, and social- is the framework in which one can begin to analyze what is going on well in addition to what is going wrong. The attempt must be made to locate those conditions that enable humans to thrive, not merely survive. The unique developmental task in old age is to clarify, deepen, and find use for what one has already attained in a lifetime of learning and adapting (Butler et al.1998).

Erickson (1963) stated it as ego integrity, the psychosocial task of later life involving accepting one’s life in order to accept impending death. The possessor of this integrity is ready to defend the dignity of his or her own life style against all odds, and they know that life has meaning. Paradoxically this sense of personal significance allows them to accept their insignificance in life-that is, the reality of death (Belsky, 1999). According to Atchely (1994) & Butler et al.

(1998) the ability of the older person to adapt and thrive is contingent on physical health, personality, earlier life experiences, and on the societal supports he or she receives; adequate finances, shelter, medical care, social roles, recreation, and the like. As is true of children, adolescents, and middle-aged, it is imperative that older people continue to develop and change in a flexible manner if health is to be promoted and maintained. Optimal growth and adaptation can occur throughout the life cycle when the individual’s strength and potentials are recognized, reinforced and encouraged by the environment in which he or she lives.

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