Aging with Grace: A Stage of Strengths and Opportunities
Healthy aging is the development and maintenance of optimal mental, social, and physical well-being and function in older adults. This will most likely be achieved when communities are safe, promote health and well-being and use health services and community programs to prevent or minimize disease.
While the shift from a young to an older age structure reflects a successful record in health improvements in the country, the fact that individuals are reaching the older ages in unprecedented numbers and with varying needs and resources is likely to pose many policy challenges arising out of increasing proportions of elderly and decreasing proportions of children. This trend leads to a decreasing support base combined with higher levels of old age dependency. Fewer working age persons supporting more number of elders, greater likelihood of experiencing the loss of one’s spouse, especially for women, and low levels of literacy are some of the sources of vulnerability that are faced in old age.
At the same time, the transition away from a young age structure is not uniform across the country. Some states, particularly in the southern region are at the forefront of this transition. The shift to an older age structure has important implications for the country as well as for elders and their families. There is therefore a need to promote harmony between development and demographic change by increasing the economic and social sources of support for the elderly.
Addressing the problems :
Old age presents with special and unique problems but these have been aggravated due to the unprecedented speed of socioeconomic transformation leading to a number of changes in different aspects of living conditions. The needs and problems of the elderly vary significantly according to their age, socioeconomic status, health, living status and other such background characteristics .For elders living with their families – still the dominant living arrangement – their economic security and well-being largely depends on the economic capacity of the family unit .
Gradual nuclearisation of the joint family, erosion of morality in economy, changes in the value system, migration of youth to urban areas for jobs or work and increasing participation of women in the workforce are important factors responsible for the marginalization of older people . As a result, the elderly depend on ‘money-order economy’ and their intimacy with their children is only from a distance . The many physiological, economic, emotional and interpersonal facets of ageing influence the social functioning and well-being of individuals in different ways. Changing traditional values, mobility of the younger generation, changes in family structure and the role of women has contributed to a ‘crisis in caring’ for the elderly .
Many facets of the generation gap contribute to the marginalization of older persons and their wisdom by the younger generation, leading to conflicts, lack of respect, decline of authority and neglect .Given the rate of population ageing that developing countries are experiencing, there is a need to focus on ageing issues and to take effective measures for improvement in the quality of life of elderly in general and elderly women in particular. The rural poor, who mostly work in the informal or unorganized sector face insecure employment, insufficient income, and lack access to any form of social security and good quality and affordable health care.
Generally, they have to pay a large percentage of their income for even basic healthcare services. Economic status continues throughout one’s life, it is of special importance among the elderly whose livelihood depends on their physical ability and who do not have any provision for economic security. Social security pensions, though meager in amount, create a sense of financial security for the elderly. However, the proportion of elderly who benefit from these schemes has to be improved significantly. While developing countries continues to provide family support in old age, the forces of globalization have touched many a life leading to migration of children to cities or abroad .
These days, due to a change in family structure, the elderly are not given adequate care and attention by their family members. This trend is fast emerging partly due to growth of “individualism” in modern industrial life and also due to the materialistic thinking among the younger generation. These changes lead to greater alienation and isolation of the elderly from their family members and from society at large. Due to the changes in the family structure and the value system, respect, honour, status and authority, which the elderly used to enjoy in traditional society, has gradually started declining, and in the process the elderly are relegated to an insignificant place in our society .
Though the younger generation takes care of their elders, inspite of several economic and social problems, it is their living conditions and the quality of care, which differ widely from society to society. The loss of the decision-making power is experienced more by those who have surrendered their property in favour of younger members and thus have no control over the sources of income.As quoted by Sara Teasdale, “when I can look life in eyes , grow calm and very cold wise, life will have given me the truth, and taken in exchange my youth “. As older people become aware of their inability and incompetency, they begin to revise their ideas about themselves. They also have to start coping with reduced income, change of status, loss of friends and spouse and lastly, their waning physical health.
Psychological changes accompany the passing of years, slowness of thinking, impairment of memory, decrease in enthusiasm, increase in caution in all respects and alteration of sleep patterns. Social pressure and inadequate resources create many dysfunctional features of old age. Further, it is well known that the incidence of mental illness is much higher among the elderly than among the young. The psychological problems encountered by retired persons are much greater and the impact on the individual is entirely different as compared to those in the unorganized sectors, indicating significant association between sound financial position and successful adjustment.
It is obvious that people become more and more susceptible to chronic diseases, physical disabilities and mental incapacities in their old age. As age advances, due to deteriorating physiological conditions ,the body becomes more prone to illness.
The idea that old age is an age of ailments and physical infirmities is deeply rooted in the the peoples mind and many of the sufferings and physical troubles which are curable are accepted as natural and inevitable
As quoted by Betty Friedan “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”Healthy aging is a lifelong concept that encompasses the mental, social and physical well-being of people and communities. Healthy communities address basic needs, promote optimal health and well-being, foster civic and social engagement and support the independence of the elderly. To accomplish this, a broad-based, collaborative approach is required of policymakers, service providers, businesses, civic and faith-based organizations, individuals and families.
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