What do you think about when you think about the elderly? Will you be like them when you grow old? Why does it seem that they react and perceive the world around them so differently from you and I? Why is it sometimes so difficult to predict and understand how they will respond to the people around them and to their surroundings?
In order to understand the elderly better, it is important to understand how some of the changes they experience as they age affect them. Here are some of the key areas of change which affect us all as we grow older.
As we grow older, bone loss, arthritis and other health issues begin to make it harder for us to participate in some activities. Other changes such as the loss of teeth may make it difficult for us to enjoy simple activities such as eating. Physical deterioration begins to reduce the types of things which we can do and enjoy.
From about the age of 40 onwards, most people start to experience some form of decline in visual ability. Some develop cataracts or glaucoma which require treatment or even surgery. Losing the ability to see is frightening and affects a person’s confidence in performing daily tasks.
Hearing loss is another common problem. Not all adjust well to it and this difficulty can result in arguments and miscommunication between the elderly and the young and an acute sense of isolation.
The ability to detect different tastes also declines with age. This is why food may seem bland to the older person.
The Cardiovascular and Nervous System
With age, changes take place in the blood vessels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease and hypertension. An older person also takes longer to respond to external stimuli. An older person crossing the road might require a longer time to do so and may not be as aware of approaching cars. Elderly people are at risk in situations such as these.
When a person retires, the loss of job titles, position and status may lead to grief, depression and diminished self-esteem. As children grow up and move away to start families of their own, older people experience changes not only professionally, but also personally and it may take time to adjust to new roles and expectations.
Without a job, a person’s income is affected. Some elderly people may need to make changes to their lifestyles to match changes in their income.
Most elderly people do not like to move to a new house or an unfamiliar environment. They usually take a longer time to adjust to new places and people. So, if a change in residence is necessary, it is important to prepare them in advance and to take their views into consideration.
Activities and Hobbies
Whilst most people think that retirement marks the ideal time to start new hobbies and activities, you need to be aware that physical limitations may mean that the elderly may not be able to participate fully in a hobby or an activity. For elderly people in this situation, life can become even more depressing and boring.
It is important to recognize that as their friends, relatives and spouses grow older and become ill or pass away that the elderly will still need our support for companionship, love and affection.
Adapted with permission from an article first published by the previous Ministry of Community, Development and Sports on Sep 2000, cyrrently known as the Ministry of Social and Family Development.