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Problems of Elderly People: Analysis of Gerontological Issues

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The term aged refers to; ‘Old,’ ‘Elderly,’ ‘Ancient,’ or ‘Antiquated.’ The Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary (1964) defined aged as ‘advanced in age.’ Crandall (1980) states that the term aged is harder to define. Ten years old is likely to think of someone as aged after the age thirty. On the other hand, a 65 years old may think as aged those individuals of 75 years of age. It is, thus difficult to decide when an individual is aged. Generally the term aged refers to: those individuals who are 65+ years of age The term ‘aged,’‘ older’ and ‘elderly’ are often used synonymously. Different countries adopt different age-specific definitions, often, those go with retirement age. “In Korea, for instance, the age of retirement in some services in 45+. In Japan and Australia, it is between 60 and 65. In India the age of retirement for government employees is 58 years and in semi-governmental institutions, it is 60 years. Therefore, in India, the term ‘aged’ could refer to those individuals who are 60+ years of age. After superannuation re-employment for a period of 5 years is given only to a chosen few. Old age is the product of the interaction of multiple influences of all earlier stages. i.e. the experience of old age will be different for the 20 million persons now over 65 years than it was for people of similar age a few years ago.

Old age is also called “later adulthood” and according to some psychologists begins at the age of fifty-one. The maximum age prescribed for treating a person as fixed old varieties. In India, the attainment of 55 years has been mostly accepted for the purpose of classifying aged persons. The census of India has accepted 55 years as the age for treating a person as ‘aged’ whereas in USA and U.K. and other western countries, in ranges from 60 to 65 years.

At the outset, it needs to be clarified that aging as it concerns an individual and a population are two distinct concepts. An individual invariably ages he/she passes through the various stages of life -such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. On the other hand the aging of a population occurs when there is an increase in the proportion of persons defined ‘old’ in the population. It is also possible for a population to grow younger; this occurs when the proportion of young persons in the population increases. It has been suggested that a population may be arbitrarily defined as“young” if the percentage of persons above the age of 64 in the population in less than, as ‘mature’ when this percentage is between 4 and 7, and as ‘aged’ when it exceeds 7 percent. From the above discussion, it appears that old age can be identified through different approaches. Authors and experts have, however, presented various aspects of old age which may be presented in the following sub-points.

Physiological Consequence of Old Age

The process of life consists of physical and mental changes characteristic by growth and subsequent decline. Elderly years of life, growth predominates and later years declination predominates, though both these processes (also known as the evolution and atrophy) accompany each other from the embryonic life and continue till death. Aging generally comprises of those changes that take place during the later part of life, when physical and mental decline becomes more apparent to concerned individuals and to the society.

During the early years of old age, declination in both the physical and mental capacities is generally slow and the individual compensates the loss by part knowledge and reserves. This period of old age is known as “senescence.” When more or less, complete physical breakdown takes place and mental disorganization is seen, this period is known as “senility.” At this stage, the individual is no longer able to do anything from his reserves to meet his present need and thus exposes himself to social and psychological limitations affecting his personal and social adjustment.

Psychological Consequences of Old Age

Psychological aging consists of general decline in the mental abilities that accompany old age. The psychological changes in the aspect of individual’s concept of the self, his idea about his worth as an individual and as member of social groups, his feelings about the attitude and behavior of others towards him, and his general view of life and the world, including his own place there in, plays significant part in the process of ‘psychological aging.’ An unfavorable and negative attitude towards the changed physical and social condition proves not only a hurdle in better adjustment during old age but brings psychological aging even more rapidly.

Social Consequence of Old Age

Social age refers to the person’s roles and habits expected by the society for particular ages. A woman who became grandmother at 40 was older in terms of social age than a woman who bore her first child at 40 as the later was younger in terms of social status. Similarly, a 35-year-old man who assumed the role of head in an extended family would have a greater social role in comparison to an older man aged 55 years who is not the head of the family.

Functional Consequences of Old Age

Functional age refers to a person’s ability work and discharge duties in the society and probably biological, psychological and social age. An 85 years old man who lives alone, drives a car, and attends nightclubs is much younger in terms of functional age than the average 85 years old. He is probably healthier, sharper, and more involved than most of his peers. This much about the different aspects of old age. The problems of such people are discussed below.

Problems of Elderly People

Old age presents its special and unique problems but these have been aggravated due to the unprecedented speed of socioeconomic transformation in the country to a number of changes in different aspects of life and living of people. According to Nag (1987) “ due to socioeconomic changes in the wake of urbanization and increase in the proportion of the aged in the population, the problem of the aged has become formidable. With the impact of industrialization in society, the traditional means of earning a livelihood and mutual aid institutions are rapidly lying out. The ultimate responsibility for supporting the aged is gradually shifting from family to the state.” Government of India (1992) has also accepted:“ India is passing through an unprecedented phase of socioeconomic transformation. According to Chowdhry (1992), the following are the factors affecting the problem of the aged:

  1. Bodily changes and depletion of physical and mental strength.
  2. Modern education and working young couples.
  3. Urban influence and industrialization.
  4. Materialistic and individualistic outlook.
  5. Breaking of the joint family system, generation gap.
  6. High cost of living and lack of social security measures.
  7. Paucity of accommodation in urban areas and un-congenial environments.
  8. Migration of younger generation.
  9. Employment of women.
  10. Additional economic responsibility of the elderly educating sons, marrying daughters, etc. in later life.
  11. Sense of loss of job, status, assets, physical strength, and social responsibility.

However, Gerontology, the scientific study of aging, is primarily concerned with time between maturity and death, divides the problem of gerontology into four major categories:

  1. The social and economic problems caused by an increasing number of elderly people in the population.
  2. The psychological aspects of aging along with their reaction to one another.
  3. The physiological bases of aging along with pathological deviations and disease processes.
  4. The general aspects of aging in all animal species.

The needs of the elderly in India are many and complex. They range from problems of practical and financial nature to problems of housing, health, isolation and loneliness and lack of services. The far-reaching and rapid changes of the modern society have profoundly affected the position of the old people and their ability to deal with their own problems. Today the extended family is no longer greater in numbers. The problems of the elderly vary from urban to rural settings. The life of the aged in rural area is a tranquil and simple one. They continue to the extent of their ability to undertake light work and their recreational demands are small. They have different sorts of relationships with their families and are better adjusted to the community.

Aging is not a new phenomenon. But the problem that occurs with aging appears to be a product of the modern age. In the context of the dynamic changes taking place in Indian society, the problems of the aged have assumed grave importance. In fact the order of prevalence in India has been mother-father, teacher, and God. Since time immemorial most of the traditional families in India strongly believe that since it is the duty of the parents to look after their children, it is equally important for the children to look after their dependent parents. One repay’s one’s duty to the parents and also pay one’s way to salvation. Apart from the above-mentioned ingrained belief in the mutual obligation, the joint family system, the caste institutions, the charitable organizations, and kind-hearted philanthropists have all been coming to the help of aged. Due to improved health facilities, there is an increase in the longevity of people from 30-40 years some decades ago to; 50-60 years now. It is Worthwhile here to note the opinion of the world Assembly on the Aging held at Vienna in July 1982.

This House has been in the world on the regrettable teachings of the aged Expressed widespread concern. With the steady decline in the incidence of mortality and mobility in most of the developed countries and the strives made by the family planning drive, in both the developed and developing countries, compounded by an increase in the population of the elderly in both the developed and developing societies. With higher expectancy of life, there has been a steady rise in the number of the aged.

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The increasing number of the aged in the society is likely to be accompanied by various problems connected with the welfare of the dependent group of population.

The impact of the retirement is tremendous as it result in loss of role, status, Power, opportunities for interaction and as Miller (1965) states“ loss of an occupational identity,” with the result the individual withdraws from society and has little social interaction. Therefore, retirement, the point demarcating middle age from old age, can lead to low morale, decreased levels of satisfaction, depression, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

Social and Economic Problems of Elderly People

The problem of aged is also socioeconomic one. According to modern gerontology a problem is considered social when difficulties met by a group of people, result from:

  1. The functioning, organization or structure of society.
  2. May endanger the organization or structure of society.
  3. Can and should be solved through social policies and political initiative (Philibert, 1968).

Advances in medical sciences, improvement in living conditions,functionless and public health facilities have prevented epidemics and brought up the life expectancy of people all over the world. In addition to the rise in the percentage of the old people, the more important factor is that the roles and status of the old people are declining in the present society. It deprives them of the satisfaction of their physical and socio-psychological needs. The drives or needs of the old people listed by some gerontologists (Kaplan, 1960; Arthur, 1954; Bortgs, 1963) may be summed up as:

  1. Financial and physical security.
  2. Recognition as a useful and significant person in their own world.
  3. Associations and relation with others.
  4. Social and creative activities.
  5. Passing the leisure time in satisfying ways etc.

In the pre-industrial society, the old people used to get enough opportunities to satisfy their various needs. In the societies dominated by agricultural and handicraft economy they participated in productive activities as specialties (Simmons, 1960), directly or indirectly, depending on their physical health, and remained financially independent.

But the present society does not provide opportunities to its aged members to lead a comfortable, respectful and socially useful life. With the modernization and industrialization of society the roles and status of the old people decreases (Kooy, 1963). The younger generation replaces the aged people in their powerful positions, leaving them in a weakened and functionless situation (Simmons, 1959). Owing to the changing Indian social structure, the old people have been dislodged from the leadership positions in the family, caste, group and community (D, Souza, 1971; Bhatia, 1964; Singh, 1969). With the growth of new economic, political and value systems, the integrity and compactness of the joint family and caste group have been weakened and for the leadership in the community, properties like wealth or education have become more important than the ascribed properties like age and seniority in modern society. This is confirmed by the fact that whenever older persons are in the position of leadership, it is mainly due to their education and wealth rather than age (Jagjit Singh, 1962). Thus, aging is not only biological in nature but also in cultural process. Physical, social, and emotional changes at this age require readjustment in interpersonal relations in different situations with the members of the family and society (Chowdhary, 1981).

Psychological Problems of Elderly People

The Psychological aspects of aging involve a wide variety of problems. The effect of aging on certain needs and motives, the effect of prior experience in the aging process, the psycho-dynamic of the emotional life of the elderly, the effect of age upon learning, the effect of age on psychomotor performance, and the role and importance of sensory changes in aging are particularly important. Psychopathology and aging and problems of the adjustment set by the culture are important psychological aspects of aging. Changing adjustment may in turn be a causal condition determined by a variety of personality and other changes with age and also encompasses the psychological aspect of aging process. The emotional needs of the elderly have been studied intensively by variety of experts in different discipline, but physiological and medical researches are integral part of these studies.

Lemkar (1995) has clarified that old age brings a reduction in memory and subjects the aged to varied kinds of mental illness. Cavan (1946) has made it clear that old age comes with worry over finances, anxiety over health, feeling of being unwanted, isolated and lonely, feeling of suspicion, loss of mental rigidity, irritation, inability to adjust to changed conditions, and decreased social contracts and participation.

Chowdhary (1992) has pointed out that “an old person being to feel even his children does not look upon him with that degree of respect he used to get some years earlier. The old person feels neglected and humiliated. This may led to the development of psychology of shunning the company of others. Loneliness in turn may give rise to depression and may eventually lead to worsening of sickness.”

In brief, people during old age have to encounter a number of problems particularly when become redundant and un-useful.

After discussing the two terms i. e. ‘Adjustment pattern’ and ‘Old Age’ separately, between the two has to be examined. It is presented as below:

Adjustment Problems of Elderly People

To make an adjustment for older people to their family members May be required, which can increase their status. Older people may have to be devoid of more activity than life. This problem is more crucial for the persons who are required to retire from their active life. Old people may be required to face the problems of adjustment to the loss of spouse or loss of friend. They have a lot of free time and do not know what to do with it hence utilization of leisure time may be a problem.

In gerontological sense, it refers to the internal and external equilibrium of human organism (Rosow, 1963). It has been used mostly to refer to the state of harmony not only within itself but also with its environment (Kuhlen, 1959). The concept of adjustment has been used in the context of the practical purpose of gerontology. The practical purpose of gerontology is to help people in leading a better life in later years.

The first major study of adjustment in old age was those of Folsom and Morgan in 1937, and Landis in 1942. Folosom and Morgan (1937) have used the present life happiness as the index of adjustment and reported that factors like good health, freedom from liabilities, pleasant social and emotional relations with friends and family members, hobbies work like activities and independent living in own homes are positively associated with good adjustment of the recipient of old age assistance in New York. Landis (1942) by emphasizing the factors from the past life and using the activities and attitude of the aging individuals for the measurement of adjustment found that economic independence, high education, marriage at right time, small family, low death rate of children, infrequent resistance, good health, employment, hobby, visits to friend and church and preference for living with children are the variables corresponding positively with the adjustment.

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