Issues Affecting the Aged
By late adulthood none of us can dispute the physical signs of aging. As Erikson and colleagues (1986) have noted, “As the overall tonus of the body begins to sag and innumerable inner parts call attention to themselves through malfunction, the aging body is forced into a new sense of invalidness…The elder is obligated to turn attention from more interesting aspects of life to the demanding requirements of the body” (p. 309). In the United States, a substantial amount of elderly adults do function reasonably effectively. But physical impairment does usually accompany the elderly. It should be noted that it is important to distinguish between normal physical changes of aging from physical changes caused by disease. Some bodily systems decline more rapidly than others. There is a decrease in standing height in late adulthood. There is also a loss of bone tissue. A severe loss of bone tissue causes osteoporosis. Older adults usually lose lean body mass in muscle and bone tissues which causes weight loss. But there is usually no fat reduction in the torso. This explains why many elderly people have slender arms and legs but they still have fat deposits in their torso. The skin is dramatically altered during aging. The skin loses firmness and elasticity and wrinkles are extremely common in the elderly. During a human lifespan there is a decline in the acuity of all five senses. The most problematic decline usually occurs with the loss of vision and hearing. Motor ability and cardiovascular and respiratory systems also commonly undergo marked changes during the years of late adulthood. Women experience a decline in estrogen levels and become more vulnerable to strokes, coronary artery disease, and osteoporosis. Men do not experience the abrupt change in fertility that women do. There have been enormous variations in cognitive functioning among the elderly. There is an overall decline of memory, language processing, and problem-solving abilities in late-life adults. Many late-life adults have declines in free recall. But there have also been studies conducted that have confirmed the slowing of cognitive processing speed, a working mediation of major memory. Many individual factors such as education level, social supports, activity levels, and genetic and health-related factors contribute to the variation in cognitive performance in late adulthood. There have been studies done that show that old age holds more promise than is generally expected. When we look at more biologically controlled issues of cognitive mechanics, aging does seem to take its toll. But when we examine intellectual problems in which cultural-based knowledge and skills are in the foreground, the situation is much different. Certain groups of older individuals perform much better than younger adults with respect to reading and writing skills, language comprehension, and even in the skills of wisdom. Chronological age alone is not a sufficient condition for wisdom. But age, in conjunction with lack of disease affecting cognitive functioning, openness to new experiences, good mentoring of younger adults, extensive training in certain life contexts, and broad experiences with the human condition of all elements that contribute strongly to the superior performance of older adults on tasks regarding wisdom is a different story. Studies and early indicators suggest that many adults in their last season of life obtain wisdom-related knowledge (Corr, 2003). No one likes to talk about dying and death, for yourself or your loved ones. Yet, birth and death are two aspects of life, which will happen to everyone. Dying and death are painful and personal experiences for those that are dying and their loved ones caring for them. Death affects each person involved in multiple ways, including physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. To acknowledge you are dying is to let go of the future. It is to...
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