Often we take our health, or the absence of illness, disease, or injury for granted until we become sick. It is then that we recognize the worth of being without ailments. It is then that we appreciate feeling strong, robust and healthy. Being healthy and, being physically and mentally sound, is associated with one's satisfaction with life. Developmental health psychologists - specialists who study the interaction of age, behavior, and health and gerontologists - specialists in the science of aging -- are piecing together the details of diet, exercise, personality and behavior that make it practical to shoot for 80, or even 120. People approaching middle age can expect a bonus of several years of extra living thanks to continuing medical progress against cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Specialists in the field of aging, developmental health psychologists, and gerontologist , concentrate their area of study on determining health status over the course of adulthood, and determining the nature and origin of age-related diseases. They are also concerned with describing the effects of health on behavior and describing the effects of behavior on health. The goals of these specialists are: prevention of diseases, preservation of health, and improved quality of health for those suffering from disability and disease.
What does it mean to be healthy? Health is a state of complete physical , mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease, illness or infirmity. It is important to distinguish between disease and health. Disease is the prognosis of a particular disorder with a specific cause and characteristic symptoms. On the other hand, illness is the existence of disease and, the individual's perception of and response to the disease.
Whether in sickness or in health age and the progression through life play a large part in our health and our developmental status. The role of age in regard to health is listed below:
- Most young adults are in good health and experience few limitations or disabilities. Nearly 71% of adults older than 65 living in a community report their health as excellent, good, or very good. - Health and mobility decline with age especially after age 80. Disease is more common among older adults. - Most of the diseases of later life have their origin years earlier. - Income is related to perception of health. - The older the individual, the more difficult it is to recover from stress. - As an individual age, acute conditions decrease in frequency while chronic conditions increase in frequency. 4/5 of adults over 65 have at least one chronic condition. - Older adults may have multiple disorders and sensory deficits that may interact. Treatments may also interact. - In contrast to younger age groups, the elderly are likely to suffer from physical health problems that are multiple, chronic, and treatable but not curable. Acute illness may be superimposed on these conditions.
Although there are factors that affect our health and the aging process that are not in our control , In a World Health article , K. Warner Schaie(1989), research director of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California, cites three reasons for optimism about future old age: The control of childhood disease, better education, and the fitness revolution.(p.2)
The control of childhood disease often eliminates problems that occur later in life as a result of these diseases. Instead of going away, the minor assaults suffered by the body from disease, abuse and neglect can have "sleeper" effects. For example Chicken pox in a child can lead much later in life to the itching diseases known as shingles. Vaccines and other medicine have eliminated many of the childhood diseases. Schaie predicts that people who will become old 30 or 40 years from now will not have childhood diseases. Most people who are now old have had them all.
Better education is also a reason for prolonged and healthier lives. Where a grade school education was typical for the older generation, more than half of all Americans now 30 or 40 years old have completed at least high school, and studies show that people with more education live longer. They get better jobs, suffer less economical stress, and tend to be more engaged with life and more receptive to new ideas.
Finally, the fitness revolution has changed our habits with respect to diet and exercise and self-care. An article in Generations, Joyce Carrol Oates (1993) states, " per capita consumption of tobacco has dropped twenty-six percent over the past 15 years, and the drop is accelerating, promising a decrease in lung cancer. " Life-style changes and improved treatment of hypertension have already produced a dramatic national decrease in strokes.(p.13)
In addition being aware of and accepting aging is an important process in aging. It is important to recognize that life not only has a beginning and a middle but also an end. It is important to recognize the live cycle and all that goes with it. The adult life cycle is divided into three main parts: Young adults, middle-aged, and older adults. There are characteristics of each division of adulthood.
First, we will look at young adults. They are in generally good health. Respiratory aliments are their primary health problems (cold, headache, and tiredness). Allergies are their most common chronic illness. Fatal diseases are rare. The leading causes of deaths are for males, accidents and for females cancer. Aids is also a threat for this age group.
The next area of concern is the middle-aged adults. There is a drastic change in health status from young adult to middle adulthood. Daily illnesses begin to occur such as: respiratory ailments, and musculoskeletal ailments. Chronic conditions begin emerging that limits daily activities such as arthritis, hypertension, chronic sinusitis, heart conditions, and hearing impairments. Fatal diseases also begin to appear for example: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, emphysema, and cancer. The leading causes of death among the middle-age are heart disease and cancer.
Again there is a drastic change in health status from middle-age to older adults. Musculoskeletal problems are more common and more severe. Acute problems become more severe. Chronic conditions are dominant and more severe. Death rates rise rapidly among the elderly. The leading cause of death is heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
In summary, people's evaluation of their physical health decline with age. Daily symptoms change with age. Acute conditions decrease with age. Chronic conditions increase with age. Nonfatal and life threatening diseases increase steadily with age.
Of equal concern is the effect of gender and race on health and aging. However, inadequate attention has been given to the range of variations in social, cultural, and health characteristics within and between minorities and women. The time has come for more deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful explanations of the effects of race and gender on health.
Understanding adult development requires an understanding of the relationship between health, disease, disability and aging. Understanding and not being afraid of the aging process may slow the process.
Oates, Joyce Carrol. (1993, Spring/Summer). The ageless self. Generations, (Vol. 17
Issue 2, p13).
Schaie, Warner K. (1989, Nov). Looking ahead. World Health, pp.2-4. Health, Disease, and Disability