Senior citizens make up a growing, yet often overlooked, segment of the population. People are living longer than in past generations, and the senior citizen population will continue to grow.
Many people overlook the needs of seniors in the mental health community. In this country, we tend to forget the older generations and place more importance on youth. Many people assume that seniors just need to deal with the “inevitable” problems of aging on their own. As people age, they face new issues that they did not face when they were younger. However, these issues can be effectively managed and seniors can continue to live happy, healthy, and productive lives. It is important to keep in mind the challenges that people face as they age so that you or your loved ones can successfully face those challenges together. Let’s discuss some of the major concerns that people deal with as they age:
1. Physical changes/medical problems – Many people assume that as you age, your body simply breaks down and “falls apart.” While it is true that the body does go through changes – loss of bone mass, weakening of muscles, less energy – these changes do not have to be drastic or inevitable. Maintaining physical activity and exercising regularly can help maintain flexibility, muscle strength, and cardiovascular stamina, even in the elderly.
It is important that seniors see their doctors regularly to make sure that they are healthy and that age-related medical conditions are not developing. Some key health concerns in the elderly that doctors check for include (but are not limited to):
– Dementia or Alzheimer’s
– Cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other vision problems
– High cholesterol/heart disease
– Prostate cancer
– Colds/flu/pneumonia that can be dangerous to elderly people
2. Financial issues – After retirement, people may have less income than they did while they were working. Also, because so many people are living longer than previous generations, many seniors end up outliving their savings. Increased medical bills for themselves or their spouses can also put a strain on them. As a result, about 25% of the elderly population lives below the poverty level. Currently, Social Security is the primary source of income for most seniors. However, as the senior population continues to grow, the future of the Social Security system is in doubt. As a result, in the years to come it may be increasingly difficult for seniors to get by financially unless they planned and saved from the time they were very young.
3. Loss – As people age, they are faced with the loss of loved ones. The loss of a spouse or of a long-time friend can be devastating to anyone; many seniors experience extended periods of grief as they age and see more of their loved ones pass away in a short period of time. Loss can also be experienced when children grow up, have families of their own, and sometimes move far away. As a result, seniors are faced with bereavement, loneliness, and feelings of depression, as they may feel more and more isolated.
4. Changing roles – As people get older, their lives change. The jobs they had and the roles they played in their relationships also change. After they retire, many people feel like they are no longer useful or productive because they are not part of the workforce. Some have to adjust to life as a widow/widower, and take on new responsibilities that their spouses used to take care of. Sometimes, seniors need extra care – and they begin to feel like they are a burden on their caretakers or children. This can feel very disheartening, as people realize they no longer can do what they used to do. Not all role changes are negative, though – for instance, many people love their new role as grandparent or great-grandparent!
5. Changing abilities – As people age, their abilities change. They may not be able to do the physical things they used to. They may start to have memory problems or seem to slow down cognitively. This can be discouraging to many people as they feel like they aren’t who they used to be. These changing abilities can be dealt with, though! If someone can’t do the things they used to do, they can find something different and new to do that they also enjoy! Finding enjoyable activities is important to keep from feeling bored, or isolated, and it helps to keep the mind active and feeling young!
6. Family stress – Many older people complain that they have a lot of stress from or problems with their families. They may feel like no one understands them or what they are going through. Their families may not appreciate the challenges the aging person faces, or do not understand how difficult things may be. Or, they may feel like their children are too busy to make time for them. On the other hand, older people are sometimes pressured because their families are too involved – their children may see them as invalids or as unable to take care of themselves anymore, which may not be true. As a person ages and goes through his or her own changes, it is important to remember that their roles in the family may also change and that the family may need to make adjustments to accommodate these changes. Maybe the adult children and grandchildren need to make more time to visit with the senior citizen. Or, maybe the family needs to recognize the abilities that the senior has to make his or her own decisions.
While people do face many changes as they get older, it is important to remember that aging does not have to be a bad thing! With aging and retirement can come many positive changes, like increased freedom and wonderful experiences with friends and family. It does take some effort to deal effectively with the challenges of aging, and sometimes the whole family needs to get involved to help support an aging family member. Fortunately, there are many things that people can do to help themselves or their loved ones deal with the problems that come with aging. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Coping Counselors to discuss this further.