Physiological aging which is an inevitable process, varies greatly from one individual to another, but accelerates with age. Aging can be defined as increasing the number and proportion of elderly in the Society (Calasanti & Kathleen, 2006). However, the two phenomena are not unrelated: the aging of the population seems to have less serious consequences when the elderly are healthy, but the progress of life expectancy without disabilities make the fatal fall deadlines. It is difficult to define the limits of the age groups. Traditionally 60th anniversary of a person is considered as the threshold of old age. As for the limit of what is called "old age" it is somewhere between 70 and 85. For convenience, statisticians generally stick to 75, but these thresholds are arbitrary and are only valid for large numbers.
Late adulthood is the phase of the personal integrity or despair. It is the final stage of the cycle of life in which a person is acquiring a sense of integrity and avoids a sense of despair (the realization of wisdom). It is about how we confront the end. Old age becomes a time of reflection that allows a return on events of a lifetime. To the extent we have succeeded in effectively solving the problems that had arisen at every stage of life, we have developed a sense of completion and fullness that is to say, the feeling of a full life (Gullette, 2004).
When a person who looks at his past life and perceive a series of missed opportunities and failures in recent years are then filled with despair. The individual must be able to oppose his integrity in despair and disgust while dealing with different problems of life, an incomplete life and death. At this point, man throws wisdom and a philosophy of life outside his own cycle of life to future cycles.
The late adulthood is characterized by a form of evaluation of life and its accomplishments. If the assessment proves to be positive, there is integrity and continuity. Otherwise, despair looms large. If the balance is negative, then there is a deterioration of the self in many forms. There was first the loss of the sense of the existence and then the birth of the sense of a life lost that could have been different. The fear of death, alcoholism, suicide, depression and despair are the lot of those who come to such a negative evaluation. Despair brings with it regret, remorse and a sense that life has no meaning.
Many people perceive the beginning of adulthood as the most "beautiful" period of life and the easiest. There is no doubt that physically it is the easiest phase of life but as far as the financial side is concerned, it varies according to socio-economic situations of every individual. However, at emotional and social level, this stage of life is probably the most stressful and most difficult. Indeed, the problems of life multiply when the individual is led to control the largest number of roles which in turn only serve to inculcate the feelings of emotional distress and loneliness.
People at their late adulthood often face health problems. This makes it very hard for the government to set a retirement age because everyone is different. It also means that people should be considered individually and not by age. Provided they are healthy, older people should have opportunities to work. When older people become too sick to be cared for by their families, a nursing home becomes imperative. It is very expensive, higher than most pensions and often do not have free space. It is not fair that the family of the elderly have to pay the nursing home. The government should make a special allowance for those who need a nursing home.
Aging population with chronic diseases consume most of the healthcare expenditure of US government. The statistics have proved that 60 to 70 percent of the total health care expenditure of United States is consumed by the 10 percent of the population. This 10 percent of population which generates most health care costs are either suffered from chronic disease, disabled, aged or poor.
If someone is lucky, he or she not only lives longer but living healthier as well. The "dependence" of the "elderly" increases as social responses are inadequate and inappropriate. The human and financial costs of these inadequacies are infinitely greater than the economic cost of "dependence".
Many elderly people feel excluded from society. They normally stop working at age 65 to claim a pension or state pension, but after 50 years, they have great difficulty in getting a job. Older people often develop diseases that can be a burden to their families. Nursing homes are extremely expensive and not always available. Some older people never talk about their problems that they may not be a burden to their families. This often makes the problem more difficult because in such cases the old person is struggling to cope alone, which is when accidents happen. Older people should feel free to speak with their families without fear of being a burden.
Aging is not only differentiated from one individual to another. In the same person, it affects more or less quickly and deeply, physical and intellectual abilities and results in their gradual transformation. Correspondingly, the individual's needs change with age and the life should simultaneously be evolved to be at any time, tailored, as far as possible, the needs and capabilities of the person concerned. Of course, such an adaptation may, under certain conditions, occur naturally and spontaneously. This is the case in patriarchal societies, where family cohesion remained intact, and where the place and function of each member of the family group are, at any time, determined by their age and ability, not only because of requirements of the common life, but also according to tradition (Cruikshank, 2003). Thus, in such societies, problems of late adulthood, integrated into the daily lives of older people, people find their solution, without external intervention.
Nevertheless, such societies are exceptional; in contemporary societies, especially in industrial and urban societies, conditions of working life, housing, bursting or, at least, the loosening of family ties between generations have necessitated the search for solutions to the specific needs of the elderly, who can no longer find satisfaction in a traditional way of life. The government intervention in the field of aging has become, under these conditions, essential and should cover all aspects of life of older people and involves, as required previously that accurate and precise analysis that needs to be done in the first place. (Nelson, 2002).
Death, Grief and Dying
Death is the end of life that stops all functions of the body connected with medical standards generally established, and dying is the body’s preparation for the end of life in a natural or unnatural way. Since 1980, brain death, or the end of all electrical activity in the brain, has been the middle principle in the purpose of death. According to the researches different cultures educate people in different way how to respond to death and dying in various ways medically, psychologically and emotionally.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s pioneering research on personal trauma, grief and grieving, related with death and dying made a significant indent on the bereavement and hospice care practiced early on. In fact such an idea or understanding regarding this issue was a rare and novel idea since it was preferred not to let the patients get idea about the severity of their illness.
But when they do find out about it, according to Kübler-Ross, they undergo five discrete stages while trying to cope with the knowledge of this tragedy. These stages are not limited to patients with terminal illness but the people coping with the grief of personal loss also undergo more or less the same stages, though initially Kübler did apply this to patients with fatal illness as death and dying is ultimate trauma for human beings.
The first stage is the denial stage when the person suffering grief is in denial of the reality but this feeling is soon replaced by the next stage of anger in which the patient shows resentment and jealousy towards the people around him. This feeling is overcome by the intense desire of bargaining time to live a longer life. Usually the person bargains with the higher power to give more time in exchange for an altered lifestyle, this is the third stage.
In the fourth stage the reality of the truth hits the person and compels him to undergo a depressive stage. The person readies himself for the ultimate reality and grieves the expected loss. In the final stage the person accepts the truth and stops fighting against it.
Though these steps do not necessarily come in a well defined sequence, these stages should not be induced by the caregivers or friends. Those who experience problems and are working through these stages are advised to consider professional grief counseling or support groups.
Developed initially to help the health care professional to understand the condition of the patients who are on the line of death, the model presented by Kubler-Ross and its five stages have been comprehensively adopted by many medical professions as the stages provided with experience during the sorrowful process of the experience of the dying . The idea also provided the depth of the dying experience and direction for regulating to personal trauma, and for helping others cope with physical and emotional disturbance.
Theories of late adulthood
Of all the theories that have been developed, the theory of disengagement generated the most interest (Cumming & Henry, 1961). They also contributed to the development of several models. According to this theory, the number of activities and social roles of individuals decrease, and emotional ties that bind their social worlds lose strength as they grow older. This process of marginalization of the aging person or a smooth difficulties because it is seen as normal and beneficial for both the individual and people around him.
The theory can be summarized as the authors put it, “the theory of disengagement believe that the normal aging process corresponds to a double and reciprocal process which is inevitable. In the first place, the individual withdraws from society. In addition, the society takes gradually takes away from the individual all the social responsibilities which were previously conferred. One manifestation of this disengagement will lower cohesion of the network of social relations in which the aging individual is inserted as retiree. This qualitative change will accompany the quantitative reduction in social interaction taking place between the elderly and society “(Masoro, 2006).
Old age takes its toll on woman as much as men, it is called universal, and that is to say it is characterized by certain regularities in its manifestations, regardless of the periods or societies. The disengagement is inevitable, according to the proponents of the theory, and the individual who is not involved in this process is not spared forever, it is only a matter of time.Third, the intrinsic disengagement is said, that is to say no exclusively conditioned by exogenous factors. Once started, it circular and has a progressive cycle (Hochschild, 2003).
Some accuse the theory of disengagement of being too universal. There is no only one way to age and events vary from one individual to another. Retirement from work and changing relationships with children has many different forms and meaning.
Other critics attack its deterministic nature. The disengagement is not an inevitable process, they say. Atchley (1971), for example, notes that the withdrawal is closely related to the type and degree commitment of the individual to the various social roles they perform. This concept was coined at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s in terms of the theory of disengagement appeared in the United States in 1961, thirty years earlier in the history of the discipline, but also challenged by various functionalist theory has been crystallized until the mid-1970s in the same country. Inscribed in the logic similar to those of symbolic interactionism and social constructivism, it helps to think in new terms the loss of competence and low self-esteem that is often observed in the elderly aging, phenomena which are in a sense a loss of grip on the world around them, hence the term abandonment.
Thus, the concept has been implemented in several branches of sociology order to measure the specific effects of advancing age and its many corollaries, including media sociology, sociology of the family, the sociology of work and sociology of health. It has also been declined by several methods, including "abandonment worried," "abandonment tactics" and "strategic abandonment", which corresponds to three forms of withdrawal from the world identified by sociologists. It has not hitherto attracted strong criticism but not so far managed to do away with the other paradigms and their concepts, even in its home country. During such controversy, a second model, the theory activity, holds the attention.
The activity theory
The theory of disengagement sanctions inactivity while the theory activity encourages the retiree to find substitutes for roles social that have been removed. This invites him to make up for lost roles by new activities to minimize the negative effects of retirement or abandonment of the home by children. Old age is no longer considered the time of immobility, but is the special time, time of perpetual leisure. Henceforth, retirement is the time of vitality and participation. "(Zacks, 2000)
In other words, this theory says that happiness in retirement is according to the commitment and participation of the retiree to society. No need to note that this second model takes the functionalist open to much criticism. Note, among other things, the study of Lemon, Bengtson and Peterson (1972), conducted among residents of a retirement village of Southern California, which concluded that only social networking with friends is related to satisfaction in life for an elderly.
Also in response to the activity theory as Guillemard says the new discourse on retirement activist condemns popular classes in failure while disabling the social determination of this failure whose responsibilities are individualized ... The very low hope that these retirees have to update other behavior that retirement - withdrawal, condemns retirees to working-class age failure. "(Charles, 2001).Finally, Havighurst, Neugarten, and Tobin observe that the theorists of activity theory as well as the disengagement theorists have not take sufficient account of the variable in their personality research.
Following the work of Soviet theorists and psychologists, the activity theory postulates that consciousness is not a discrete set of disembodied cognitive acts such as taking decision or classification.
Thus, taking into account the context and the artifact for understanding the activity and group interaction is the fundamental nature of the activity theory. The purpose of this theory is rather complex systems of cooperation - at least to the interaction - more than individuals. While some approaches emphasize external representation, the activity theory gives importance to the internalization of artifacts. It is difficult to distinguish the psychological changes directly induced by aging, some of those accompanying the consequences of it (Bath, 2004). However, some changes have emerged to affect the cognitive and emotional as part of normal aging.
Emotionally, aging is accompanied by the emergence of multiple sentiments such as the futility, the feeling of being a burden to others, loneliness and abandonment, the sensation of having a body becoming uncontrollable. Three aspects stand out: the elderly tends to have a passive control of the environment, reducing its activity and a growing concern of his inner world. Patients typically disinvestment of external reality and a self hyperinvestissement exacerbated by the approaching death (Moody, 2006).
Level of cognitive functions most sensitive to changes induced by the effects of aging are: memory capacity, reaction time, attention span, language, visual-spatial ability, mental flexibility, the ability to abstract reasoning, fluid intelligence and crystallized (Mather, 2005). There is a decline in brain mass affected by the decline of cerebral blood flow, neuronal loss, decreased flexibility driving video, perception and skill in handling sensory-motor.
However, it remains difficult to delineate the respective contributions of aging and (say) the lack of stimulation in the decline of these abilities. The institutionalization accelerates physical and cognitive decline of older people.
There is a significant reduction in the social network in the elderly. Losses relating to the ability to travel and that interaction with the surrounding (sight and hearing) are experienced by the elderly and get it to limit contact with the outside world and withdraw into itself. The move reinforces the decline in institutions of social networks and isolation.(Bass, 2006)
Application of Disengagement and the Activity Theory
The disengagement theory of late adulthood and aging paints a dismal picture of the life of a retired person who in other words is no longer required at work. The theory assumes the problems of life are further compounded after the retirement phase of the person begins. Let us consider the quandary of an older woman, Susan. She is an ex-manager at a renowned insurance company and a mother of 2 full-blown men. However, the loss of her husband has taken its toll on her psychological well-being. Her adult children keep themselves in touch with the mother.
Susan's arthritis prevents her from being able to cook at the soup kitchen. Then, she falls in the shower and breaks her hip. Afterward, Connie's children arrange for a nurse to come by the house every day to help her. She is now bed-ridden and has lost contact with her few same-aged friends. With her health deteriorating, she hardly musters energy to talk to her family members. But, by the time she dies, she has lesser friends and almost a burden to society and her family. The sense of being a complete wash-out makes her existence even more vulnerable to death and grief. She is gradually disengaged from every side of life be it social or familial. This theory can be applied to a majority of aging individuals.
On the other hand, let us analyze the application of the activity theory. Jack is a retired army man who served his country for his 30 crucial years of life. As opposed to Susan, Jack does not seem to confine himself to the confines of home, family and his social circle. He takes on another activity of working for a private company. His self-determination does not dwindle down. He realizes that keeping himself all free would kill him soon. After spending joyful vacations with his family, he lands a job in a private company. His new engagement keeps himself on the go minimizing the dangers that aging can pose to one’s health. He evinces the characteristics (theoretical/activity theory) of vitality and participation.
Within our scope of discussion we have shed light upon various theories which have a profound effect upon the different phases of late adulthood and hence upon human life ultimately. The two fundamental theories which have been discussed in the course of this discussion are the disengagement theory and activity theory. Both theories have their respective significance when we discuss and analyze the repercussions of the aging process and hence upon the phenomenon of late adulthood.
The crux of the disengagement theory accentuates upon the fact that a social withdrawal from conventional society roles and responsibilities is normal when a person begins to age; as a matter of fact it is the signs and symptoms of social withdrawal and indifference towards social activities which indicate that any individual is beginning to age. In addition to this, the theory is considered beneficial for young members of the society as it provides them the opportunity to take positions that are vacated by older people.
The second theory which is known as the activity theory is in direct contradiction with the norms and doctrine that has been established the disengagement theory. The activity theory emphasizes upon the fact that the age factor must not become a barrier in the personal and social development of people. It further highlights the fact that a person must always try to lead a life of quality in terms of affluence as well as in terms of health rather than losing and capitulating himself in front of his age.
Advocates of this theory believe that a person should continue to pursue his or her activities even when they age in the very same manner as they have been doing in years before that. A major question that arises here is why people would align with the salient features of each theory and its injunctions and would try to implement upon the theory that have been selected. (Cliffnotes, 2011)
In this context there are a number of factors that we need to take into consideration, first and foremost being the societal framework and visage of the society itself. In a society like US where old age people are considered something of no benefit since they cannot work or earn money for the family, it has been a generally observed trend that these parents are often admitted in old homes and houses where they stay away from their children and spend the remaining years of their life either in isolation or with people of similar age groups. In this context these people adhere more towards the activity theory.
These people by living with other people belonging to similar age groups found common grounds and develop an automatic compatibility through which they can build their relation with other people based on similar nature of life experiences that they have gone through.
Hence in such circumstances they feel that they are much more secure, safe and can also testify the leading of a stress free life as they do not have to look after the needs of their family members and other worldly responsibilities that they use to feel concerned about at one point and stage of their life.
In contrast to this, such kind of an activity is in complete contradiction to the societal norms of many Eastern societies where the presence of parents and also grandparents are considered as a symbol of family unity and stability. These norms and values mainly take place due to the roles of many social institutions in which the role of religion and the precedent role of family observed previously is a very crucial factor.
In such societies parents are involved in maintaining the decorum of the family and also try to ensure that the status quo of the family remains within their capacity.
However it would be a misconception to believe that in such conditions old age parents do not have the luxury of taking care of their own life. On the contrary it is important to mention here that in these conditions old age people enjoy the dual relief of implementing upon the features provided by both theories.
It is completely based on their own choice which of the theory they want to go through. They can conform to the features of the activity and lead a care and stress free life because they have endured the difficulty and complication of giving proper care and education to their children who can now afford their expenses and take care of them at the same time.
On the other hand they also have the choice of adhering to disengagement theory where they can take a membership of a club and lead a life of their own by keeping them engaged in worldly activities. Hence the difference of societal norms plays a vital role in provide old age people with the relief that they have.
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