READING: GROWING OLD

As human beings grow older, they go through different phases or stages of life. It is helpful lớn understvà aging in the context of these phases. A life course is the period from birth to death, including a sequence of predictable life events such as physical maturation. Each phase comes with different responsibilities & expectations, which of course vary by individual & culture. Children love sầu khổng lồ play và learn, looking forward to lớn becoming preteens. As preteens begin lớn kiểm tra their independence, they are eager to lớn become teenagers. Teenagers anticipate the promises and challenges of adulthood. Adults become focused on creating families, building careers, and experiencing the world as independent people. Finally, many adults look forward lớn old age as a wonderful time to enjoy life without as much pressure from work and family life. In old age, grandparenthood can provide many of the joys of parenthood without all the hard work that parenthood entails. And as work responsibilities abate, old age may be a time lớn explore hobbies and activities that there was no time for earlier in life. But for other people, old age is not a phase that they look forward khổng lồ. Some people fear old age & bởi vì anything khổng lồ “avoid” it by seeking medical and cosmetic fixes for the natural effects of age. These differing views on the life course are the result of the cultural values và norms inkhổng lồ which people are socialized, but in most cultures, age is a master status influencing self-concept, as well as social roles và interactions.

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Through the phases of the life course, dependence and independence levels change. At birth, newborns are dependent on caregivers for everything. As babies become toddlers và toddlers become adolescents và then teenagers, they assert their independence more và more. Gradually, children come khổng lồ be considered adults, responsible for their own lives, although the point at which this occurs is widely varied ahy vọng individuals, families, và cultures.

As Riley (1978) notes, aging is a lifelong process and entails maturation & change on physical, psychological, and social levels. Age, much like race, class, and gender, is a hierarchy in which some categories are more highly valued than others. For example, while many children look forward khổng lồ gaining independence, Packer và Chasteen (2006) suggest that even in children, age prejudice leads to a negative sầu view of aging. This, in turn, can lead khổng lồ a widespread segregation between the old & the young at the institutional, societal, and cultural levels (Hagestad and Uhlenberg 2006).


Dr. Ignatz Nascher & the Birth of Geriatrics

In the early 1900s, a Thành Phố New York physician named Dr. Ignatz Nascher coined the term geriatrics, a medical specialty that focuses on the elderly. He created the word by combining two Greek words: geron (old man) and iatrikos (medical treatment). Nascher based his work on what he observed as a young medical student, when he saw many acutely ill elderly people who were diagnosed simply as “being old.” There was nothing medicine could bởi, his professors declared, about the syndrome of “old age.”

Nascher refused to lớn accept this dismissive sầu view, seeing it as medical neglect. He believed it was a doctor’s duty lớn prolong life & relieve suffering whenever possible. In 1914, he published his views in his book Geriatrics: The Diseases of Old Age và Their Treatment (Clarfield 1990). Nascher saw the practice of caring for the elderly as separate from the practice of caring for the young, just as pediatrics (caring for children) is different from caring for grown adults (Clarfield 1990).

Nascher had high hopes for his pioneering work. He wanted to treat the aging, especially those who were poor và had no one khổng lồ care for them. Many of the elderly poor were sent to live sầu in “almshouses,” or public old-age homes (Cole 1993). Conditions were often terrible in these almshouses, where the aging were often sent & just forgotten.

As hard as it might be lớn believe today, Nascher’s approach was once considered unique. At the time of his death, in 1944, he was disappointed that the field of geriatrics had not made greater strides. In what ways are the elderly better off today than they were before Nascher’s ideas gained acceptance?


Biological Changes


In Harold và Maude, a 1971 cult classic movie, a twenty-something young man falls in love with a seventy-nine-year-old woman. The world reacts in disgust. What is your response to this picture, given that that the two people are meant lớn be lovers, not grandmother and grandson? (Photo courtesy of luckyjackson/flickr)


It is no secret that people in the United States are squeamish about the subject of sex. And when the subject is the sexuality of elderly people? No one wants lớn think about it or even talk about it. That fact is part of what makes 1971’s Harold và Maude so provocative sầu. In this cult favorite film, Harold, an alienated young man, meets và falls in love with Maude, a seventy-nine-year-old woman. What is so telling about the film is the reaction of his family, priest, và psychologist, who exhibit disgust và horror at such a match.

Although it is difficult to lớn have an open, public national dialogue about aging & sexuality, the reality is that our sexual selves vị not disappear after age sixty-five. People continue to lớn enjoy sex—& not always safe sex—well inlớn their later years. In fact, some retìm kiếm suggests that as many as one in five new cases of AIDS occurs in adults over sixty-five years old (Hillman 2011).

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Further Research

Read the article “A Study of Sexuality và Health aước ao Older Adults in the United States.” You will find it online at the New England Journal of Medicine.


In some ways, old age may be a time to lớn enjoy sex more, not less. For women, the elder years can bring a sense of relief as the fear of an unwanted pregnancy is removed and the children are grown & taking care of themselves. However, while we have sầu expanded the number of psycho-pharmaceuticals to address sexual dysfunction in men, it was not until very recently that the medical field acknowledged the existence of female sexual dysfunctions (Bryant 2004).


As same-sex marriage becomes a possibility, many gay and lesbian couples are finally able to lớn tie the knot—sometimes as seniors—after decades of waiting. (Phokhổng lồ courtesy of Fibonacci Blue/flickr).


How vì chưng different groups in our society experience the aging process? Are there any experiences that are universal, or bởi vì different populations have sầu different experiences? An emerging field of study looks at how lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) people experience the aging process và how their experience differs from that of other groups or the dominant group. This issue is expanding with the aging of the baby boom generation; not only will aging boomers represent a huge bump in the general elderly population but also the number of LGBT seniors is expected khổng lồ double by 2030 (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al. 2011).

A recent study titled The Aging and Health Report: Disparities và Resilience among muốn Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Older Adults finds that LGBT older adults have higher rates of disability and depression than their heterosexual peers. They are also less likely to have a support system that might provide elder care: a partner và supportive sầu children (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al. 2011).

As they transition to lớn assisted-living facilities, LGBT people have the added burden of “disclosure management:” the way they giới thiệu their sexual & relationship identity. In one case study, a seventy-eight-year-old lesbian lived alone in a long-term care facility. She had been in a long-term relationship of thirty-two years and had been visibly active in the gay community earlier in her life. However, in the long-term care setting, she was much quieter about her sexual orientation. She “selectively disclosed” her sexual identity, feeling safer with anonymity & silence (Jenkins et al. 2010). A study from the National Senior Citizens Law Center reports that only 22 percent of LGBT older adults expect they could be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in a long-term care facility. Even more telling is the finding that only 16 percent of non-LGBT older adults expected that LGBT people could be open with facility staff (National Senior Citizens Law Center 2011).


What is your relationship to aging and to lớn time? Look baông xã on your own life. How much and in what ways did you change in ten years và in twenty years? Does a decade seem like a long time or a short time in a life span? Now apply some of your ideas to the idea of aging. Do you think older people nội dung similar experiences as they age?