The elderly are those people who are advanced in chronological age (Miller, 2000). They are the members of the society in the last stage of the life cycle (Wilson et al, 2005). The elderly stage of an individual’s life is usually faced with many challenges, ranging from physical, and social, psychological, to economic, among others. This paper, therefore, highlights some of the challenges faced by the elderly; with a bias to African American elderly women and describes the implication of gerontology education in dealing with such eventualities.
Poverty is one of the major challenges facing African Americans elderly women today. According to Okin (1989 qtd in Miller, 2000) the number of elderly women who live in extreme poverty conditions is double that of elderly men. This could be traced back to the economic injustices and unfairness during their working age according to the latter.
This aspect is even more complicated if the woman is a window or a single parent. The elderly can barely work and hence rely on their prior savings or help from their care takers and well wishers. If such an elderly does not have her own savings then she is a dependant. This increases the likelihood of such an elderly being faced with financial problems. The medical cost associated with elderly illnesses is a daunting task for elderly women. These costs are high and contribute greatly towards the impoverishment of these women. In addition, the ability to manage one’s finances efficiently and with the required acuteness largely declines with advanced age. These two challenges actually place the elderly women in a very awkward economic situation
The health of the elderly is also a big challenge on the part of this social group. Miller (2000) notes that the immunity decreases with age and as individuals grow old, they tend to develop persistent illnesses as well psychosomatic disorders and surfers greatly from emotional stress (Wilson et al 2000). According to research by the white house conference on ageing in 2006, the probability of an individual suffering from mental illness was higher among the elderly than in any other social group. According to Alina (2006) elderly women with depression are more susceptible to heart related diseases than their male counterparts. The elderly, especially women are at greater risk of suffering serious depressions as they age (Blazer & Hypel, 2005). The bad bit of developing chronic illnesses is that they are likely to affect the individual mobility, and autonomy thus influencing her total way of life and her ability to mix with others (Clevand Clinic, 2003)
In relation to the health factor, nutrition for an elderly woman is a paramount challenge. The nutrition and feeding needs of the aging woman also vary among the individuals’ elderly. According to Smith (2008) the elderly are less sensitive to the feeding habit and at times their mentors tend to take the feeding of these feeble members of the society for granted. Elderly women are often forgotten and since they are unable to feed themselves, they feed poorly thus complicating further their health status (Smith, 2009). The nutrition of the elderly is held so importantly in America that the group is exempted from fasting as per the religion they subscribe to. In addition, they are not under the obligation to take meat during the religiously forbidden days (Nakalina et al, 2004).
There is a host of physical challenges that comes with advance in age; as such the elderly women are not exempted either. The elderly are normally weak physically unfit and some times physically impaired. Some elderly people find themselves so weak physically that they can hardly do anything for themselves. They at times find themselves confined in the support chairs or worse still being fully bed -ridden. Such are completely dependent on their care takers for every aspect of life. This situation is an ideal challenge for the affected elderly. In addition, there are other physical discrepancies that occur with old age. They include loss of sight and hearing ability, according to Narita el al (2006) loss of sight and hearing ability was likely to occur at that in the latter stages of one’s life. When this happens, the elderly quality of life is greatly affected.
Aging comes with a host of social challenges too. Although aging is biologically controlled, the less old member tends to be stigmatized against growing old. As a result their perspective toward the elderly is negatively affected. The relationship between such individuals and the elderly is thus impaired often leading to their segregation (Hardanberg & Ulenberg, 2005). The elderly suffer mental problems and degradation that may affect their social aspect; the way they associate with others. This is depicted by such elderly withdrawing from the other members of the society and retiring to seclusion (J. M Lichtenstein et al. 2001). To some extent, the elderly suffer mental lapses and hence are unable to remember anything including their very children. However, this happens in the very advanced stages of aging (Narita et al 2006). As people grow old they tend to lose their social egos and meaning to life. They therefore need not only financial and material support from the aides but also close, affectionate and compassionate social support to help them regain the social status and the meaning to continue living.
Coming up with highly rated measures to tackle the mounting challenges of old age is important. Personally I tend to be biased towards health and physically related problems. In my view, these challenges are critical and effectively dealing with them will determine the success of tackling the others. Imagine an elderly who is of sound health strong and mobile. Such can therefore work and acutely manage her finances. In addition, she will remain socially relevant. As I grow old therefore, I would place my priority in tackling the health related challenges.
My attitude towards ageism has always been positive. However, the study of gerontology has impacted greatly my perspective towards old age and the elderly. It reminds me that age especially the chronological age is biologically controlled and depends on the number of years that one has lived since birth. As a result aging is part and parcel of human life and therefore the elderly should be appreciated and treated like normal human beings. Such appreciation is solidly built on the strong gerontology knowledge that getting old is not the individual’s choice but human normality (Hardanberg & Ulenberg, 2005). However, my perspective towards aging to reach senescence is yet to be changed by the gerontology knowledge – I fear the condition.
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