Seniors and Life and Health


This article in Science Daily caught my attention. While seniors are not just wrinkly adults, I realized that the other way seniors are treated is as wrinkly children.
Not only caretakers and health workers, but often our own children have an unhappy tendency to “infantalizing” seniors. Small gestures such as wanting to hold hands crossing the street–not as a loving gesture, but the same way we do with small children; daily calling us to check up on our health because we might need them to get over our minor cold; assuming that we can’t keep up with technology and insisting on showing us how to turn on the computer.
One senior issue is the assumption that seniors don’t want or are not capable of a full sex life. This, of course, combines with a cultural “ichh” factor that many feel when they consider parental sex life.
I’m not complaining about gestures of love or aid. But making the assumption that because seniors are by definition superannuated they would be unable to cope without constant help, or unable to understand anything technical or complicated. (My friend, Julie is, at 77, studying Calculus, teaches mathematics at the local prison, is a Sudoku master, swims 25 laps regularly and much more.)
Like all people, seniors do sometimes need help with new ideas and tasks. Seniors do tend to be much less able physically. And many seniors have given up on sex, not because they don’t want it but because they don’t have partners.
(For more great information about sex and seniors, visit Joan Price’s blog, Naked at Our Age. You will learn things that will enlighten you and that apply even if you are not a senior.)

Defining the New Normal in Aging

Feb. 27, 2013 — Diana McIntyre approaches her 80th birthday later this year with the same energy and zest for life of friends decades her junior. Aside from back surgery years ago, she’s never been sick and, through a busy volunteer schedule, never seems to slow down.

McIntyre’s good health feels normal — at least to her — although she recognizes not all seniors are so fortunate. But when it comes to terms like “normal,” “healthy” or “successful” aging, she shakes her head.

“I don’t know what would be considered normal aging,” said McIntyre, past president of the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton. “What’s normal for a 45-year-old? What’s normal for an 80-year-old? Those are really irrelevant terms as far as I’m concerned. My own philosophy is I would like to do as much as I can, for as long as I can, as well as I can.”

Hannah O’Rourke, a PhD student and Vanier scholar in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, says terms such as normal or healthy aging are commonly used by health-care professionals to describe or influence how seniors should age. Often they emphasize personal lifestyle choices in staying healthy, such as eating well, staying active and not smoking.

Chronic disease might be the norm, but doesn’t have to be the focus

But those terms can fall short of the experiences of most older Canadians, and how they’re used affects how a society views older generations — especially seniors living with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, says O’Rourke.

“Normal aging is not something we can easily define,” she says. “There are many older adults with chronic disease who report they still enjoy life. When aging is just defined as ‘healthy’ and ‘devoid of disease,’ it doesn’t leave a place for what to do with all of these older adults who are still aging with chronic illnesses.

“Cures for chronic illnesses are not always around the corner, and health-care teams have patients to care for now. We need to find ways to support older adults with chronic disease to live well according to their own definitions of health and normality.”

O’Rourke, a registered nurse whose research focuses on quality of life for people with dementia, points out that many Canadian seniors are well enough to live at home, yet 80 per cent have some form of chronic disease. With that large a majority, putting the onus on individual choices to age successfully sends the wrong message.

“The implication is that if you have a chronic illness as an older adult, you’ve somehow failed in this goal of aging without chronic disease, which is perhaps not that realistic a goal.”

Sound the alarm, a grey wave is here

O’Rourke says much of the policy work, research and teaching about aging also relies on statistics to describe Canada’s greying population, such as estimates that, by 2026, one-fifth of the country will be over the age of 65. But those statistics frame aging as a problem to be fixed, she says, and that affects how we view seniors.

McIntyre feels these implications, and not in a positive way.

“When people think of seniors, they think of their limitations instead of their capabilities,” she says. “The huge majority of us are doing very well on our own, thank you.”

O’Rourke points out that an aging society can also be viewed as a success story because it means the majority of us are living well into our older years.

“Just because something requires resources doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a huge problem.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 5, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    David, thank you for recommending my blog about sex and aging! You and the article in Science Daily bring up important issues here. Thank you for bringing them to our attention.

    I’m 69 and teach a two hour line dance class three times a week. I live a full, vibrant life — writing books about senior sexuality, traveling to give speeches. However, I live with three chronic medical conditions, am sometimes in pain, and am occasionally (rarely!) grateful for offers of help.

    My take-away lesson from my own aging process is to live our lives as richly and fully and authentically as we are able, to communicate clearly, and to refuse to let people stereotype us because of our age.

    • Posted July 6, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I’m glad to share your wisdom with people. While you do not claim to be a “professional”, you are one of the best sex educators I know, better than many who claim professional status. You are also in an absolutely amazing person. Your writing has been helpful to many folk, and your lifestyle is an inspiration.

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