Gerontology is a multidisciplinary field – the study of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging. Gerontologists include researchers and practitioners in such variegated areas as biology, medicine, nursing, dentistry, social work, physical and occupational therapy, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, economics, political science, pharmacy, and anthropology. Gerontologists concern themselves with many aspects of aging, from studying the cellular processes involved to searching for new ways of improving the quality of life for older people.
Geriatrics concentrates on how to manage or prevent the diseases of aging. Geriatrics, too, has become a specialty in medicine, nursing, and dentistry. This study now receives more attention with the increase in the number of older people besieged with long-term health problems.
We now introduce the reader to what is called Social Gerontology. The term was originated by Clarke Tibbits in 1954 to delineate that area of gerontology concerned with the effect of social and sociological conditions on the aging process and the consequences of the process. Social gerontologists are interested in how the older population and the diversity of aging experiences affect and are affected by the social structure. The older segment of the population is now the fastest-growing in America.
This gives rise to far-reaching problems in health and long-term care, the workplace, pension and retirement practices, company facilities, housing design, and patterns of government and private spending. “Already it has led to new specialties in health care and long-term care, the growth of specialized services such as assisted living and adult day health programs and a leisure industry aimed at the older population.
Changes in the socio-political structure, in turn, affect characteristics of the older population and civic engagement initiatives.” (Hooyman & Kiyak, n.d.). For instance, the growing availability of secondary and higher learning, health promotion programs, and retirement planning offers hope that in the future, older people will be better educated, more secure economically, healthier, and more engaged socially than the present generation of the elderly.
The idea of an active lifestyle for the elderly is vital and widely accepted. The World Health Organization defines it to be the “process of optimizing opportunities for health participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life.” This would include all people – those who are frail, disabled, or who require assistance with daily activities. Such a definition changes our view that old age is a period of passivity to that of continued participation in the family, community, religious and political life.
Most services for older people are oriented toward minimizing environmental demands and increasing supports. These services may focus on changing them, the social environment, or both. Physical changes such as ramps and handrails and community services such as meals-on-wheels and Escort vans are simple ways to re-establish the older person’s level of competence and confidence.
Keeping all the aforesaid in mind, how may the elderly accomplish what is expected of her/him? He starts with himself. He must follow all the health rules: Exercise, eat a balanced diet, get enough rest and sleep, not to mention brush, floss, and gargle every day. He has to consult his dentist and doctor at regular intervals. If he needs dentures, make sure they fit and are comfortable. He has to visit his doctor for check-ups especially when on hormone therapy or the like. Submitting oneself to x-rays is needed too, upon doctor’s advice.
As long and as much as possible, the elderly individual must rely on himself to manage the basic activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming, cooking, and general housekeeping. However, when the need arises, he must not hesitate to avail of the services of a therapist (e.g. for massage), a part-time nurse to remind one of time to take medication, and the like.
The elderly would be wise to surround themselves with people, especially loved ones. One need not be a recluse. Our advice would be – join family activities – parties, picnics, even short trips. This would imbue the old one with greater respect, security, and a sense of belongingness. Join a religious organization where one may be assigned to visit the slums and probably aid the underprivileged. One will probably thank his lucky stars that he is not one of them.
One can also go back to school and earn that M.A. or Ph.D. Old age is not the end of the endeavor. At least, learn something new – any useful skill will do – auto repair, dressmaking, cosmetology, computer science, etc. The list is endless. Each to his interest. One can even enter politics if he can stand the stress. There are many activities one may engage in if he gets involved in community life – typing lessons, dancing lessons, learning to drive are other examples. It’s a well-known fact that non-use of certain parts of the body leads to Atrophy.
The overall advice to the elderly is to keep a peaceful and optimistic attitude towards life. Paul and Joan Cuthbert embody such an attitude. Married 57 years from the time they were college sweethearts, their marriage lasted with respect for each other and strong faith in God. True love is indeed a secret to longevity!
One needs to be active and productive with social gerontology. Keep moving and be assured that you’re on the right track!
Davis, R. (1989) My Journey Into Alzheimer’s Disease. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishing, Inc.
Hooyman, N.R. & Kiyak, H.A. (n.d.) Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Pearson.
Interview with Paul and Peggy Joan Cuthbert.