Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Change and age

I was at my 50th high school reunion, the other day and it was fun to see people and to catch up  and travel down memory lane. I was reminded of the fact that the only constant in life is change. People talked about their lives and the changes they went through. As they  changed, they had to make many adjustments, and these for some were unsettling.  So I started thinking about age and wondered how we in the world, define old age.

From the United Nations I found this: “Most developed world countries have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of 'elderly' or older person, but like many westernized concepts, this does not adapt well to the situation in Africa. While this definition is somewhat arbitrary, it is many times associated with the age at which one can begin to receive pension benefits. At the moment, there is no United Nations standard numerical criterion, but the UN agreed cutoff is 60+ years to refer to the older population.”

Although there are commonly used definitions of old age, it has changed over the years as far back as 1875, in Britain, the Friendly Societies Act, enacted the definition of old age as, "any age after 50"

In many parts of the developing world, chronological time has little or no importance in the meaning of old age. Other socially constructed meanings of age are more significant such as the roles assigned to older people; in some cases it is the loss of roles accompanying physical decline, which is significant in defining old age.

This transition from a contributing member of society to a non-contributing member became the basis for the definition of old age which occurred between the ages of 45 and 55 years for women and between the ages of 55 and 75 years for men.

Thus, in contrast to the chronological milestones which mark life stages in the developed world, old age in many developing countries is seen to begin at the point when active contribution is no longer possible.
Study results published in 1980 provides a basis for a definition of old age in developing countries (Glascock, 1980). This international anthropological study was conducted in the late 1970's and included multiple areas in Africa. Definitions fell into three main categories: 1) chronology; 2) change in social role (i.e. change in work patterns, adult status of children and menopause); and 3) change in capabilities (i.e. invalid status, senility and change in physical characteristics). Results from this cultural analysis of old age suggested that change in social role is the predominant means of defining old age.

 From Wikipedia came this: A Pew Research Center study of 2,929 Americans, age 18+, found that they hold very different definitions of old age. Respondents up to early 30's said that old age begins at 60, but respondents 65+ said 74

Most Britons define old age as starting at 59 according to a survey of 2,200 people in the UK. The under 25s reckon 54 as the beginning of old age. The 80+ define old age as starting at 68.  Another survey concluded that most Britons define the onset of old age as almost 70. Europeans on average set the start of old age at 62.

Physical marks of old age include the following:
  • Bone and joint. Old bones are marked by “thinning and shrinkage.” This results in a loss of height (about two inches by age 80), a stooping posture in many people, and a greater susceptibility to bone and joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
  • Chronic diseases. Most older persons have at least one chronic condition and many have multiple conditions. In 2007-2009, the most frequently occurring conditiouns among older persons in the United States were uncontrolled hypertension (34%), diagnosed arthritis (50%), and heart disease (32%).
  • Dental problems. Less saliva and less ability for oral hygiene in old age increases the chance of tooth decay and infection.
  • Digestive system. About 40% of the time, old age is marked by digestive disorders such as difficulty in swallowing, inability to eat enough and to absorb nutrition, constipation and bleeding.
  • Eyesight. Diminished eyesight makes it more difficult to read in low lighting and in smaller print. Speed with which an individual reads and the ability to locate objects may also be impaired.
  • Falls. Old age spells risk for injury from falls that might not cause injury to a younger person  Every year, about one-third of those 65 years old and over half of those 80 years old fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death for old people.
  • Hair usually becomes thinner and grayer.
  • Hearing. By age 75 and older, 48% of men and 37% of women encounter impairments in hearing. Of the 26.7 million people over age 50 with a hearing impairment, only one in seven uses a hearing aid.
  • Hearts are less efficient in old age with a resulting loss of stamina. In addition, atherosclerosis can constrict blood flow.[
  • Immune function. Less efficient immune function (Immunosenescence) is a mark of old age
  • Lungs expand less well; thus, they provide less oxygen
  • Pain afflicts old people at least 25% of the time, increasing with age up to 80% for those in nursing homes.[  Most pains are rheumatological or malignant.
  • Sexual activity decreases significantly with age, especially after age 60, for both women and men.   Sexual drive in both men and women decreases as they age.[
  • Skin loses elasticity, becomes drier, and more lined and wrinkled.[
  • Sleep trouble holds a chronic prevalence of over 50% in old age and results in daytime sleepiness  In a study of 9,000 persons with a mean age of 74, only 12% reported no sleep complaints.  By age 65, deep sleep goes down to about 5%.
  • Taste buds diminish so that by age 80 taste buds are down to 50% of normal. Food becomes less appealing and nutrition can suffer.
  • Urinary incontinence is often found in old age.
  • Voice. In old age, vocal cords weaken and vibrate more slowly. This results in a weakened, breathy voice that is sometimes called an “old person’s voice.”
Mental marks of old age include the following.
  • Adaptable describes most people in their old age. In spite the stressfulness of old age, they are described as “agreeable” and “accepting.” However, old age dependence induces feelings of incompetence and worthlessness in a minority.
  • Caution marks old age. This antipathy toward “risk-taking” stems from the fact that old people have less to gain and more to lose by taking risks than younger people.
  • Depressed mood. According to Cox, Abramson, Devine, and Hollon (2012), old age is a risk factor for depression caused by prejudice (i.e., “deprejudice”). When people are prejudiced against the elderly and then become old themselves, their anti-elderly prejudice turns inward, causing depression. “People with more negative age stereotypes will likely have higher rates of depression as they get older.”  Old age depression results in the over-65 population having the highest suicide rate.
  • Fear of crime in old age, especially among the frail, sometimes weighs more heavily than concerns about finances or health and restricts what they do. The fear persists in spite of the fact that old people are victims of crime less often than younger people.
  • Mental disorders afflict about 15% of people aged 60+ according to estimates by the World Health Organization. Another survey taken in 15 countries reported that mental disorders of adults interfered with their daily activities more than physical problems.
  • Reduced mental and cognitive ability afflicts old age. Memory loss is common in old age due to the decrease in speed of information being encoded, stored, and retrieved. It takes more time to learn new information.  Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Its prevalence increases in old age from about 10% at age 65 to about 50% over age 85. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Demented behavior can include wandering, physical aggression, verbal outbursts, depression, and psychosis.

  •  Set in one’s ways describes a mind-set of old age.  A study of over 400 distinguished men and women in old age found a “preference for the routine.” Explanations include old age’s toll on the “fluid intelligence” and the “more deeply entrenched” ways of the old.

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