“Wrinkles mean you laughed, grey hair means you cared, and scars mean you lived” – Author Unknown
A man’s life is usually divided into five stages, namely, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. The first four stages of life roll very fast and, before you know it, one starts feeling tired. Old age sets in and one begins to slow down physically, physiologically, mentally, and health-wise.
We have witnessed the elderly in our families declining in physical strength and health. Old age is a period that is accompanied by the loss of job and property, reduced income and a frail physical appearance. It is also a period of social alienation arising from loss of spouse and friends. This may result in frustration, disappointment, dejection, disease and loneliness.
The challenges of old age are made worse by the fast changing lifestyles where the younger family members are engaged in busy lives arising from the pressures and demands of today’s life and probably live far from their aging parents.
This article highlights the challenges that the elderly face in today’s world. It is hoped that the information will help us to understand their predicaments so that we can give them quality and enjoyable life. It is also hoped that the knowledge will prepare us for our own old age which is inevitable and fast approaching.
Firstly, the advancing age results in failing health, and this is complicated by non-availability of good quality, age-sensitive health care, poor accessibility of health service providers and/or high cost of disease management. The health conditions that affect the aged include arthritis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, pneumonia and flu. Accidents, especially falls that result in hip fractures, are also common in the elderly.
Secondly, the elderly face economic insecurity when they are unable to sustain themselves financially, sometimes because they lack the opportunity and/or the capacity to be productive, like in younger days, because of their slowing physical and mental abilities. The loss of regular income and the limited access to resources makes them dependent on family or society.
Thirdly, many elderly people complain of social isolation and of loneliness. Their social life is narrowed down by inaccessibility to former workmates, and the death of their age-mate relatives, friends and probably even their spouse. Their weak health restricts their participation in social activities, and this leaves them confined at home. The indifference of family members towards them creates more emotional problems, especially when the younger family members become assertive and refuse to include them in family and business affairs. If not addressed, this creates a feeling of deprivation of their dignity and importance, which in turn may result in insomnia (inability to sleep), depression, dementia and elevated blood pressure, among other health problems.
The elderly, especially those who are weak and/or dependent, require physical, mental and emotional care and support. When this is not provided, they suffer from neglect. The changing lifestyles and values, demanding jobs, distractions such as television and social media, a shift to nuclear family structures and redefined priorities have led to increased neglect of the elderly by families and communities.
Being relatively weak, the elderly are highly vulnerable to physical abuse, most often by someone who is part of the family or otherwise close to them. In addition, the elderly may suffer from emotional and mental abuse for various reasons, including the misuse of their finances.
The elderly become bored or idle when they are poorly motivated to be useful or productive, especially after a busy and routine-filled younger life. A person who is not usefully occupied tends to physically and mentally decline and this in turn has a negative emotional impact.
The social isolation, neglect, reduced responsibilities, the increasing ailments may make the elderly feel as if they have less value or worth and this results in lowered self-esteem and self-confidence.
The life of some elderly persons becomes insecure when they begin to lose control of their resources, physical strength, bodily functions, social or designated status and decision-making powers.
The weakness, and the loss of control makes many of the elderly to live in fear, and they need to be reassured, whether their fears are rational or irrational.
A large number of people enter “old age” with little, or no, idea of what it entails. Lack of preparedness for old age makes it difficult to accept the changes that come with aging, a denial that makes coping with the realities of old age a big challenge.
As I conclude, it seems to me that, considering the changing lifestyles and traditions, homes for the aged may greatly help ease most of the challenges that the elderly face, including provision of the much needed age-sensitive nursing care. The challenge in Kenya is that homes for the aged are very few and far between. The last time I checked, staff of one of the homes told me that their waiting list of eligible senior citizens was so long that one had to wait for three years to be admitted. It seems to me that concerted efforts are needed to find and implement activities that will make it easier to deal with the many challenges of aging.