Age represents the wealth of life experiences that molds who people become. As humans age, numerous aspects of their lives tend to change, including the constellation of people with whom they are connected, their social context, families, and health, and these changes are often interrelated. With old age comes greater mental, physical, social, and financial vulnerability. For example, the weakening of short-term memory contributes to enhanced vulnerability to financial exploitation. Additionally, older adults and their families may experience various financial issues in accessing medical care and the resources to purchase medicine to ensure their health. These heightened health care needs may cause friction with caregivers and/or other family members thereby leading to isolation. Additionally, numerous old age issues may lead to depression and anxiety and these include coping with physical health issues, financial difficulties, isolation, taking care of a spouse with a physical disability or dementia, the loss of a loved one, and conflict with family members. Therefore, it is important for the elderly to be given adequate medical care and social support. Only by doing so can their lives become less stressful and thus prolonged. This paper discusses the various social problems that are associated with aging.
Social Problems with Adulthood and Ageing
Population aging generates several challenges and sparks considerations concerning the speed of future economic progress, the operation and financial integrity of health care and pension systems, as well as the well-being of the elderly. Among the most important social characteristics that affect the welfare of older people are those related to their family, position, and way of life. Families offer connections to others in a web of supports and demands. They provide a key context in which health is produced and challenges to health are met. They provide valuable resources such as money, time, and services to their members. The health and well-being of each member depending on the health and well-being of the others since the resources that family members command and the demands they make both depend on their health and functioning (Waite 2010). Moreover, family members offer emotional support, information, and connections and the loss of a loved one, especially a spouse or close family member can cause depression and loneliness amongst old people. Depression negatively impacts the ability of a senior person to function properly and if left untreated, can lead to disability. Elderly people without family ties are susceptible to depression and loneliness while some of those with families sometimes feel neglected and unhappy as they believe that they are a burden to the family.
As individuals grow older, they need to keep close emotional ties is relatively stable, whereas peripheral social relationships are preferably discontinued. The perception of social isolation and an objective lack of social connections pose health risks to elderly persons (Waite, 2010). Health at older ages develops and changes within a social context and within a family and/or intimate partnership that also changes in both form and function (Waite, 2010). Older people without a partner have worse physical and mental health than those with a partner, which proves the family status impacts health (Waite 2010). Elderly people have limited social contacts due to their small social circle and lack of energy to exert themselves in social activities, which in some cases lead to complete social exclusion. Reduced flexibility, loss of fitness, and vulnerability to illness are some of the challenges older adults face, which may lead them to isolate themselves from others in society. Furthermore, as adults age, some require help to perform certain tasks such as purchasing groceries and gardening, which may make them feel useless leading to depression and loneliness. Moreover, people over the age of 65 can experience depression that is triggered by life changes such as the loss of a loved one. Changes in socioeconomic status and various health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and deteriorating eyesight also negatively impact an old person’s way of life. As such, the elderly require care and affection and they should not be isolated. On the contrary, they should be encouraged to foster and maintain social connections since it is vital to their mental wellbeing and healthy aging. Services for elderly people should be designed to suit their needs rather than the needs of the provider. Also, not only should social workers be provided with better systems to record elderly needs that are yet to be met, but also trained on two-way channels of communication.
According to Waite (2010), the health endowment of an individual is linked to socially relevant others (partner, kin, friends) with whom they may pool resources, exchange services, and provide advice and support. Major changes in the institutions of marriage and the family and family demography in the form of fewer children, growing legitimacy for same-sex marriages, increasing divorce and remarriage, parenthood initiated at later ages, the high proportion of unwed pregnancies, and marriage or parenthood is forgone have challenged the well-known norms about family responsibility. These changes have also reduced and sometimes expanded the networks of the family to care for older relatives (Bloom, 2011). Additionally, even though marriage is viewed as an important structure of social support that has been linked to reduced illness and increased longevity, high divorce rates and stepfamilies, along with lower fertility rates, have increased the chances that older adults will move through their later years alone, with little family support. Furthermore, older adults who decide to stay by themselves are especially at risk of social isolation since they have no one to care for them.
Physical and mental health influence each other because the aging of the body leads to morphological and functional changes in all organs and systems. The elderly experience a variety of chronic degenerative pathologies due to their weakened immune system and reduced adaptation competencies of their bodies leading most of them to need some form of medical care since they can have more than one illness. As such, an aging person becomes vulnerable to numerous diseases. For example, older adults with medical problems such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who do not have health conditions. Conversely, untreated depression in a senior person with heart disease negatively affects the outcome of the disease. Additionally, the weakening of short-term memory due to aging may enhance vulnerability to financial abuse. Even minor depression, hypertension, and stroke lower an elderly person’s immunity thereby compromising the ability of the individual’s immune system to fight infections and diseases. The manifestation of such a condition in the aged is associated with exhausting illnesses and requires geriatric care.
The incessantly increasing population of aged folks and the problems of adulthood and aging are becoming universal. The prevalence of chronic illnesses in these age groups has a huge impact on the demand for long-term care. Social isolation, especially through the lack of a partner is a reality for many aging individuals and has strong links with both physical and mental health (Waite, 2010). Society should address its medical and social needs associated with its providers as well as provide competent health care to improve the quality of life for elderly people. Providing access to quality health services for older adults can reduce health care expenses by lowering the regularity of primary care visits and medication use. Moreover, social contacts, such as a spouse or kin and friends, can lessen the impact of depression symptoms. Elderly people lack the energy to perform physically demanding tasks around the house and the garden. It is therefore important that they are given assistance e.g. by a social worker or kin to perform these tasks.
It will take more nursing homes, nurses, doctors, and special needs programs to take good care of the aged population. With old age comes greater mental, physical, social, and financial vulnerability. The older an individual becomes, the more reliant he/she becomes on others, especially close family members. Many older people have a practical attitude towards help as opposed to direct care and accept what is available when they need it. Therefore, it is important that the society takes care of the elderly population by providing them with adequate health care services and affection. Furthermore, the elderly who can go about their business routinely should not be isolated in nursing homes but provided with assistance whenever they need it. By doing so, the society will play an active role in prolonging the lives of the elderly by making their lives easier and less stressful.
Waite, Linda, and Aniruddha Das. “Families Social Life and Well-Being at Older Ages.” Demography 47.1 9 (2010): S87-s109.
Bloom, D. E., Boersch-Supan, A., McGee, P., & Seike, A. (2011). Population Aging: Facts, Challenges, and Responses. Benefits and Compensation International, 41(1), 22.