Fear of Frailty and Aging in America
Seniors fastest-growing segment of the population.
All of the advances in public health have led us to a larger population of senior citizens than ever before. They are also the fastest-growing segment of our population. The average life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was 47 years; today it is 77.
Who wants to be called old, elderly, or frail?
In the United States, we have begun to fear disability, both physical and cognitive, more than death. Who wants to be called old, elderly, or frail? Sometimes we need to have the meaning of frailty thrust upon us to feel empathy. For me, it was after many years of dramatic, painful episodes of disability related to arthritis. For months, I had to spend an enormous amount of time resting, I had to use toilet aids for elderly Australia, and using crutches to walk. By depending on my husband and daughter for many things, I grasped the idea of frailty. I needed help and had to depend on others.
During that time I also learned gratitude. I was grateful to God for the people who cared for me. I was grateful for the finances to support me without my having to worry. I was grateful to live at this time in history when I had the medical and pharmaceutical means to care for me that hadn’t been available even twenty-five years ago.
Grateful for disability.
But most of all, I became grateful for the disability itself, and the way it forced me to slow down. The forced slowdown had unanticipated benefits and those results have lasted. I was forced to look inward and ponder where I had been, where I was, and to find the inner strength for each day.
My pain and disability put me in the moment, and I felt much like elders who can’t predict the future. They hurt too much today to think about tomorrow or next week. I went inward and did the work that I wouldn’t ordinarily have done if I hadn’t been forced to make changes. Having the time to reminisce and to contemplate what had gone before without the distractions of a busy life changed me.
I learned many lessons and, in the process, I was able to see the needs of elders. For example, the accumulation of things no longer matters. Elders are done with wanting things. Conceit and vanity over outward appearances are over. When our bodies begin to fail, we start to appreciate who we are and realize that we are much more than our appearance or ability to function.
I also understand why elders if they have a caregiver, want them to see that they are much more than their needs. They want comfort, but comfort means relationships that are built around a kind word, or someone willing to spend time with them and get to know them.
My disability helped me to realize that living in an atmosphere that focuses on elders and what is meaningful to them can be created in almost any environment. More and more elders are living in their own communities, often labeled as retirement centers. An ever-increasing number of elders or their families opt for the nursing home or nursing community because of medical considerations or lack of family resources for caregiving.
It is unfortunate, but many people view going into a nursing home or skilled nursing facility as just the time to mark before the end. They don’t see that the community can also be a dignified environment to complete life. Because of that sad perception, many elderly people fear nursing homes.
Please Get To Know Me
Whatever place of residence is chosen, being known for; who they are, where they have been, and what they have done encourages those relationships that bring comfort. Family and friends need to be empowered so they can assist their loved ones to maintain autonomy, individuality, dignity, and relevance in their last years.