Many of our readers said they would have an interest in academic material that I write as I work toward my doctorate in geriatric psychology. The following article is an adapted version of such writing, so you will notice that it doesn’t have my same whimsical approach or opinionated editorial comments. For some crazy reason the professors prefer the bland version, so here you go!).
Naturally, those of you who have been through the Success in Seniors Real Estate courses and coaching programs have already been exposed to some of this material, but it warrants a refresher!
Embracing Late Life Complexities
One might think that as individuals enter the third and fourth ages they would have fewer worries, challenges or problems to face. No longer burdened with childrearing, vocational tasks, or the need to engage in social assimilation, aging can certainly appear appealing to those in middle adulthood, however, just as with each developmental stage of life, later adulthood is not without its challenges (Hargrave & Hanna, 1997).
While for the majority entering older adulthood there are fewer societal expectations to meet, occupational requirements to undertake, and familial obligations to manage, this phase of life brings with it an entirely new set of priorities and complex circumstances. Despite best attempts at living balanced and healthy lives, effectively adapting to certain biological, social, and psychological changes in later years can prove difficult for some. When unable to successfully resolve these complex challenges alone, individuals seek guidance from professionals and other trusted advisors (Hughston, Christopherson & Bonjean, 1989).
Every individual and family system is unique and therapeutic interventions are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It is my belief that each of us, regardless of our title, is uniquely positioned in exactly the right place and at the right time for when we can be the support a senior and their family may need.
As such, if you choose to serve seniors, you owe it to your tribe to know more about the various issues that they face.
Being aware of the issues does not in any way imply that you should be an expert at treating them or providing professional interventions (i.e. medical, nursing, therapy, financial, legal, etc.) for all of them, but rather have the ability to connect your clients and others with the necessary appropriate resources to assist them in their journey.
Biological and Physical
As physical bodies age, a variety of systems may begin to deteriorate resulting in the need for increased medical care, prescription medications, and supportive services, and adaptive equipment. Understanding the various physiological aspects of aging is important because the mind body connection is intricately intertwined.
Not only can the presence of chronic illnesses play a major role in the psychological outlook of aging individuals, the availability of formal and informal support, as well as individuals’ ability to access quality medical care, can also impact the overall mental health of older adults.
Below is a list of primary biological and physical issues of which those providing services for the aging population should be aware (Hargrave & Hanna, 1997):
- Existence of chronic illness
- Changes in sensory perception
- Changes in musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous systems
- Compromised or reduced immune system
- Hormone imbalances
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple prescription medications
Social and Familial
Aging does not occur in a vacuum. Life events, support systems, and environments impact individuals in all phases of life and can be particularly relevant is the third and fourth ages. Literature reflects that life satisfaction is often positively correlated with the quality and availability of social and support networks.
Naturally, the longer one lives, the more losses they experience, and these losses can negatively impact the network older adults rely upon for physical, social, and emotional support.
The list below includes areas that can be of concern to older adults. While clients and family members may or may not specifically recognize such issues as having an impact in their current affect or behaviors, we must assess the possibility of these issues creating challenges in the context of our services. (Hargrave & Hanna, 1997; Hughston, Christopherson & Bonjean, 1989).
- Recent retirement
- Financial changes or concerns
- Change in social network
- Change in living situation
- Familial support
- Familial relationships
- Access to services
Cognitive and Psychological
There is considerable debate in the literature concerning the causes of cognitive decline in later years and why some individuals experience profound cognitive decline, while others live long lives with no apparent changes in cognition. Despite ongoing attempts to determine the causes of cognitive change in old age, most seem to agree that the majority of older adults do currently experience some level of cognitive decline, however slight it may be.
Cognitive decline and psychological issues late in life are interrelated, often resulting in complex and overlapping presenting problems (Hargrave & Hanna, 1997). The list below includes a number of mental health issues of which professionals should be aware:
- Short term memory loss
- Reduced problem solving capabilities
- Decrease in cognitive function
- Suicidal ideation
- Chronic mental illness
Individuals are complex beings living in a complex world. Each individual is unique, possessing varying personalities, preferences, life experiences, and belief systems. It is often these factors that will most influence how people respond in various circumstances (Hargrave & Hanna, 1997; Hughston, Christopherson & Bonjean, 1989).
- Loss of independence
- Loss of control
- Personality type
- Emotional intelligence
- Ability to adapt
- Regret, guilt, shame, resentment
Working with older adults will (more often than not) involve working together with family members and other caregivers.
Considering the increasing lifespan, it will not be uncommon for professionals to be serving older adults in conjunction with as many as three other generations within the family system. With decades of family history and complex dynamics at play, working with older clients requires an understanding and appreciation for the multiple underlying layers present within the working relationship.
Additionally, professionals must be aware of their personal beliefs and biases related to successful aging and aging issues.
Culture, personal experience, and religious beliefs can influence the working dynamic and have an unintended impact when left unchecked. It is through exploring ones own beliefs about aging, as well as the development of awareness about potential sources of personal discomfort or bias, we can best serve the needs of elder clients and their families.
Hargrave, T. D., & Hanna, S. M. (Eds.). (1997). The aging family: New visions in theory, practice, and reality. Philadelphia, PA, US: Brunner/Mazel. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy1.ncu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=1997-08219-000&site=eds-live
Hughston G. A., Christopherson V. A. and Bonjean M. J. (Eds.). (1989). Aging and family therapy: Practitioner perspectives on golden pond. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy1.ncu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbvb&AN=EDSBVB.BV001325262&site=eds-live
(Adapted from academic submission by Nikki Buckelew for doctoral program course credit).