Living includes dealing with our own and our loved ones’ mortality. In her book, On Death and Dying (1997), 1Elizabeth Kübler-Ross describes five phases of grief through which people pass in grappling with the knowledge that they or someone close to them is dying:
Denial: “I feel fine.” “This can’t be happening; not to me.”
Anger: “Why me? It’s not fair!” “How can this happen to me?” “Who is to blame?” Bargaining: “Just let me live to see my children graduate.” “I’d do anything for a few more years.” “I’d give my life savings if…”
Depression: “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” “I’m going to die. What’s the point?” “I miss my loved ones—why go on?”
Acceptance: “I know my time has come; it’s almost my time.”
Despite Ross’s popularity, there are a growing number of critics of her theory who argue that her five-stage sequence is too constraining because attitudes toward death and dying have been found to vary greatly across cultures and religions, and these variations make the process of dying different according to culture (Bonanno, 2009). 2 As an example, Japanese Americans restrain their grief (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2009) 3 so as not to burden other people with their pain. By contrast, Jews observe a 7-day, publicly announced mourning period. In some cultures the elderly are more likely to be living and coping alone, or perhaps only with their spouse, whereas in other cultures, such as the Hispanic culture, the elderly are more likely to be living with their sons and daughters and other relatives, and this social support may create a better quality of life for them (Diaz-Cabello, 2004). 4
Margaret Stroebe a nd her colleagues (2008) 5 found that although most people adjusted to the loss of a loved one without seeking professional treatment, many had an increased risk of mortality, particularly within the early weeks and months after the loss. These researchers also found that people going through the grieving process suffered more physical and psychological symptoms and illnesses and used more medical services.
The health of survivors during the end of life is influenced by factors such as circumstances surrounding the loved one’s death, individual personalities, and ways of coping. People serving as caretakers to partners or other family members who are ill frequently experience a great deal of stress themselves, making the dying process even more stressful. Despite the trauma of the loss of a loved one, people do recover and are a ble to continue with effective lives. Grief intervention programs can go a long way in helping people cope during the bereavement period (Neimeyer, Holland, Currier, & Mehta, 2008). 6
- Most older adults maintain an active lifestyle, remain as happy or happier as when they were younger, and increasingly value their social connections with family and friends
- Although older adults have slower cognitive processing overall (fluid intelligence), their experience in the form of crystallized intelligence—or existing knowledge about the world and the ability to use it—is maintained and even strengthened during old age.
- Expectancies about change in aging vary across cultures and may influence how people respond to getting older.
- A portion of the elderly suffer from age-related brain diseases, such as dementia, a progressive neurological disease that includes significant loss of cognitive abilities, and Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal form of dementia that is related to changes in the cerebral cortex.
- Two significant social stages in late adulthood are retirement and dealing with grief and bereavement. Studies show that a well-planned retirement can be a pleasant experience.
- A significant number of people going through the grieving process are at increased risk of mortality and physical and mental illness, but grief counseling can be effective in helping these people cope with their loss.
EXERCISES AND CRITICAL THINKING
- How do the people in your culture view aging? What stereotypes are there about the elderly? Are there other ways that people in your society might learn to think about aging that would be more beneficial?
- Based on the information you have read in this chapter, what would you tell your parents about how they can best maintain healthy physical and cognitive function into late adulthood?