At each point in life, as an individual sheds previous roles and assumes new ones, new institutions or situations are involved, which require both learning and a revised self-definition. You are no longer a toddler, you are in kindergarten now! You are no longer a child, you are in high school now! You are no longer a student, you have a job now!
You are no longer single, you are going to have a child now! You are no longer in mid-life, it is time to retire now! Each phase comes with different responsibilities and expectations, which of course vary by individual and culture. The fact that age-related roles and identities vary according to social determinations mean that the process of aging is much more significantly a social phenomenon than a biological phenomenon. Children love to play and learn, looking forward to becoming preteens. As preteens begin to test their independence, they are eager to become teenagers.
Teenagers anticipate the promises and challenges of adulthood. Adults become focused on creating families, building careers, and experiencing the world as an independent person. Finally, many adults look forward to old age as a wonderful time to enjoy life without as much pressure from work and family life. In old age, grandparenthood can provide many of the joys of parenthood without all the hard work that parenthood entails. As work responsibilities abate, old age may be a time to explore hobbies and activities that there was no time for earlier in life. But for other people, old age is not a phase looked forward to.
These differing views on the life course are the result of the cultural values and norms into which people are socialized. Through the phases of the life course, dependence and independence levels change. At birth, newborns are dependent on caregivers for everything. As babies become toddlers and toddlers become adolescents and then teenagers, they assert their independence more and more. Gradually, children are considered adults, responsible for their own lives, although the point at which this occurs is widely variable among individuals, families, and cultures.
As Riley notes, the process of aging is a lifelong process and entails maturation and change on physical, psychological, and social levels. Age, much like race, class, and gender, is a hierarchy in which some categories are more highly valued than others.
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For example, while many children look forward to gaining independence, Packer and Chasteen suggest that even in children, age prejudice leads both society and the young to view aging in a negative light. This, in turn, can lead to a widespread segregation between the old and the young at the institutional, societal, and cultural levels Hagestad and Uhlenberg In the early s, a New York physician named Dr.
Ignatz Nascher coined the term geriatrics , a medical specialty focusing on the elderly. He created the word by combining two Greek words: geron old man and iatrikos medical treatment. Nascher refused to accept this dismissive view, seeing it as medical neglect. Nascher saw the practice of caring for the elderly as separate from the practice of caring for the young, just as pediatrics caring for children is different from caring for grown adults Clarfield Nascher had high hopes for his pioneering work.
He wanted to treat the aging, especially those who were poor and had no one to care for them. Conditions were often terrible in these almshouses, where the aging were often sent and just forgotten. Each person experiences age-related changes based on many factors.
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Biological factors such as molecular and cellular changes are called primary aging , while aging that occurs due to controllable factors such as lack of physical exercise and poor diet is called secondary aging Whitbourne and Whitbourne Most people begin to see signs of aging after age 50 when they notice the physical markers of age. Skin becomes thinner, drier, and less elastic.
Wrinkles form. Hair begins to thin and grey.
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Men prone to balding start losing hair. The difficulty or relative ease with which people adapt to these changes is dependent in part on the meaning given to aging by their particular culture. A culture that values youthfulness and beauty above all else leads to a negative perception of growing old. Conversely, a culture that reveres the elderly for their life experience and wisdom contributes to a more positive perception of what it means to grow old. The effects of aging can feel daunting, and sometimes the fear of physical changes like declining energy, food sensitivity, and loss of hearing and vision is more challenging to deal with than the changes themselves.
The way people perceive physical aging is largely dependent on how they were socialized. If people can accept the changes in their bodies as a natural process of aging, the changes will not seem as frightening. Additionally, , people, or 1. Parker and Thorslund found that while the trend is toward steady improvement in most disability measures, there is a concomitant increase in functional impairments disability and chronic diseases.
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At the same time, medical advances have reduced some of the disabling effects of those diseases Crimmins Some impacts of aging are gender specific. Some of the disadvantages that aging women face rise from long-standing social gender roles. In the health care field, elderly female patients are more likely than elderly men to see their health care concerns trivialized Sharp and are more like to have the health issues labelled psychosomatic Munch Another female-specific aspect of aging is that mass-media outlets often depict elderly females in terms of negative stereotypes and as less successful than older men Bazzini and Mclntosh The gradual decrease in male sexual performance that occurs as a result of primary aging is medicalized and constructed as needing treatment Marshall and Katz so that a man may maintain a sense of youthful masculinity.
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On the other hand, aging men have fewer opportunities to assert the masculine identities in the company of other men e. Some social scientists have observed that the aging male body is depicted in the Western world as genderless Spector-Mersel Male or female, growing older means confronting the psychological issues that come with entering the last phase of life. Young people moving into adulthood take on new roles and responsibilities as their lives expand, but an opposite arc can be observed in old age. What are the hallmarks of social and psychological change?
Retirement—the idea that one may stop working at a certain age—is a relatively recent idea. Up until the late 19th century, people worked about 60 hours a week and did so until they were physically incapable of continuing. In , Germany was the first country to introduce a social insurance program that provided relief from poverty for seniors.
Social Security Administration N. The retirement age was initially set at age These plans continued to provide benefits to seniors at age 70, but by age 65 had been gradually phased in Canadian Museum of History N. In the 21st century, most people hope that at some point they will be able to stop working and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
But do people look forward to this time or do they fear it? When people retire from familiar work routines, some easily seek new hobbies, interests, and forms of recreation. Many find new groups and explore new activities, but others may find it more difficult to adapt to new routines and loss of social roles, losing their sense of self-worth in the process.
Each phase of life has challenges that come with the potential for fear. Erik H. Erikson — , in his view of socialization, broke the typical life span into eight phases.
Each phase presents a particular challenge that must be overcome. In the final stage, old age, the challenge is to embrace integrity over despair. Some people are unable to successfully overcome the challenge. They may have to accept that they will never reach certain career goals. Or they must come to terms with what their career success has cost them, such as time with their family or declining personal health. Others, however, are able to achieve a strong sense of integrity, embracing the new phase in life.
When that happens, there is tremendous potential for creativity. They can learn new skills, practise new activities, and peacefully prepare for the end of life.
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For some, overcoming despair might entail remarriage after the death of a spouse. A study conducted by Kate Davidson reviewed demographic data that asserted men were more likely to remarry after the death of a spouse, and suggested that widows the surviving female spouse of a deceased male partner and widowers the surviving male spouse of a deceased female partner experience their postmarital lives differently. Many surviving women enjoyed a new sense of freedom, as many were living alone for the first time.
On the other hand, for surviving men, there was a greater sense of having lost something, as they were now deprived of a constant source of care as well as the focus on their emotional life. It is no secret that Canadians are squeamish about the subject of sex.
When the subject is the sexuality of elderly people no one wants to think about it or even talk about it. In this cult favourite film, Harold, an alienated, young man, meets and falls in love with Maude, a year-old woman. What is so telling about the film is the reaction of his family, priest, and psychologist, who exhibit disgust and horror at such a match.