ADULTHOOD: PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT (YOU CALL THIS DEVELOPMENT?)
The current century has witnessed a dramatic increase
in the proportion of population living to be elderly. Here's a good question,
now that I think of it.
Just who are the
When North Dakota was becoming a state, the average woman
died before age 40. Women used to have a lower life expectancy than men.
Why? Because so many of them died in childbirth.
Another interesting thought. We have more people dying
of cancer, suffering from emphysema and osteoporosis than ever, because
they are living long enough. When a
significant proportion of our population died before
age five of childhood diseases for which we now have vaccinations, or of
infections which can now be treated with
antibiotics, then we did not have as many people suffering
from Alzheimer's. Many of the people I know my age are afraid of growing
old, which strikes me as odd,
since the alternative is to die young (well, okay, it
is too late for us to die young, middle aged then.)
QUICK! Look up the answer to this question:
The fastest growing
population in America is.....
a) those under 25
b) those reaching
c) those reaching
d) those reaching
Your textbook takes the view of looking at the glass as
half-full rather than half-empty when they elaborate at length about how
only 21% of older adults say that their health is poor, and over three-quarters report that their
health not seriously impaired. When I read this, I just happened to remember
that, in my other life as a statistical consultant, I had a dataset on the computer to analyze
and it had 64 middle-aged women's ratings of their health. Only 5% of them
reported that they were in poor health. So, the half-empty side of the equation is that
older adults are four times as likely to be in poor health than middle-aged
What is the difference between a chronic illness
and an acute illness?
You should know this. Okay, just in case you don't,
an acute illness is one which is "attended with symptoms of some
degree of seriousness and coming speedily to a crisis". In other words,
it is serious, and hits you fairly rapidly. Then you either recover, or,
in some cases, die. Pneumonia is an example of an acute illness.
A chronic illness is "one which is of long
continuance or progresses slowly". Cancer, emphysema and diabetes are examples
of chronic diseases. Once you get these, you have them for a long time,
sometimes until you die.
Now, answer this question....
Elderly Americans are more likely to experience:
The answer to the first question above was (d), by the way.
(a) a higher incidence of multiple disorders
(b) lower incidence of chronic diseases
(c) higher incidence of acute illnesses
(d) multiple serious disorders
Another highly recommended book... (What? You mean
this late in the course you have not started your book review yet! )
Alex Comfort, in his book, A good age,
discusses ageism in depth. Incidentally, Comfort was most famous when I
was in college as the author of the Joy of sex, a book which all of us
had in dorm rooms in lieu of any actual sex which was much harder to come
by. Speaking of which, Comfort, a gerontologist, says that sixty-, seventy-
and eighty-year-olds are usually perfectly capable of having sex. Their
major obstacles are:
lack of partners, -- this is especially true of widows and
other single, elderly women, since there is a disproportion of males among
older adults due to the greater longevity of women
lack of privacy -- especially true in nursing homes, other
assisted care facilities and for those who live with family members. Opportunities
for sexual activities for their residents is not foremost in the planning
of the design of most residential programs. Adult children generally are
not too comfortable with the idea of mom or grandma having sex, either,
and just try not to think about it.
lack of social approval - think of the stereotypes that we
have about the dirty old man or man-crazed widow. Many older adults just
don't think it is appropriate for them to show an interest in sex.
Let's talk about ageism a little more, that would
be discrimination based on age. A number of authors, including Comfort
and the late Wolf Wolfensberger, have asserted that older adults get poorer,
less aggressive medical care than younger adults. Where we would try all
'heroic' measures to save a younger adult's life, with an older person,
the attitude of medical personnel might be, "She is eighty-three, what
is the point of doing a heart operation?" The same is true of correctible
impairments and injuries. I once analyzed a survey conducted by an organization
interested in hearing loss, and they found that many older adults with
hearing impairments never went and got hearing aids because they just accepted
missing parts of conversations as part of getting old. Now think about
if that was your thirteen-year-old child instead of your seventy-year-old
grandma. You would make darn sure that child got hearing aids, wouldn't
When a younger person has some type of injury which impairs
mobility, for example, my oldest daughter recently tore a ligament in her
knee, we insist on surgery to correct it. When an older person has an injury,
we, and they, are more likely to believe they should just accept some degree
of impairment as part of old age. Yet, if someone had suggested that my
seventeen-year-old should not have surgery and just learn to live with
pain and not being able to run, we would consider such a suggestion shocking
and heartless. It is like the old joke:
THINK ABOUT IT
A ninety-three-year-old woman complains to her physician
that her left knee has been hurting her, it tends to go out on her when
she is going downstairs or has been walking for an extended period, causing
her to fall. This has restricted her freedom to get around, since she tends
to avoid going to places where she knows she will have to climb a
lot of stairs or walk a lot. The doctor tells her,
"Well, you have to expect that sort of thing at your
age, after all, you are ninety-three."
The woman responds,
"Well, my other knee is ninety-three, too, and it
Two last points....
||Comfort says that, if your doctor believes that being
old means you should accept being sick, socially isolated and sexually
inactive, then you should find another doctor! He also stated that old
people are physically impaired for the same reasons that younger peopole
are, they were injured, got sick, or, in a minority of cases, were born
that way. (He forgot to mention drugs, though, check out the discussion
of prescription medication in your textbook). Comfort asserts that older
people are not qualitatively different in their physical functioning than
the rest of the population.
||You do not become a different person when you are old.
If you love your work, enjoy walking in the woods, like sex and are involved
with your community, what makes you think that when you are thirty years
old, the idea of being celibate and playing shuffleboard all day will appeal
to you? If the idea of setting home and doing nothing appalls you, at what
age do you think it will sound attractive to you? One of the points throughout
this course is that, while there is both stability and change in development,
throughout the lifespan, you stay the same person in many important ways.
Oh, by the way, the answer to the second question was
the next quiz. It is a long one, so be sure you have read Chapter 16 first.
to the next page on older adult development.