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Aging Through Their Eyes

23 Nov 2017

The reality is that we live in an ageist society – one that worships youth. When was the last time you saw older women and men on the front cover of trendy magazines? Even magazines that are targeted to an older market portray youthful-looking models and often have ads for anti-aging therapies and cosmetic surgeries that remove the signs of aging. Popular television shows are equally ageist, depicting older people as senile, cranky and suffering from a long list of physical problems. All of this, along with changing family and societal roles and decreased independence creates a unique set of challenges for the 55 plus.

Perspective for Caregivers

If you are caregiving for an elderly parent or other family member, understanding their experience of aging in an ageist society can go a long way in helping you deal with issues such as frustration with one another, communicating with one another, and increased dependency that can occur with caregiving. Like the old cliché says, walk a mile in their shoes.

In addition to being judged by a youth-worshiping culture, your family member or friend faces a number of life changes that dramatically affect their view of life, not to mention how society views them. These include:

  • Retirement from a long-held job may mean a loss of status, income and the network of relationships that they had at work.

  • As their children become adults with families of their own, they experience less daily contact and interaction with their children.

  • Spouses, friends and siblings die, leaving older people to grieve the loss of many significant relationships.

  • Chronic illnesses and changes in physical appearance cause your family member or friend to see themselves differently. These changes also cause society to see them differently, often as a dependent “drain on the system”.

  • Adapted from Rhodes, L. (2005). Caregiving As Your Parent’s Age: The Complete Guide to Helping Your Parents Age Gracefully, Happily and Healthfully. New York: Penguin Group.

Resources for Caregivers

How you accept and appreciate the changes that your family member or friend is experiencing, as well as their perception of aging, is a critical piece to your caregiving role. It will set the tone and direction of your communication and, ultimately, your relationship. The more you understand the nature of any disease or frailty they are dealing with, the more you’ll know how to react and cope. There are several organizations and associations that can provide you with disease-specific information and support, like the Alzheimer Society, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Parkinson Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and many others. There are also resources that deal with general frailty, where there is no specific disease that is causing problems, but more a combination of factors