Reminiscence: Understanding the aged

Reminiscence: Understanding the aged
The aging population is growing rapidly within the global context. The church and the society use to see the older population as a liability rather than seeing potential for a renewed visionary mission not only in the western context but especially in the south and South East Asian christian context. The life expectancy is increased tremendously for the last few decades due to the medical advancement. According to the US Social Security Administration, the number of persons 65 years of age and older has grown from 3.1 million in 1900 (4 percent of the total population) to 38 million in 2007 (13 percent). This number is expected to increase to 72 million in the year 2032 (20 percent of the total population).1 As of march 2012 India's older population will increase to 19% by 2050 and expected to encompass 323 million people,  a number greater than the total population of US. 

My parents are behaving indifferently, they are rigid, repeating the same thing what they have told earlier and not changing according to the situations or fast moving culture are some of the complains often made against them? I had a professor who was in his late eighties teaching us Tabernacle, Pastoral letters, but his class consist of the same old words, stories, testimonies, experience, Bible verses and old King James English in a repeated manner. Most of the students were irritated and became restless in his class because of this generational disconnection.
Today in the society, medical treatment and scientific development has brought lot of change to human beings as a whole and resulted in living longer in the world. The ‘empty nest’ phenomenon has affected the nuclear family system and brought out many old age homes in our society. Old age is a developmental stage just like the developmental crisis during the adolescence or middle age. In India the modernization, globalization and post colonization has brought the ditto of western culture and civilization with its deteriorative nature of the ancient family systems like joint family system, where old people are considered not as a burden but as a blessing with due rights, respect and privileges.  In this context understanding the need of an old age person is very relevant in today’s context. The physical, mental, emotional and social need are to be taken seriously.
As an old person he or she experiences numerous structural, functional, changes in their body. The change in appearance takes place. Wrinkles decreases fat in muscle tissue that result in inelastic skin, decrease in height due to spiral disc compression, deterioration in bone tissue, chemical changes in brain results in weakening of physical sustains are only some of the evidence in appearance. The capacity of regeneration slows the cardiovascular (heart and blood) vessels manifest significant changes. Fatty concentrations (cholesterol) in the heart and arteries also reduce blood flow. Degeneration of blood vessels leads to increase blood pressure. Lung capacity also decreases with age. Changes in the gastrointestinal system such as deterioration of the mucosa lining in the intestinal tract and reduction of gastric juice contribute to the frequent intestinal complains. In the area of vision, impaired eyesight is most common. Change in the lens are exacerbated by the formation of cataracts. Sensory loss associated with aging is hearing- due to degenerative changes in the auditory system. Increased susceptibility to disease also prevalent. Organic brain syndrome disorders are cerebral arteriosclerosis- related to increased arterial cholesterol levels, arteries ‘harden blood’ flow to the brain is reduced and localized brain death occurs and Senile dementia ( loss of memory).
Mental reasoning or cognition decreases in integration ability, memory, inductive reasoning, quickness of response, conceptual ability, learning creativity, vocabulary, sensory motor functions and drive motivation. Personality changes occur such as an increase in rigidity, gradual shift from an outward external stimulus to a more internal orientation. The common fundamental disorders or specialized diseases of old age are hypochondria, institutional neurosis (diminished capacity of thought and action), Dementia (Impairment of memory and cognitive disturbances), depression, paranoia, senility(mental deterioration and confusion) and chronic anxieties. Aphasia (deterioration of language function may be manifested by differently producing the names of individual and objects). Speech became vague. Impaired ability to execute motor activities like counting, cooking and dressing. Failure to recognize or identify objects. Individual may have normal usual activity but lose the ability to recognize the objects such as chairs.
Emotional problems/needs make the aged socially isolated and dependent and feel helpless. Even physical disability may lead to decreased mobility and emotional stress. It can also affect one’s self image. Increase dependency leads to a downward spiral of decreasing self-esteem. Aging entails increased exposure to losses. It is a season of loss, loss of income, friends, activities, productivity, roles, power, identity, independence, physical loss and loss of emotional and social support through the death of loved ones. Loneliness, emptiness, and helplessness prevalent. Extreme loneliness may lead to emptiness.  The anticipated worries (anxiety) such as feeling of becoming alone, spouse after one’s death, own death, unfinished tasks, becoming a burden to others, children's future and settlement, economic uncertainty, loneliness at the time of death and so on.
Social needs are segregation ( rejection by the society), desolation (cutting away from family ties and relationship, empty nest issues, disengagement, increase leisure world, marital relationship and satisfaction and the need for sense of belonging. Religious and spiritual needs includes relief from guilt, grief, fear, an assurance of God’s continuing love and grace, need for finding purpose in life, need for integration of life, facing death with dignity, find meaning in memories, need for participation in rituals, and religious support to cope with anxiety and grief. Concern for the older persons in the church is theologically grounded in the doctrine of creation. Older adults deserve respect, dignity, and equal opportunity. Every church need to create an advocacy board  to explore the possibilities of their wisdom, dignity, skills etc. The aging process is part of God's plan for life, with the good news of Christ's redemption giving hope and purpose. 
Reminiscence Therapy is helping the clients to draw the energy from the past events, activities, achievements, success and experiences. For the aged population the future seems doom, difficult and challenging. Sometimes we use photographs, household items, places, musics, taste and even familiar people etc. The clients are encouraged to talk about past events in a chronological order and this is one of the most popular psychosocial intervention for dementia and other old age transitional or developmental crisis. Reminiscence therapy will truly improve the clients mood, cognitive function and well being. Once up on a time , they were able to climb Himalaya (the highest mountain) and now they can't get out of their bed. 


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Binu Peniel


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