Seventy Six Years And Counting

Topics: Old Age

What does growing old mean? Is it just restricted to physical aging alone? Susan Charles and Laura L. Carstensen in their paper discuss how ‘social and emotional life changes with age’; as one ages, they attain emotional stability, their social networks narrow as their ‘social roles change quantitatively and qualitatively’ and ‘their investment in meaningful relationships increase’. Also, their compromised physiological functioning does not let them perform the activities they once did with ease, and their social interactions are strained due to sensory losses (Charles and Cartensen).

Talking about my own grandmother, she is not a lady who would sit idle; she would always engage herself in some work. But as one ages into wrinkly skin, it’s not just the physical restraints that make one feel socially isolated.

It’s actually the inability of the family and social environments to understand their restraints that further lead to their isolation and they end up feeling lonely. My grandmother and I share a beautiful bond and therefore I happened to witness her journey of aging closely.

Her bed time stories and snuggly cuddles were a better part of my childhood as well as adulthood. I had the privilege to share the room and deepest secrets with her. In fact, I was her personal hearing aid both literally and metaphorically, whenever she couldn’t listen or understand somebody, I would always say it loud for her. And if she ever needed help, I would be the first one to be by her side.

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Not only that, I spent most of my evenings with her while we sat on the swing, talked and sipped on lemonade. I was not just her granddaughter but her companion as well.

When I first told my grandmother that I would be moving to a hostel in the coming days, she was rather displeased with a hint of melancholy on her face. Yet she masked her face with a smile as I was really happy to move on to the ‘greener pastures’. At that time I was so excited for the new phase of my academic journey that I didn’t think about her as much. Our room was the common bond of our friendship and love; I would listen to her stories each night and tickle her feet while she tried to sleep. As the excitement of the YIF began to roll, that common bond was somewhere lost. I often missed on calling her. She would often complain of me making excuses for not being able to talk to her. I had been really busy ‘dadi ma’ (grandmother), is all I would say and she slowly began to call me a little less often.

My inability to understand her emotions caused some distance between us. Having shared a meaningful relationship with her, I began to notice the feeling of loneliness that arose within her since she always talked about being alone in the room as my mother was busy with household chores, my father with work and my brother with his books and his newly bought ‘phone’. The author of ‘Emotional and social aging’ discusses the dependence of “emotional well being and distress” of older adults centrally on their social relationships which further induces positive and negative emotions in them (Charles and Cartensen). I could definitely relate with what the author said as I slowly realized the emotional trails that she was going through because of me and how significantly it affected her general happiness.

However, thinking about these issues at large, young adults associate many stereotypes with the changing needs of the older adults. Researchers have found that young people relate a lot of ‘negative benchmarks’ such as illness, dependence and loneliness with aging at much higher levels than older people actually experience it; similarly benefits like more time for hobbies, travel or volunteer work are also experienced at much lower levels by older adults than younger people anticipate them (Dovey). The transition period of once being independent to making them dependent on us for simple things and then expecting them to be independent again when we are away generally causes distress in them. We as young people tend not to provide them with enough space to express them and associate their withdrawal from us with a set of stereotypes which further impacts their relationship with us.

I have often heard from family and relatives that older adults are like children who are over filled emotions and begin to behave with ‘immaturity’. They act like babies as they can’t speak but need to be understood, can’t eat but need to be fed and can’t walk but are in need of a helping hand. Both are restrained by their physicality and emotions. The only difference is that babies need help as they grow whereas the older people need it on their plight of decline. But why are such stereotypes associated with old age? Old people are just like normal people that happen to be old (Dovey). They don’t need our help or our judgment; all they need is acceptance, love and care.

In so many ways, our grandparents dedicate their lives to us. From making silly faces just to make us smile when we were toddlers, massaging our hair with truckloads of oil just to keep them healthy, taking care of us when we are unwell, reciting us bedtime stories while cushioning our heads with their arm to silently listening to our rants telling them ‘they don’t know anything’ as we grow up. They are dedicated to us in every phase of our lives, embraced us when we fall weak and gave us confidence to be strong. Once we grow up, we as young people claim to take good care of our grandparents while fulfilling all their needs and requirements, bringing them medicines, giving them food and all that they require. But is it only about the ‘things’ that they require to suffice their needs?

If at all, do even things suffice any of their needs? Do we really care for them enough to comprehend their needs? We often tend to overlook the need of well being in our elders. The realization of my grandmother’s needs and well-being as I moved away from her made me think about this issue at a deeper level. As young adults, how can we promote ‘well being’ in older adults? According to the findings of the authors of ‘Promoting Well-Being in Old age’, old age is “a stage of competence development and adaptive adjustment, rather than a phase of mere psychophysical decline” (Delle fave). As the younger generation, we must promote the independence of older generation rather than not letting them do the things they want to owing to set stereotypes pertaining to old age in our minds.

According to the British novelist Penelope lively, aging is a ‘commonplace experience’ with added years, ‘a historical context and a generous range of ailments’; and we must foster ethical responsibility towards them and not empathy alone (Dovey). We must also provide them with a ‘respectful and thoughtful distance’ which would enable us to respond to their needs better and ‘escape the stigmas and restraints imposed upon disability’ associated with old age (Dovey). I still remember when I had chicken pox; nobody came near me as it was a communicable disease. Everyone took care of me but from a distance. It was only my grandmother who took care of me, shared the same bed and fed me. I knew that it was right to stay away from me but deep inside I felt isolated and unwanted.

The same feeling of being taken care of but from a distance is something that most elderly people go through. They do acknowledge that we have busy schedules and therefore fail to spend much time with them. However, deep inside they need both our affection and attention to facilitate their development and adaptation at this stage of their lives. They were there with us when we needed their support. Then why we tend to neglect them when they need our support? Why do they end up being lonely despite our presence? According to me, it is the ethical duty of younger generation, to at least reciprocate to all the support they got from their elders whenever they needed it. We as the young generation do need to realize that the older generation not only gifts us with the fondest and most memorable memories of our lives but also enrich us with the wisdom that they attained with experiences throughout their lives.

According to Marc Freedman, it is very important to have intergenerational connections as “when older and younger people form meaningful relationships, it improves the well being of both the groups” and hence relationships are critical to well being especially as one ages. I am of the opinion that it is not just the responsibility of family or younger adults to ensure the well being of the senior citizens, rather it is also the duty of the government to promote financial and health security amongst them. In an article published by Press Information Bureau, the current vice president of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, stressed on the responsibility of the young generation to play a key role in the welfare of ‘senior citizens’ as they are “the conscious keepers of the society”. In his speech, he also admitted the fact that despite the advancements in science and technology, not much has been done in order to provide social, physical, economic and health security to the elder people.

Despite launching various schemes such as health care and pension, the government is continuously failing to provide optimum assistance to the senior citizens and directly holds the younger generation responsible for their well-being. Although, it is the joint duty of both the government and the young adults to take care of the senior citizens; but is the government doing enough to facilitate them to avail the benefits of such schemes? Old age is not the time where the elders are made to run around the government counters to avail such benefits (Naidu); hence there is a strong need for better implementation of such policies by the government in order to provide our elderly with better support from the government’s end as well.

In every way, the older generation is the most important resource that the younger generation needs. As Barbara Mayerhoff put it rightly in her words, “we are dehumanized and impoverished without our old people, for only by contact with them can we come to know ourselves” (Dovey). Our elders are the same people as they once were when they were young; however maybe slightly bent with a lot less strength, wrinkled and grey, and not forever to stay. They don’t need our sympathy or our pity; all they need is some love, some care and a lot more understanding. And I constantly feel that by not taking enough care of them, we are losing on to the biggest blessing of our existence. They are not growing any younger with each passing day and they won’t stay with us forever; can we stop for once in our fast paced lives to hold on to them and treasure their existence before they are gone?

Works Cited

  1.  Arnold, Matthews. (1867). Growing Old by Arnold Matthews. Poetry foundation.
  2.  Charles, Susan T, and Laura L Carstensen. (2010). Social and emotional aging. Annual review of psychology vol. 61.
  3.  Dovey, Ceridwin. (2015). What Old age is really like. The New Yorker.
  4.  Delle Fave, Antonella et al. (2018). Promoting Well-Being in Old Age: The Psychological Benefits of Two Training Programs of Adapted Physical Activity. Frontiers in psychology vol. 9 828.
  5.  Freedman, Marc. (2019). What happens when old and young connect. Greater good science centre at UC Berkeley.
  6.  https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=183868

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Seventy Six Years And Counting. (2022, Feb 23). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/seventy-six-years-and-counting/

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