The Fear of Aging

We live in a culture that holds beauty, youthfulness, active and successful lifestyle as the epitome of health, vitality and admiration. With age, most people notice a decline in energy level, physical agility as well as reduced motivation to keep their social connections active and rewarding.

Concerns about losing one’s cognitive capacity is a major source of anxiety to aging individuals. Seniors joke about getting to the next room and not being clear why they went there, or about depending on notes to remember what they plan to do, or about temporary forgetfulness, or losing their train of thought and experiencing ensuing panic. Elders fear the lessening of cognitive acuteness and the dread of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive diseases looms heavily on most Seniors’ minds as they occasionally falter.

Confidence comes from mastery of life’s tasks. As human independence gradually decreases with age and we need more assistance from others, we become more anxious and fearful. Even a slight reduction in our level of competence in handling large or small tasks evokes deep fears and even panic about our decreased autonomy and increased dependence on others.

A 2007 Research by Marketing Charts found that “89% of seniors want to age in place – or grow older without having to move from their homes – and 53% are concerned about their ability to do so.” This study also found that though only 1% of seniors received financial support, 75% said their children are involved “enough” in their lives. 63% of Baby Boomers stated that they provide some assistance to their parents in household maintenance, transportation, medical issues, financial decisions and more.

Seniors also experience emotional losses associated with the narrowing of their social connections. When it is hard to ambulate, for example, the effort to go anywhere is exhausting and thus the elderly become more home-bound and isolated. Loneliness is another source of anxiety for elders as they feel marginalized, ignored and unworthy.

Humans need to matter not to shatter and as we age we feel that we matter less and less and become more and more fearful about insignificance and abandonment. Elders worry about impending infirmity and loss of personal purpose and value.

Some elders become emotionally distraught when they compare their current state with their former levels of functioning. They may feel despondent, eat less, become weaker and their will to live may be reduced.

Due to their reduced level of activity and their lowered interest in food, they may start withering away. It may be nature’s way of preparing us for our demise, but most people fear it, resist it and struggle to continue to live.

Though battling anxiety, apathy, loneliness and isolation may have been motivators for changes in our earlier years, in later years it may become an extinguisher of our will to live.

Help an elder:

  • Resist the convenience of withdrawing from elders.
  • Be compassionate – help and cheer an elder.
  • Model compassion for elders to the younger generation.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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