Growing old is something which, for most, is as natural a stage of life as adolescence, and it isn't easy!
Although growing older is gradual, because there are sometimes significant health issues it can seem to happen suddenly, and that can be traumatic. Often it is a fall, which can result in broken bones which take longer to heal, therefore affecting mobility and independence. Even after recovery, there can be a loss of confidence. Sometimes it is a very serious event such as a stroke or heart attack, which again affects confidence and independence, even after recovery. There may be conditions associated with old age such as sight or hearing loss, and it is easy to feel more and more powerless as the conditions advance and increase in severity, and these can feel like conditions which can often only be improved with the use of hearing aids or glasses. They are just part of 'growing old' and there is no recovery. This is not always true, though, and sometimes, particularly with some eye conditions, there have been great advances in treatment which do provide a measure of recovery - but what matters, often, is that the conditions are there at all - reminding us that we are in the 'Twilight' years, we're 'on the way out', we're 'seniors' or 'pensioners'. There is no recovery from old age.
Of course, there are significant illnesses associated with older age such as Parkinson's Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, dementia, lung diseases and others, some of which may have developed out of historic family tendencies to develop them, and some may possibly develop out of early lifestyle choices. Some may arrive out of nowhere! How, when and why they arrive is not significant once they are part of life, but what can be significant is how they are dealt with. Not just medically, with treatment, but psychologically.
We can feel we are meant to just accept that our bodies don't work as they used to, that we are becoming frail, that we can fall easily, that we are forgetful, that we can no longer participate in activities which used to light up the week, that we can't always eat the food we used to enjoy - and so it goes on. Then there comes the time when we have to give up our independence and need a 'care package', or even more traumatic, we have to give up our homes and move into full-time care. We have to move into an institution, where we can easily lose our sense of self as we become just one of the 'residents' or a 'service user'. We have given up our ability to drive, to walk, to take a bath, to climb the stairs. We have had to reduce our entire house full of contents to those which will fit into just one room. We have lost a sense of privacy and we are no longer able to maintain our personal boundary.
It is easy to see how everyone can be affected by the ageing process to some degree, and there are many wonderful, patient, understanding and caring younger people who do all they can to help, but there is often a shortage of time to spend on listening to the sadness, the sense of loss, the anger, the grief, the shame, the loss of power and control in many areas of life, which the increasing years inflict. Empathy is wonderful, but it is not always enough. Added to which, as perhaps a last-ditch attempt to hang on to some sense of dignity, it can be difficult for some older people to feel able and willing to accept their vulnerability, which means they find it hard to share their feelings. They may seem cross or stubborn, they refuse to comply, but just beneath the surface, they could be crying out to be listened to and understood!
Offering therapy, in the form of a safe, confidential space - either dedicated to counselling and psychotherapy, or in the place where the older person is living, can help by providing the opportunity for the sharing of some of the difficult feelings brought up by the challenges of ageing, whilst maintaining respect, and enabling a sense of empowerment where the client can regain a sense of dignity and value.
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