Saturday, September 29, 2012

Aging and Decline

Two problems associated with aging are cognitive decline and chronic disease and illness. Both create a tremendous burden on the aging individual as well as family members. Cognitive decline is not uncommon during the latter part of the lifespan. The aging brain shrinks and slows in its ability to function (Santrock, 2008). Along with the brain shrinkage, most individuals experience a decline in physical coordination as well as in their intellectual capacity. In most forms of dementia, not only do individuals experience a decline in cognitive abilities, they lose a range of functions that include "memory, attention, language, visuospatial skill, perceptual speed and executive functioning" (Prabhavalkar & Chintamaneni, 2010, p. 388).

Strategies for Thriving with Dementia
Robinson, Clarke, and Evans (2005) found early detection helps individuals and their families understand and adjust to a diagnosis of dementia. Furthermore, it gives them more time to find the most appropriate services and treatment options prior to needing them. Prabhavalkar and Chintamaneni (2010) found early diagnosis and aggressive treatment of mild dementia is critical because even mild dementia puts an individual at higher risk of Alzheimer disease. Prabhavalkar and Chintamaneni also believed that the increase in the aging population at risk necessitates the need for "valid diagnostic tools, understanding of causative and conversion factors, early prognostic counseling, pharmacologic intervention, and health care" (p. 391).

Chronic Disease in Aging
The second issue common in ageing adults is an increase in chronic disease and health issues. Not only do older adults experience the ordinarily self-limiting aches and pains of age, they are also more likely to be diagnosed with chronic, even life threatening or terminal illness. Although the complex issues of illness must be left to medical science, research (Guindon & Cappeliez; ) suggests there may be another more arcane aspect to health.

Subjective Health

Guindon and Cappeliez (2010) and Mossey (1995) determined subjective health or having a positive self perception regarding one's health, is an essential component to overall psychological health and well being in older adults and seems to be predictive of a loss of functioning and even mortality. Of particular interest is that research has demonstrated positive emotions changed physical malfunction, specifically, cardiovascular issues precipitated because of stress (Guindon & Cappeliez, 2010; Mossey, 1995).

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Throughout history, conventional wisdom has advised humankind to seek happiness. According to Guindon and Cappeliez (2010), research has demonstrated when people experience satisfaction in life, happiness, self-esteem, and control over their lives, they perceive themselves as healthy. Although the effects of a strong support system cannot be understated (Zunzunegui, Béland, & Otero, 2001), Guindon and Cappeliez contend an individual's mood directly contributes to illness. In practice, especially with aging adults, it seems prudent to help them gain psychological and subjective health. If subjective health is predictive of physical health and longevity, this practice has tremendous implications for aging adults, and most likely, for the rest of us.


Guindon, S., & Cappeliez, P. (2010). Contributions of psychological well-being and social support to an integrative model of subjective health in later adulthood. Ageing International, 35, 38–60. doi: 10.1007/s12126-009-9050-7

Mossey, J. M. (1995). Importance of self-perceptions for health status among older persons. In M. Gatz (Ed.), Emerging issues in mental health and aging (pp. 124–162). Washington: American Psychological Association.

Prabhavalkar, K. S., & Chintamaneni, M. (2010). Diagnosis and treatment of mild cognitive impairment: A review. Journal of Pharmacy Research, 3(2), 388–392.

Robinson, L., Clarke, L., & Evans, K. (2005). Making sense of dementia and adjusting to loss: Psychological reactions to a diagnosis of dementia in couples. Aging & Mental Health, 9(4), 337–347. doi: 10.1080/13607860500114555

Santrock, J. W. (2011). A topical approach to life-span development (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Zunzunegui, M. V., Béland, F., & Otero, A. (2001). Support from children, living arrangements, self-rated health and depressive symptoms of older people in Spain. International Journal of Epidemiology, 30, 1090–1099. doi:10.1093/ije/30.5.1090

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