Stress and everyday annoyances are not crises. Situations that interfere with normal activity, inspire feelings of panic or defeat, and bring about deep emotional reactions are crises. A crisis is a “turning point” or a crucial time that will make a difference for better or worse. The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters – one means despair and the other means opportunity. When a person experiences crisis, there will either be a negative outcome or a positive one. The direction of the outcome depends on a number of factors such as – physical and emotional health of the individual, support from others, childhood upbringing, past experience with similar situations, and the duration of the crisis situation. I propose to focus specifically on the life crises with which the elderly population faces, notably the loss of a spouse or companion, retirement, and contending with a terminal illness. Through examining the latter crises and their potential to influence the health of an elderly individual, I expect to learn of means by which the elderly may give way to in order not to become overwhelmed with the changes.
Different life crises have different impacts. In many cases, however, it may be possible to anticipate crises and prepare for them. It may also be useful to recognize the impact of crises that have occurred so that one can take account of them appropriately. Holmes and Rahe with the Social Readjustment Scale have done some very interesting work in this area. This allocates a number of “Life Crisis Units” to different events, so that one can evaluate them and take action accordingly (Niven 99). While this approach is obviously a simplification of complex situations, using LCUs can give one a useful start in adjusting to life crises. With regards to the elderly population, namely the events “death of a spouse”, “personal illness or injury”, and “retirement” rate 100, 53, and 45 LCUs respectively. One of the most powerful stressors in one’s life, particularly in the elderly population, is the loss of a loved one or a close relationship through the death of a spouse or companion. In the two years following bereavement, widowed people are more susceptible to illness and physical ailments, and their mortality rate is higher than expected. Bereaved people may be vulnerable to illness in part because, feeling unhappy, they do not sleep well, they stop eating properly, and they consume more drugs and cigarettes. Bereavement, and the emotional loneliness it creates, produces cardiovascular changes, a lowered number of white blood cells, and other abnormal responses of the immune system (Broome and Llewelyn 545). After spending one’s lifetime intimately with another individual, namely one’s spouse or companion, losing him or her is an unfortunate and life changing experience. A widow who was dependent on her husband’s financial assistance may encounter distress beyond the physical and emotional grief. Similarly, a widower who was reliant on his wife’s ability to keep house may undergo distress because of his perceived incapability to survive on a day-to-day basis. Whether the death of a spouse or companion is one that is expected or one that is not, the emotional and psychological distress experienced by the bereaved is somber. Death is inevitable, although for those elderly individuals who comprehend the fact that their time is nearing empowers him or her to make amends with others, with oneself, and with God. A bereaved elderly individual may become isolated and depressed, and therefore it is necessary for him or her to surround his or herself with loved ones. A network of support is beneficial for the bereaved aged individual. It is through this empathetic and inviting atmosphere that he or she may be able to openly express his or her thoughts and concerns. Family and friends serve as a temporary means for the widowed to occupy his or her mind with substance other than their lost loved one. The availability of intimate contacts is positively related to the maintenance of psychological well being (Niven 173).
For most working individuals, retirement is a phase in one’s life that he or she looks forward to, that is a time when one is able to reap the benefits of his or her hard work. Increasingly, and perhaps disconcertingly, there is a tendency for old people to uproot, leave their families and long term friends and move to warmer parts of the country to enjoy their retirement in comfort. If new friendships are not developed, elderly people may experience loneliness, uselessness, and lower self-esteem (Niven 173). On the other hand, some psychologists believe that old people actively seek out isolation. Under the terms of the Disengagement Theory, put forth by Cumming and Henry in 1961, the aging individual is acceptant, perhaps even desirous, of the decreased interaction. In addition, the theory argues that gradual disengagement is functional for society, which would otherwise be faced with disruption by the sudden withdrawal of its members (Kart et al. 76). Working part-time is a familiar role for many older people. The office is “second home” to many working individuals, and once retired find they miss not the work, but rather the environment. Working part-time for many retirees is a way for them to ease into retirement gradually, while enabling them to keep in contact with their colleagues. A major concern for many elderly individuals is perhaps not having developed a formal retirement plan and not having saved enough to finance the activities they hope to pursue in retirement, hence their desire to return to the workforce. Retirees who return to the workforce are given an improved sense of self-worth, as well as are able to form friendships with younger workers, which is important to the aged workers as their family support networks are shrinking as relatives and friends pass away.
At some point in our lives we will face the harsh reality of someone we know and love battling a terminal illness. According to Moo’s Model, a crisis sets forth-adaptive tasks to which various coping skills can be applied. According to this model there are five major sets of adaptive tasks – 1) to establish the meaning and significance of the situation; 2) to confront reality; 3) to sustain relationships with family and friends; 4) to maintain a reasonable emotional balance; and 5) to preserve a satisfactory self-image (Niven 103). By establishing the meaning, the elderly individual becomes aware of the fact that he or she is contending with a terminal illness, and regards the personal significance of the distressing issue at hand. It is during this stage that the elderly individual attempts to understand, accept, and construct an explanation for his or her present situation. When confronting reality, the individual ought to make appropriate arrangements as long as he or she is still able to, regarding matters such as finalizing his or her Will and Testament to informing beneficiaries of insurance policies. Despite the dismal outcome of a terminal illness, it is essential for the elderly individual to uphold relationships with family and friends. It is normal for the tendency of an ill individual to isolate his or herself from loved ones. However, great effort should be tendered on the part of the individual to communicate his or her thoughts, chiefly to concerned family members and friends who are willing to give support, but more importantly there to listen. Without a doubt, both transitions and crises evoke powerful emotions, yet it is imperative to try to keep these emotions in perspective. Lastly, it is important to strike a balance between accepting help and taking control of one’s life on one’s own (Niven 104). In spite of the painful aspects of death and dying, ongoing love and attachment during the dying process can still exist. While loss generates grief, love reaffirms the value of attachments that still survive. Successful caring for someone with a life threatening or terminal illness requires the development of good coping skills. We all possess the ability to adapt to change, but we must learn how to cope with loss. Most of that learning can be done by observing the behaviour of others and by remembering our own experiences. From these observations, we may decide which coping techniques are the most comfortable or efficient for us; then act accordingly. Confronted by the unknown and frightened realities of death, ill elderly individuals may never feel completely secure. Nonetheless, the support from caring persons can be a course of great comfort and help.
Transitions explores times of unexpected change in our lives that need not be viewed as problems or sidetracks, but as opportunities and integral parts of the process of life itself.