Old Age Problems and Their Solutions

An old person

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by Jayaram V

Old age is one of the most difficult phases of human life. Life itself, from birth to death, is full of suffering and challenges. That suffering multiplies in old age as one grows physically and mentally weak and loses the ability to maintain youthful strength and attitude. In old age, people feel as if they are losing control over themselves and over the changes which old age brings. At that stage, they also experience alienation and isolation as they find themselves in a world that seems to be growing apart from them, leaving them behind. It is as if the world in which they were born and grew up has disappeared or about to disappear just as the memories of their past and all that they loved and enjoyed.

Many changes happen in old age which adversely effects one’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It is a declining phase of everyone’s life which brings in its wake many physical problems most of which are irreversible and incurable. It is common for older people to experience problems such as failing eye sight, hearing problem, weight problems, teeth problems, memory problems, digestion problems, skin problems, joint problems, loss of sexual potency, etc. They effect their physical health as well as their mental health whereby many experience confusion, fear, alienation, loneliness, depression, emotional instability, irritability, insomnia, low self-esteem, cognitive impairment, and so on.

Old people also suffer from loneliness, social isolation and relationship problems as they cannot maintain their active lifestyles or preserve their independence and self-reliance. As the statistics show, it can lead to other problems such as premature death, dementia, depression, anxiety, etc. Their world keeps shrinking as they can no longer actively participate in social activities or visit other people, and as their friends and family members who belong to the same age group die or become busy with their own problems. Their problems multiply if they happen to be immigrants, minorities or belong to outlier groups who traditionally suffer from many social disabilities.

Old age problems are not confined to humans only. Almost all animals and birds suffer from it. I see every day how age afflicts my dog who is two months short of 17 full years. He has been a part of our household for long since he was a three month old puppy. He quickly became an active member of our family and filled our lives with lot of happiness and positive feelings. Nowadays it is painful to watch him growing older, weaker and disoriented. Age has crawled into him and sapped his energy and sprightliness. He is no more his usual self, despite his best efforts to hide his suffering and weakness and appear normal. I believe animals hide their weakness or even suffering as a part of their survival strategy to avoid becoming an easy prey to predators.

It is ironical how old age changes our lives. When we are young, a lot of good things happen to us and we keep hearing a lot of positive news about ourselves and others, especially those with whom we grow. It is when we are full of hopes, dreams and idealism. We see people growing up, getting married, finding jobs, celebrating successes and personal victories. In old age much of that changes. Having seen a lot of suffering and striving, we become realistic and accept the reality of life as a series of struggles and challenges. We learn to settle for less, withdraw from active and busy life and let our children and the younger generations take control of their lives and of the world. It is also the time when we begin to lose contact with friends and family members and keep hearing the news of their death, illness or suffering. Old age problems become even more painful and difficult when situations such as the following arise.

  • Sudden retirement from an active life
  • Ailments, disability or debilitating injury
  • Family problems and disputes
  • Accidents or unexpected or unforeseen developments in life
  • Economic adversity or hardship or sudden loss of income
  • Wars, recessions, pandemics, social or civil unrest
  • Loss of close friends or family members
  • Death of the loving and caring spouse or life partner
  • Death or terminal illness of one’s child or a grandchild
  • Lack of love, caring and attention from one’s own children
  • Mental ailments such as depression or loss of memory

However, despite all such problems, one does not have to lose hope and treat old age with dread or disdain. At some point, everyone has to face it. We also need a lot of change in the attitude of younger generations towards older people and how they are viewed or treated. I once met a person who argued that old people were a burden to society and should not get any preferential treatment in matters of healthcare. He forgot that every generation owes a lot to the previous generation, and people earn the right to retirement benefits or healthcare by their own contributions and a life time of hard work.

In some cultures, especially in Asia and Africa, old people are treated with respect and valued for their knowledge and experience. Hindu and Buddhist ethical laws place a lot of emphasis upon treating older people with respect to improve one's own righteousness and earn good karma. In today’s world, those ancient values are on decline. In today’s world, old people suffer from alienation and discrimination in many areas. They are subject to stereotypical thinking and labels and treated without consideration for their experience, knowledge or insight. This problem is acute in countries and communities where the populations are largely younger and urban and where old people are not considered a valuable asset.

Old age is not a curse, unless you want to give up and give yourself to self-defeating or negative thoughts. You do not have to feel bad about yourself or situation or feel inferior and unwanted. It is the time for you to celebrate your past and live with gratitude, knowing that you have been given a wonderful opportunity to be a part of this world and lived with consciousness and self-awareness. Think of the odds of you taking birth as a human being in a gigantic universe most of which seems to be lifeless or unconscious. Your living or not living does not make any difference to the world, but it does to you. The opportunity itself is worth more than all the suffering which you experience. Therefore, it makes sense to make most of whatever life that is left and celebrate it within your limitations.

In Hinduism we consider Death the lord of the mortal world. He is why we are all subject to death, decay, aging, sickness and impermanence. He has terrible forms, which are described in many scriptures and which invoke uncontrollable fear in people. However, he also has many pleasant forms, which soothe us and comfort us. From the scriptures we also learn that he is a great teacher. If you are willing to learn, he can be your friend, guide and philosopher and teach you many secrets of life and how to overcome death. It is what we learn from the Katha Upanishad, one of the most ancient texts on earth. In that, Lord Yama, the lord of Death, teaches young Nachiketa, the secrets of conquering death and becoming immortal. Truly, in old age, when Death is nearer to us and hovers in the vicinity, we have an opportunity to look at our own lives in retrospect and learn valuable lessons from them about ourselves and life itself.

Effective solutions to deal with old age problems

Everyone’s life is different, and everyone has to cope with the problems of old age in their own ways. One cannot deal with old age problems with stoicism and idealism as projected by our scriptures. At the same time, no one can prevent the inevitability of aging or the consequences which arise from it. The best one can do in these circumstances is to accept it gracefully and realistically, without being consumed by the negativity, anger, fear, despair, etc., which it causes. Here are a few important suggestions to cope with old age problems.

1. Keep yourself in good health. In old age, people should lead a healthy life, taking appropriate measures to maintain good health. They should treat their bodies with love and compassion and with gratitude since it is their life-support and their health and wellbeing depend upon it.

2. Follow medical advice. Since health problems multiply in old age, aged people should invariably seek medical advice about their health and stick to it. They should go for regular medical checkups as a preventive measure so that they can proactively safeguard themselves against any health problems which may arise later. They should also take proper medication as prescribed by the doctors and avoid self-medication or experiments.

3. Practice cleanliness. In old age, healthy and hygiene become most important. The body needs to be kept clean and free from germs and possible infections. One should also keep the house or the living space clean and free from germs. Oral hygiene is equally important. The food one eats must also be clean and free from contamination or fermentation.

4. Prevent accidental injuries. Older people are prone to accidents and injuries and take more time to recover from them. Hence, they should be extra careful and always remain on guard whether they are performing household chores, moving outside the house, negotiating steps, driving vehicles or taking bath. The bathroom floor should be slip resistant. They should also protect their backs (spinal columns) from injury by maintaining proper posture and avoiding undue stress.

5. Cultivate right mental attitude. Aging brings in its wake many mental and emotional problems such as loneliness, alienation, isolation, despair, negativity, depression and low self-esteem. Although there is no common or simple remedy for them, a lot of negativity associated with old age can be handled by cultivating positivity. With right mindset and optimism they can endure the hardships and the problems of old age.

6. Keep yourself busy and active. The problem of loneliness and alienation which become acute in old age can be overcome by remaining busy and engaged in some meaningful and useful activity such as learning a new language or skill, pursuing a hobby, meeting people, doing voluntary service or helping others.

7. Nurture relationships. Old people should avoid being control freaks or troubling others with unreasonablem demands, intereferene in their lives with unwanted advice or petulant behavior. They should respect the boundaries of their relationships and stay within their limits, allowing others to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

8. Avoid know-all attitude: Although old people possess a lot of knowledge and wisdom, they should not rub their opinions upon others or try to boss over them with the know-all attitude, which can become a potential source of conflict and discord in their relationships. Instead, they should treat others with compassion, empathy and friendliness and forge good relationships so that they will not feel alone when they are in difficulties.

9. Find a purpose. In old age people lack motivation to keep themselves busy or engage in actions which give them a sense of purpose and direction. They also lack enthusiasm to engage in actions which which help them feel good about themselves and overcome feelings of low self-esteem. Studies show that those who have a reason or purpose to be alive and active and expect to see definitive and positive outcomes in their lives have better chances of leading healthier and longer lives.

10. Accept and appreciate yourself. Due to the changes which old age brings in its wake, old people are bound to experience negativity about themselves. It effects their moral, confidence and self-esteem, which in turn effect their relationship with themselves and others. Therefore, it is necessary for them to practice self-acceptance and self-appreciation and treat themselves with compassion, forgiveness and understanding.

11. Letting go. In Hinduism old is considered the age of renunciation (sanyasa) in which one has to give up desires and attachments for worldly enjoyments and live spiritually with detachment and discernment to know themselves and their essential nature. As people grow older, they should learn to let go of things so that they are not unduly disturbed what happens or does not happen to them. By cultivating detachment, they can experience peace and tranquility or overcome their negativity.

Bhagavadgita Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V Avaialbe in USA/UK/DE/FR/ES/IT/NL/PL/SC/JP/CA/AU

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