So many times the expression “miserable” is used to describe the behaviour of the elderly. However, is it that they are really just “miserable” or is it deeper than that?
Can you imagine once being able to do simple things as walking, attending to your daily hygiene needs, caring for yourself… and then one day you are unable to do these tasks? Having to depend on someone else’s time to do things, you took pride in doing for yourself.
Today we look into the behaviour of the elderly to develop a better understanding of what they are going through.
Factors influencing Behaviour
Behaviour is the way in which one acts, and there are factors that can influence behaviour. These are:
- Physical- your physical needs may affect the way you act. For example, if you are hungry you may get annoyed very fast. If an elder person has problems to communicate their hunger, they may express it as anger.
- Biological – this may include heredity traits or genetic predisposition
- Social- being brought up in a particular manner has a great influence on actions and persons may hold on to traditions that have great sentimental value to them.
- Emotional- a person’s feelings influences actions greatly, especially in the elderly who have more time on their hands to be aware of such feelings.
- Cognitive- (Memory, Thought, Knowledge, Beliefs) – have you ever forgot something and it left you feeling frustrated? For an elderly person with dementia, can you imagine how much that feeling of frustration can affect their behaviour? It is very difficult for them.
Stages of Growth and Development
Human Growth and Development also influence behaviour. Growth is the physical changes of getting bigger in size (a baby grows into a toddler etc) and Human Development is all the changes that occur in the way a person looks, relates to others, feels and thinks as they grow from infancy to old age. The stages of Growth and Development are Infancy, toddlerhood, pre-school age, school age, adolescence, young adult, middle-aged adult, older adult.
When you understand the stages of development and the characteristics of each stage, it helps you to anticipate what to expect from someone’s behaviour. Let’s take a closer look at the developmental stages of ageing and the characteristics of the growth and developmental stages of the Older Adult.
Developmental Stages of Ageing
- Older adults struggle with accepting the reality of being old
- Dealing with physical limitations
- Grieving over the loss of loved ones
- Learns to ask for and accept help
- Prepares for death.
As we look at the developmental stages of ageing, what is important for the older adult, may not be important to you. But this is their reality, and the best way to help them is to understand, value, cherish and respect them.
Certain areas of their life change, and new goals become a priority. Let us look at the characteristics of these changes.
The elderly may suffer from more diseases that are chronic. They may have a decrease in senses (vision, smell, taste). Decreased strength and balance making them prone to falls is common. They become shorter due to spine shrinking and they feel cold easily.
They begin to look forward to enjoying retirement. They have a strong desire to make a will. They develop a strong attachment to familiar objects with sentimental value, especially of someone who is no longer alive. They have an increased awareness of time and the life cycle. They may have decreased confidence and decreased self-esteem due to losing loved ones as they get frequent news of persons their age dying. They may have more clearly defined personalities/ values. Sometimes they may need the companionship of a pet as everyone else is busy with work and life duties.
They may not process info as quickly but maintains intellect. They may make decisions slowly. It takes them longer to learn and they may experience memory loss due to medication or anxiety from changing homes or due to physical changes such as poor nutrition, depression or illness.
So before you label your elderly relative as “miserable”, first take a walk in their shoes and try to understand their struggles. Remember, you may one day, too, be blessed with old age and require empathy from your loved ones.