The advancement of medicine and the social changes of recent decades have placed us at the gates of a sociodemographic situation that we must face quickly if we want to provide quality of life to our population. With the percentage increase in older adults worldwide, without a doubt, old age has become a vital axis for planning political, professional and community actions.
Demographic change and its implications entail the need to establish highly trained professionals who can guarantee dignified, quality care and knowledge about the reality of old age and the aging process in the best way. Likewise, we require citizens who are aware of how to stay healthy and how to coexist assertively among the different age groups. At the same time, it is essential to build friendly environments with people at different ages, as well as environments that favor a healthy, active and successful aging process.
Given the above, it is important to question ourselves about the most prevailing axes of change for our society in order to face demographic changes and with the aim of guaranteeing quality of life for older adults.
Myths and stereotypes about them
Myths and stereotypes condition the development of people throughout their aging process and negative determinants in the quality of life of older people. They affect the way they are treated and negatively impact the way people experience and enjoy their aging process, even when they are not older adults. For this reason, it is vital to guarantee opportune conditions in the development of the quality of life and well-being of the population in old age.
Within this area, one of the main myths is the belief that older adults are all the same and that they require the same as other adult age groups. Given this, it is necessary to recognize that old age is one of the many different stages in life. It is characterized by very varied changes that are highly influenced, not only by age, but also by life history. Returning to the belief about homogeneity, this clearly represents an unfounded stereotype because all human beings age, but our own experience will dictate, to a large extent, the physical and psychological health conditions that we will have. Under this premise, it is important to bear in mind that the older adult population is the most heterogeneous group of people.
Because the changes in old age are multidimensional, multifactorial, and multidirectional, it is necessary to question the need to establish differential treatment for people at this stage, since this usually generates a social separation. It is necessary to develop sensitive support networks that integrate the older adult and support the development of the life plan.
For their part, the different generations of older adults have a life story that has shaped them with varied customs, capacities and beliefs. Therefore, respect for differences and dignified treatment for them is important.
Old age is not synonymous with deterioration, functional problems, or highly dependent people with learning difficulties. On the contrary, the bulk of the older adult population does not age with health problems or impairments in their capacities that allow them to be autonomous. The figures may vary depending on the dimension or the causes that we analyze on factors associated with deterioration in old age.
However, they are not usually majority percentages in the population group. Of course, this does not lead to contempt for all those older adults who suffer from alterations in their motor and cognitive abilities, among others.
Let’s avoid thinking that everything is normal at that age
The biggest risk with respect to the previous myth is the establishment of the belief that age brings problems. This notion influences the way we deal with the appearance of diseases and their symptoms in old age. Many times, experience teaches us that, by believing that it was “normal” to have difficulty walking or alterations in my cognitive abilities (such as memory), the time that elapses between the first symptoms and the diagnosis is extremely large.
The foregoing rather reduces the possibilities of carrying out adequate actions to improve the conditions of the people who suffer from it. Some studies even affirm that the presence of these beliefs in the public health system causes health experts to underestimate the initial symptoms and consider them “natural” at a stage where the least we can believe is that something is normative.
It is important that as a society we recognize that the vast majority of older adults do not have significant changes in their health and that these changes are not the product of a number (age) but of conditions associated with imbalances in the aging process.