Coping With Ageing
It is a fact of life that everybody grows old, with all the drawbacks and difficulties that this could entail. Disease, frailty, and ultimate death is in all our futures as human beings. For these reasons, the negative effects of aging tends to be emphasized. The result tends to be that many attempt to stave off aging for as long as possible. This could be done by means of expensive creams, exercise programs, medical interventions, or even plastic surgery. The world is obsessed with staying as young as possible for as long as possible. And indeed, today's older people are much "younger" in terms of their looks and health than has ever been the case before. Hence, a book such as Coping with Aging by Richard Lazarus and Bernice Lazarus is unusual in that it provides an examination of the aging process, in addition to advice on how to cope with this inevitable eventuality.
The authors emphasize that age is "not a disease" (p. 10) in itself, but that it rather includes a number of diseases because of the increasing inability of the body to regenerate itself. Indeed, the authors also emphasize that disease occurs at all ages. In old age, the fact is simply that disease could be more severe or prevalent. This is a fact that is vitally important to understand. Age happens to everyone. Disease is an unfortunately likely side effect of this process. This does not, however, mean that we should be afraid of aging or attempt to avoid it at all costs. Instead, the authors promote an attitude that accepts aging for what it is, and to focus on its benefits while accepting the disadvantages.
In this sense, one of the most interesting features of the book is that it provides both negative and positive aspects associated with aging. Among the negative is included an awareness of death approaching; the increasing deaths of family members and friends; a changing society that often precludes an understanding between the generations; the loss of health; and the loss of work (p. 13). There are, however, also positive aspects. These include the satisfaction that might be derived from retirement; the joy of caring for children and grandchildren; the potential for positive self-examination and change, free from the influences of the workplace, friends, or boss; the acquisition of wisdom that can only come with age; and the satisfaction of a long-term romantic relationship with one's spouse.
In order to accomplish its overall goal of helping readers to cope with aging, the book is organized into 5 chapters. The first is an "Inspiration and Overview" of the aging process. This is then also that chapter that provides the positive and negative aspects of aging. It provides the reader with a sense that aging does not have to be completely undesirable. Instead, there are factors that can be celebrated. A major issues is, for example, the benefits of retirement.
Retirement can bring many blessings, including the freedom from the rigors of work and the potential controlling paradigm of a boss or a schedule. This means that there is more time to spend with one's spouse, or doing the things one has always dreamed but had no time for. Many older people, for example, take an overseas tour, buy a house on the beach, take up hobbies, or similar things. Additionally, many older people focus on their families to a greater extent than they could have before. All these things can function to bring blessings to the process of aging, even while there are some undesirable effects.
The second chapter provides a theoretical framework of aging. Richard Lazarus spent a large amount of his professional life in studying emotion. His work includes the way in which very young children and older people experience emotion. This has been pioneering work, as the way in which emotion manifests at these stages of life has not enjoyed a large amount of research attention. The author uses the expertise he accumulated through these studies to inform the theoretical framework of this book.
As such, the first part of the chapter concerns the emotions related to aging, as well as the inherent research problems these suggest. The second part of the chapter concerns the theory of coping with these emotions.
The third chapter is titled "Stability and Change." This chapter concerns the environment and personality associated with aging. The authors point out that both the environment and personality tend to change with age. This chapter is especially applicable to the world today, as technology increasingly changes the world and the way in which we access information. At the same time, aging tends to rigidify the personality. In other words, many older people find it increasingly difficult to cope with change.
For this reason, "coping" is an element that needs to apply not only to the aging process itself, but also to the environment in which one exists. The authors therefore suggest that, while stability could be of great value as one grows older, one also needs to understand the nature and benefits of change. Understanding this can make the whole process of aging easier to cope with.
On the other hand, it is also important to understand that change is a fact of life, regardless of the stage of life. Also, an inability to cope well with change is not only a trait of older age, but also of personality type. Some personality types find it difficult to cope with a certain lack of stability. This is also important to understand when studying the aging process and learning to cope with it.
Chapter 4 is particularly helpful, in that it provides case histories of the experience of aging. With the title, "Central Experiences of Aging: Case Histories," this chapter provides an overview of real-life experiences by persons learning to cope with the aging process. Subtitles include family and friends, the experiences of physical breakdown, and the loss of work as perceived to be a valuable function in life. These are all areas that have significant impacts upon the experience of aging.
What I found valuable about this chapter, is the fact that the case studies address areas of life that all people can identify with as an experience of humanity. The fact is also that aging changes the experiences of these life elements. The section that deals with health is, for example, valuable in providing a realistic sense of the aging process. Physical breakdown is an unavoidable part of the process. The section with the title "A different doctor for every organ" provides a humorous slant to the more dire effects of aging.
The final chapter, "Practical Applications," provides a practical overview of what can be done to cope successfully with the aging process. The authors emphasize that aging does not need to be a debilitating or predominantly negative experience. Even with the negative aspects, aging can also be a positive and valuable experience. The first section of this chapter provides a premise for psychological treatment to help with the rigors of aging. This is particularly helpful when having to cope with factors such as family, friends, and spouses who die. Psychological treatment can help the individual to find meaning in life even after significant losses such as the loss of a loved one, a job, or physical health.
The chapter ends with "Principles of Successful Aging." This section uses the preceding chapters as a basis for conclusions regarding what can be done to improve the general experience of aging. When consciously focusing upon the positive aspects of aging, a person can more easily cope with the negative aspects.
An important element of the book is that it does not claim that the negative aspects of the aging process are not there, or even that…