Throughout the nation, there are elderly adults in often precarious situations: they may have insufficient money to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves, for example. They may be isolated, unable to spend time with others. They may even be in danger, as they are all too easily preyed upon by scam artists.
This article describes what communities and neighborhoods can and should do regarding the physical, psychosocial, and cognitive development of older adults.
Aspects of Normal Growth and Development
Let’s begin by discussing aspects of normal growth and development among older adults. Physically, their appearance changes, typically beginning with the skin. Wrinkles and dry skin are common signs that our bodies are aging. Their body shape may change, and they may find themselves weaker with regard to lifting heavy objects. In addition, older adults often become troubled with a dulling of the senses, from near-sightedness and other eye conditions to hearing problems. They may also be troubled with sleep issues, such as taking longer to fall asleep or waking at intervals throughout the night with a need to relieve themselves.
While these physical changes are biological, from a psychosocial perspective, older adults are often perceived differently as they display the visible signs of older age. They may experience, for example, job discrimination or feel that they are unattractive or less desirable to the opposite sex.
Myths, Strengths, and Needs of the Older Population in Our Community
Many myths exist in our society about older adults. For example, ask a young person or middle-aged individual to describe the typical senior citizen and you’ll probably hear adjectives such as “depressed, frail, terrible memory problems, sedentary.”
In reality: many older adults in our community are happy, energetic, wise contributors to society. They often take time to volunteer, enjoy working in their gardens and taking classes, experiment with new hobbies, visit with friends, and attend cultural events. Such strengths build on themselves, helping these senior citizens to find pleasure in their lively, productive lives.
By helping senior citizens to learn about and participate in volunteer activities or take classes, communities can support their aging population. For example, posters could be placed in areas that seniors frequently visit, such as local libraries. Existing volunteer organizations for seniors can develop brochures that they then send to these individuals.
Community Resources That Our Community is Challenged to Develop for the Elderly
One way for a community to help its aging population is for community leaders to schedule and offer informative town meetings about relevant topics, such as Alzheimer’s disease. For example, the national Alzheimer’s Association offers a rich network of local satellite groups that provide resources, counseling, and other services such as assistance with town hall meetings. Such local representation means that the city can tap into those resources to inform and enlighten the public. That way, individuals can be aware of warning signs that their older neighbors and acquaintances might exhibit, such as problems remembering previously known names of friends.
In addition, communities everywhere are, unknowingly, putting their senior citizens at risk by failing to provide a safe environment. For example, an uneven or broken sidewalk may present extreme risks to frail seniors.
Suggestions for community resources that can be developed for seniors include:
City buses equipped with special handicapped platforms, as well as other public transportation options that can help the elderly to go to health care appointments and other events
Senior recreation programs that provide physical training programs geared to the needs and abilities of elderly residents
Well-maintained sidewalks and street lighting throughout the community.
Community programs on the needs of senior citizens, addressing attention to the potential for problems such as difficulty with managing medications and vision problems, so that caregivers, concerned citizens, and health care providers can improve their knowledge of seniors’ needs.
Huffington Center Web site at http://www.hcoa.org/aging/social_psych.htm