Reaction Paper: Disabilities Disease and Aging Public Policy

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Disabilities, Disease, And Aging; Public Policy

One of the major changes in the last century regarding human health and longevity is that people today have a longer life and expectancy than ever in history. Because medical science has given us what could arguably called a "gift," the general concept of aging in society has seen significant changes. Old age is no longer regarded as the harbinger of death, for example. Instead, its lasting nature has brought it to mind as an entire stage of life, during which people should be just as concerned with their health and well-being as during the younger years. It is also, however, true that extreme old age could bring with it a level of disability that may plague the individual for a far longer time before death than was the case in the past. Hence, the concept of caring for the aged has also changed to accommodate this new situation. It is not only the idea of caring for the aged that has changed, however. The entire concept of aging from an individual perspective, as well as the official perspectives of health care students, personnel and policymakers has seen significant changes over the last 100 years.

In terms of the individual, aging is conceptualized differently for every person, depending on a number of factors, including the level of age-related disability and chronic conditions. These can have significant effects on the way in which an older person experiences his or her stage of life and the level of general well-being that goes with this (Hollis-Sawyer, personal communication, 4/4/2013). Indeed, according to estimations, approximately 20% of persons over 65 have mild disability, with 4% having severe disability. In the past, this situation was accepted as part and parcel of becoming old; a predecessor to dying, with little to be done about it. Indeed, it was uncommon for many people to became so old that severe disability affected them for significant lengths of time before they ultimately died. Today, however, great importance is attached to provide old people with physical and cognitive age-related conditions with services to help them function at as high a level as possible for as long as possible.

In this regard, an increasing number of people find themselves in need of assistance with activities of daily living (ADL). These include various degrees of dressing themselves, preparing meals, visiting the bathroom, and so on. The number of people in need of such assistance is expected to be 12 million by 2020 and 17 million by 2040 (Hollis-Sawyer, personal communication, 4/4/2013). Hence, the concept of old age and the degree and type of care people expect to need in these later years of their lives differ significantly from what it was 100 years ago. A century ago would have seen many elderly people simply placed in a care home, with no alternatives. Today, the various types of care and those involved in such care, as well as longer life expectancies, has changed this. Older adults, for example, have choices between formal, informal, institutional, residential and other forms of care. Care can even be provided in a tailor made way, with the use of technology to assist the process. The general aim of care today is helping the elderly remain in their own homes for as long as possible, with the degree of assistance they need to do this.

One of the most important changes in the concept of aging today is that this stage of life is no longer assumed to automatically be synonymous with becoming an invalid. The assumption is rather that chronic illness and disability can be managed with the appropriate care, thus providing sufferers with the means to be as autonomous as possible for as long as possible.

Family members are an example of informal care providers. Siblings can play a key role in this (Chapter 13, p. 245). Even though the sibling relationship can be somewhat more distant during the young adult and adult stages as a result of moving away from each other and having families of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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