Psychosocial Issues in Retirement and Old Age Essay

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Psychosocial Issues in Retirement and Old Age

There are many psychosocial aspects and variables that are closely linked to retirement, loneliness and old age. It is a well-known fact that individuals in society who retire and who are no longer actively involved in society or the community can undergo severe psychological and social stressors. These can vary from anxiety and depression to suicidal tendencies. These factors have also been found in many studies to have a significant correlation with both physical and mental health. A typical case in point that will be borne in mind in this study is that of Albert. Albert is a seventy-year-old retired man who lives on his own in a house on the outskirts of a small village. He has recently retired and his situation is compounded by social estrangement from his family. He is also divorced. He has very little involvement with the local community. Therefore, loneliness and lack of social contact are aspects that would be included in his psychological profile.

Albert is a typical example of a retiree who has become estranged from the mainstream of society. There are many other individuals in similar situations in our modern societies. To understand their predicament one has to understand something of the underlying sociology and contemporary psychology of ageing in the modern world. This also relates to studies which indicate that, due to various modern sociological factors, the retired person in society often feels redundant and psychologically marginalized.

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2. Psychosocial factors and ageing

Essay on Psychosocial Issues in Retirement and Old Age Assignment

There are a number of sociological issues that affect modern society and which impact on the elderly which should be mentioned at the outset. Many studies emphasize that the very concept of an aging population is relatively new in social history. "Ageing populations are a relatively new phenomenon in anthropological terms" (Vincent, 2003, p. 3). The ageing of societies is "...about population change and reflects alterations in the relative size of age groups in the population"(Vincent 2003, p.3). Vincent therefore points out that it is important to "...differentiate the experience of individuals ageing on the one hand, and the causes and social impact of ageing populations on the other" (Vincent, 2003, p. 3). Related to this is the important contemporary social fact that the number of elderly in most societies is rapidly increasing. 'Growing old as an individual in a young population and growing old in a population that already has a high proportion of older people clearly result in different opportunities and problems " (Vincent, 2003, p. 3). The growing number of elderly and retired persons presents a range of issues and problems, not least of which is the lack of social strategies and means to deal with the unique features of modern society.

Another concomitant social aspect that impacts on the psychosocial problems that retired and elderly people experience, and which is particularly pertinent in the case of Albert, is that there has been a decline in the supportive role of the extended family in many developed countries throughout the world. This has a profound effect on psychological aspects affecting the retired and elderly. As Tobin and Lieberman (1976) note;

Pre-industrial families tended to involve relatives more widely through a complex web of obligations which would occasionally even take precedence over those between the married couple. By contrast, the modern western family is nuclear - consisting of just parents and children. (Tobin & Lieberman, 1976, p. 1)

Various studies also refer to the fact that there has been a "...notable shift... In many of the world's nations from the extended family-kinship system to the nuclear family kinship system" (Popenoe, 1988, pp. 46/47). This has resulted in a reduction of the social and personal support structure of the elderly in modern society.

Furthermore, the situation of retired persons and the elderly has also been compounded by the decline of the family as an institution in many developed countries. While in the past elderly people would be supported both psychologically and materially by the family unit, this is often not the case today in many countries.

As Waite (1999) states, the decline in the institution of marriage has led to a reduction in the ability of society to adequately care for and provide a firm foundation for its children and for the elderly.

This has also in some cases led to the unfortunate view that the elderly should be left to "... spend the rest of their days in clinical old age homes or small apartments to care for themselves "(Tobin & Lieberman, 1976, p. 1).

Commentators state that that this phenomenon has had the consequence that many older people find themselves without a viable social and psychological support system. This can have other consequences that negatively impact on social and psychological status; such as living in unsuitable habitation without help from others.

There is also a growing tendency to place older people in homes and institutions (Tobin and Lieberman, 1976, p. 1).This often contributes to the sense of loneliness and isolation that has become a focus of concern in studies of the elderly. "Many older people spend their days watching too much television in urban retirement communities or midtown boarding houses in large cities, and retire into phantom relations with their young "(Hochschild). This sense of loss of meaning and relevance is a central factor in ascertaining the psychosocial problems of the elderly.

Against this background the issue of retirement should be considered and the way that it effects the psychological and social situation of the retiree. The retired individual like the subject in question in this paper, Albert, therefore often has no extended support system. Retirement essentially refers to, "...an event, a social institution, a stage in the life course, and the transition from work to nonwork" (Guillemard and Rein, 1993). However, this definition does not take into account the stressors and psychological factors that may affect the retiree. The first and most obvious of these is a feeling or self-perception of meaninglessness and redundancy. However, the retiree can also experience other stress factors that negatively effect both physical and mental health." Stressors such as caregiving, loss and grief, and changes in social status and social roles are more common in the lives of older adults..." (CHAPTER 3 -- PSYCHOSOCIAL ISSUES) a study by Polivika (2004) succinctly summarizes this problem of loss of meaning for the retiree in modern society. "...without the socioeconomic supports of the past, the not-so-affluent elderly may find themselves insecure and anxious about their core identity in a postmodern world" (Polivka, 2004, p. 225).

2.2. Loneliness

As is evident in the case of Albert, the negative factors affecting a retiree can also be compounded by grief and loss. In Albert's case this can be related to the loss of family support through divorce. This leads to the important issue of loneliness experienced by many elderly persons who have not only lost family contact but have become estranged from friends and working relationships.

Loneliness is an often underestimated and devastating condition, especially among the elderly who have little if any social contact. This aspect applies particularly to Albert, whose only contact with others has been reduced to occasional visits to the pub, which is also a possible indicator of his need for company and contact with others. Studies have found that, "Social isolation among elders has long been recognized as a problem that diminishes their well-being, one associated with problems of low morale, poor health, and the risk of premature institutionalization" (Ware and Coble, 2006).

It has also been found that social isolation and loneliness can be a major factor in depression among older people (Sorkin et al., 2002). Loneliness has also been associated with negative health aspects such as "...compromised neuroendocrine or immune functioning...Loneliness has been linked to cardiovascular disease as well..." (Ware and Coble, 2006).

Furthermore, isolation also leads to other aspects that affect health. Studies have found for instance that people who live in relative isolation from the society may not take sufficient self-care, as they may be unmotivated by a lack of social reference and contact (Sorkin et al., 2002). Other studies also note that social isolation is a complex problem that "...affects every aspect of a person's life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual "(Ware and Coble, 2006).

There are numerous studies in the literature that correlate retirement, loss of self-esteem, loneliness and mental illness. An article that shows the link between these aspects is Self-efficacy and depression in late life: a primary prevention proposal by Blazer (2002). In this article the author discusses the issues that retirees and the elderly have to face and how these can result in various depressive disorders. The important issue of self-worth and self-efficacy is dealt with in an article by Fry and Debats, Self-efficacy beliefs as predictors of loneliness and psychological distress in older adults (2002). The authors find an inverse association between self-efficacy and loneliness and psychologic distress. These and other studies are indicative of the complexity of the issues that face the retired… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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