Illness and the Elderly


Once, I heard a radio announcer proclaim that everyone gets sick before they die. I’m not sure whether a sudden heart attack or stroke might be an exception but that’s all about semantics. In this article, I wish to deal with some of the aspects of illness as they might affect older people. For them, it’s not just about their sitting around waiting to die. There’s much more to be considered.

There are some major issues that the elderly need to face: not being needed as one had been previously, a loss of physical and mental control, facing the eventuality of death, the loss of loved ones and close friends and feeling like a burden. I will take each of these and describe the concerns associated with them.

Not feeling Needed: Most young people aren’t aware of the importance of feeling needed in life. For many, the feelings of being a parent, employee, husband, wife, or a friend can become overwhelming and stressful to the point that these roles may need to be altered in order to function successfully. However, there is no emphasis on what being needed means to the human person. Ultimately, it includes the sharing of oneself with others ~ whether in a task-oriented sense or some other vital role. Feeling needed also has a direct relationship to our self-concept and confidence levels in the sense that they are improved by virtue of that sense. Once aging may take over and the feeling that we are no longer needed, there is a sense of isolation and loneliness that soon follows resulting in a desperate sense of trying to establish a role in which we might feel more vital. However, oftentimes, that may be looked upon by others as being ridiculous or inappropriate.

Loss of Physical & Mental Control: With age there comes certain limitations on our physical and mental capacities. We all tend to slow down and not be able to do the things that we did even five years ago. General muscle achiness, slowing down or arthritis might be examples of this facet. Mentally, there is the favorite expression of a “senior moment” when we tend to forget things or can’t remember why we’ve walked into another room for something. For all elderly persons, there is usually a sense of dementia associated with this phase of development. Of course, the most severe of these might be Alzheimer’s Disease or a severe case of dementia resulting in the need for advanced medical care and perhaps even a facility that treats them.

Facing the Eventuality of Death: Young people usually don’t find themselves thinking about their ultimate demise very much. They’re totally involved in living life and death is the furthest thing from our minds. Oh, a young colleague or young child may die but that might be dismissed as an anomaly and not pertain to us. However, as we grow older, the reality of death can become much more of a reality. For some, it may become an obsession which tends to fixate them into a position of non-activity and depression. However, for the most part, our acceptance that we are closer to meeting the grim reaper becomes more a part of our thinking and our existence. Only those of us who can place those thoughts into a perspective that allows the continuance of living one’s life can live a relatively normal, enjoyable life while placing emphasis on what we can do something about vs. what it is that’s beyond our control.

Losing Loved Ones and Close Friends: For those of us who live a happy and well-adjusted lifestyle, being in close relationships is very important in order to feel a sense of completeness. However, there is a price to be paid for the privilege of having those needs met and that is the loss of those with whom we’ve established close relationships ~ spouses, good friends, our children and grandchildren ~ who may precede us in death. For most, it is a devastating experience that can change the whole course of a person’s life. For some, they might go into a deep depression and isolate themselves from others as might be found in the example of losing a spouse. It isn’t unusual to hear of someone losing a spouse dying within a short period afterwards from a “broken heart” or loneliness. Instead of attuning to the fact that life is a temporary episode and that there is no permanency involved in any part of it as a result of the constant changes that occur daily, the misbegotten idea that “love is forever” and so the reaction to loss is much more intense than it would be otherwise.

Feeling Like a Burden: Because the dependency needs that we have grow more intense with age, there is the dilemma of feeling like a burden to our families. For those of us who have prided ourselves in being independent and not needing anyone but ourselves, this part of aging is a real blow both to one’s ego as well as to the fact that we are not as infallible and self-sufficient as we once thought we were. But even for those who have not gone to that extreme, the need for the help that we find necessary in order to function can become an overwhelming preoccupation in the sense that we are now a burden to those whom we had cared for previously. Instead of realizing the reality of our situation and placing emphasis on what we can do instead of what we can’t do the burden issue can dominate our existence and serve as a real obstacle to the relationships that we revere.

So, what role does illness play for the elderly? Well, all of the points made above are exacerbated when they become ill. The tend to experience the problems cited tenfold because the sense of helplessness is enhanced as a result of the illness. We also tend to become self-absorbed or selfish in our preoccupation with illness. It becomes the uppermost thought process that tends to consume their daily routines. Of course, the more debilitating the illness, the more extremely they experience those problems. What’s the answer? Very simply, the answer seems to lie in our placing our lives into a more realistic perspective that will allow us to overcome the infestation of these problems in our lives disallowing the living our lives to the fullest ~ no matter what the limitation. Two facets that have helped me to deal with the twilight years of my life are always having something to look forward to and bringing as much love into my life as possible. Perhaps they might help you as well … no matter what the age.

(10 September 2014)

Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at

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