Old Age is an Identity Spoiler
We all use coping strategies and defences in order to shield ourselves from situations and emotions that are difficult. As we age our anxiety often increases and sometimes so does the acceptance of slowing down and deteriorating health. For some people these are all part of the package of making it into their 60s and beyond.
The older generation has a habit of understating the reality of their situation, perhaps fearing the consequences of lack of liberty, but as often as not it’s simply the way they were brought up not to complain. Therefore, poor health and/or mobility issues will often be dismissed as, ‘a nuisance’ and people with really quite serious health problems will often described themselves as ‘generally ok’
The presence of health problems and the accuracy in the way they frequently are at odds. Old people do not want to be old and funnily enough their own perception of being old is often along the lines of, ‘old is older than me’!
Irving Goffman , a famous social theorist, coined the term spoiled identity to describe this type of reluctance to join a social group with issues! But you can see why. Spoiled identity has been shown to have a significant effect on people’s loneliness. Loneliness is linked to poor mental health especially depression, anxiety, poor sleep, mood changes, anger and frustration.
It is a good thing that so much effort is being made to engage with and educate the public about conditions that can affect some old people. Dementia and neurological conditions such as head injury or Parkinson’s cause major problems with mobility, cognition and memory. So, the person being less than efficient in the supermarket, people who drive so infuriatingly slow, or the man staggering along the street may have a disease. Sure, it helps to be insightful into symptoms but compassion costs nothing and it only takes a small effort on all our parts to be a little kinder and more thoughtful in our every day dealings with seniors.
Victor C et al (2009) The social world of older people: Understanding loneliness and social isolation in later life. Open University Press New York.
Christine Kennard wrote about Alzheimer’s for HealthCentral. She has many years of experience in private and public sector nursing care homes for people with dementia. She has worked in a variety of hospital, public and private health settings and specialized in community nursing. Christine is qualified in group analytic psychotherapy, is registered in general and mental health nursing and has a Masters degree.