A dissertation on the ‘sunset’ in the life of senior citizens

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They say growing old is one exceptional privilege not granted to many as it is the crown of a full life… the final act in one’s role play on earth. During one’s youth, the days are seemingly short and years are quite long but as one grows old, days seem dragging while years are getting shorter.

People often talk of the revulsions, disgust, and dreadfulness of getting old. Those who are alarmed to find reaching their senior status and terrified to grow old and grey are people who haven’t experienced fulfillment and failed to fully accomplish what they really wanted in life.

Old age is something not to be scared of. It’s neither a communicably infectious disease nor a switchblade aimed for you to breathe your last but rather the very strength of survivorship… the phase of triumph over all kinds of adversities, vicissitudes, and trials…and the gratifying essence of conquest over disappointments and letdowns.

Actually, if taken seriously, growing old could take a long period of planning that starts from one’s early life stage. It is something nobody could escape and break away from whether you’re well-off or underprivileged and whatever creed or race… old age comes inevitably.

The current life expectancy of humans has incredibly defied the typical norm and standard as attested by a highly publicized paper which technically claimed that the maximum human lifespan has interestingly reached an average of 115 years. Since old people often have limited regenerative capabilities and are more susceptible to ailments, disordered patterns, and illnesses, accurate concern and continuous support are suggested to protract their hale and hearty existence.

Gerontology, the branch of science that deals with the medical study of the aging process, has further explored researches of the diseases that generally have effects on the elderly. Geriatric doctors, by and large, would conclude that one scary form of syndrome that could fatally affect growing old is Alzheimer’s Disease, an illness named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician who discovered it in 1906.

There is often a misconception that Alzheimer’s is old age. The wrong notion has been enlightened by the complete knowledgeability about the dreaded mental disorder. It is a progressive and fatal disease (a type of dementia) that destroys one’s memory and mental functions, which a staggering number of victims developed through going old. Although there’s still no cure for this chronic neurodegenerative disease but some treatments were prescribed to, at least temporarily improve the symptoms.

Senescence, the natural process of aging, has adapted varied terms and euphemisms to respectively refer to older people: in the US they are called “Seniors” while in British usage (and also in the US) it’s “Senior Citizens” but in social science and other cultures, they are addressed as “Older Adults’ or the “Elderly.”

In most developed countries, 65 years old was accepted to denote an elderly person contrary to the African study of old age where the World Health Organization (WHO) has set 50 as the beginning of old age.

A human being’s life expectancy could be as long as when one could sustain and incessantly survive the ordeals of daily existence but, on the other hand, could be shortened by any phenomenal occurrence and disheartening fate. If to be taken in poetical context, one’s life is said to be co-terminus with the setting of the King Ra (the sun) as his nascence (birth) is co-existent with the dawn.

If “change” is the only permanent thing on earth easily then we could consider old age (and ultimately, death) as a factor that could put an end to the former.

With old age comes retirement when elders are entitled to be eligible for senior social programs and benefits. Traditionally, the full benefit age for retirement was 65 and early retirement benefits were first available at age 62 with a permanent reduction to 80 percent of the full benefit amount. Currently, the full benefit age was increased to 66 for people in 1943 to 1954 and it will gradually rise to 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

Then there’s what researchers coined as old age frailty, a body condition among most people in the age range of 60 to 80 when they suffer “bodily failure’ and in need of greater dependence and assistance. Geriatricians have proposed a general definition for such condition as “a physical state of increased vulnerability to stressors that results from decreased reserves and disregulation in multiple physiological systems.”

Deterioration from agility in their 65 to 80s period brought about by an array of chronic physical and mental illnesses becomes a depressing problem which require a high level of care and medication to prolong their years and to possibly “postpone” the blow of death since approximately half of death cases in old age were preceded by months and years of frailty.

Funny that it may sound when you hear a senior citizen exclaim “At my age, I am like a rolling pharmacy…” due to the huge amount of different medications he or she has to literally take in a day. Although prescribed medications are relievers and healers, seniors should also be alerted about the risks and benefits of the medicines they’re prescribed.

According to Dr. Leo A. Dela Cruz, a well-revered Geriatric physician in Jersey City: “As the body ages, the ability to break down substances decreases and sometimes unable to metabolize drugs. When taking more than one medication at a time medicines can interact with each other that could cause unexpected or adverse effects instead of cure.”

Incidentally, here in Jersey City, there are legitimate senior citizen service providers and advocates that aid the local government by providing assistance in compassionately caring for the urban elders.

PACCAL (Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc.), a 25-year old organization founded by Linda M. Mayo and a number of civic-minded Filipino-American veterans, is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization duly recognized by the Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Office On Aging and since had consistently been doing Senior Outreach Programs and Healthy Aging Programs through partnerships with other community organizations and senior housing facilities.

On the other hand, a newly established senior-oriented program headed by Elizabeth Bulosan, DPT, the “Seniors’ Physical & Wellness Program”, was conceptualized by Jersey City-based Hudson RehabSpa, to promote healthy lifestyle, wellness initiatives, and safety options among senior citizens in the Jersey City areas while being able to saturate the most proximal senior centers to relentlessly augment the corporeal care and disseminate information among the city’s elderly populace.

In honor and respect to the country’s elders, President Ronald Reagan in 1988 declared August 21 to be National Senior Citizens Day although still a few celebrate the occasion on August 14 as it was the day ex-US President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935.

Tomorrow, when we come face to face with the “sunset” of our life we could always look back and reminisce the good old years of our youth and realize (sans regret) that we have at least seen and did the best of what we were purposely created for. Growing old graciously with positivity of spirit and prepared to brazen out the final hours could even be more gratifying.

At this moment, we may collectively agree with Maurice Chevalier when he quoted that: “A comfortable old age is the reward of a well-spent youth. Instead of it bringing sad and melancholy prospects of decay, it would give us hopes of eternal youth somewhere in a better world.”

Worry not in getting old and grey…be proud that you’re privileged and blessed to reach this stage of life!

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