People have always been obsessed with aging. Whether it’s to prolong life, make sense of disease or disability, to extract wisdom or to add meaning into the process, aging is generally at the forefront of all cultures throughout time. A look back into history show all kinds of rituals based on again and potions to grant eternal life abound. Still today you can find thousands of anti-aging products for the skin, brain, mind, and/or body in general. One of the most valuable reasons we should research Theories of Aging is so that we can understand what is happening emotionally and psychologically for the resident so that we can help introduce a better quality of life in a more empathetic manner. As we cover some of the theories put forth, consider of some of your own theories that you have gathered throughout your career and life experiences. Once we connect al the dots it will make it easier for you to relate to your residents and plan on their behalf.
Biological Theories of Aging
Biological Theories of Aging focus on the aging process of the human organism itself. It was long believed that the body experiences a dramatic loss of cognitive and physical abilities were pretty much inevitable. However, research and studies have largely disproved this. In fact, many individuals lose very little ability. This is incredibly comforting to me as I am sure it is to you and your residents. Belief is a strong factor in quality of life. If a resident believe they will hit a certain age and begin to breakdown it could lend energy to that manifestation unnecessarily. There are 3 primary biological theories of aging:
The Nutrition Theory on Aging This is one of the oldest theories, however its level of obvious intelligence has increased as our knowledge of the importance of nutrition has increased as a society. This involves acquiring an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals across a variety of sources to maintain health. The correlation between eating healthy and prolonging life while deterring disease and disability has been documented for thousands of years, and is now backed by extensive science. It is known that many disease thought to be age related are in fact nutrition related and may be minimized or even prevented all together with correct nutritional intake.
Teacher’s Tip: Knowledge is power. Explore topics of nutrition and health with your residents so that they may be empowered to take action. At the very least this information can provide hope which goes a long way in all situations. Try and provide healthy snacks for your residents and create activities that focus on health. Food and its corresponding effect on aging may be common sense to our generation, however, it wasn’t so common in the last couple of generations. This may be a hurdle you will have to navigate and education is the best tool in your arsenal. Pinterest has many pins featuring elderly individual’s tackling marathons, weight lifting and all kinds of other endeavors that may seem impossible without direct proof. Offer that proof and get your residents motivated.
Activity Idea: Host a marathon at your facility. Start with a 5k and see how things go. Eventually you could make it a long marathon or add in different events, obstacles, or themes to mix it up. Invite staff and family members to join you and your residents. You could even utilize this as a fundraising event and raise money to buy exercise equipment for your residents. Residents that cannot participate could be involved by setting up and running a water stand, making healthy snacks for after the race, creating signs of encouragement and taking photos for the local newspaper and/or your newsletter.
The Environmental Theory on Aging This theory deals directly with the physical environment around the individual. Air quality, population, isolation, location and/or relocation, viruses, smoking, travel, social/cultural stress, etc falls under this theory as factors that affect aging. Listed within this category is the effects of being moved out of one’s own home and into a nursing facility. As you can imagine, this is a tough pill to swallow, so to speak.
Teacher’s Tip: One of the primary negative feelings associated with moving into a nursing facility is the sense of losing purpose in life and being a burden. There are ways that we may be able to help counter react these types of feelings. Perhaps you could organize a welcome committee that meets with new residents and allows for a discussion on this topic and others that are relevant. This will help the new resident to realize they are not along and their feelings are completely normal. It will also help them to see that other residents have experienced and successfully moved through these feelings into a life that does hold new meaning. It may also be a good idea to create ‘resident jobs’ and encourage new residents to sign up for different tasks or to create new tasks based on their individual backgrounds.
The Genetic Factors Theory on Aging This theory deals directly in DNA and states that genetics will determine how one lives and for how long. However, a new area of study called epigenetics states that genetics is really only responsible for a small amount of gene mutations and in fact the individual is the key component as to whether a disease will develop or not. Previously, we believed we were prisoners to our genetics and we were going to develop what we were going to develop, regardless of our own actions. Epigenetics says that our genetics predispose us to certain diseases, but we determine whether the switch gets flipped to on or off with our physical, emotional and mental habits/choices. Again, this is empowering and relieving information to pass along.
Teacher’s Tip: This theory lends itself to the category of preventive medicine in my mind. Utilizing the health history of your resident and their family members you can see what they may be predisposed to should the switch get flipped on. This means you could research preventative measures against a specific disease and help your resident to get on a routine that is designed specifically for their DNA. This is by no means a scientific plan or theory on my part. It is simply an educated leap as to how this information may be applied beneficially.
Biological factors are a huge component to the aging process and failing health is certainly prohibitive to leading a fulfilling life. The huge takeaway here is that many of these factors are under our control to a point. Through understanding the processes we can develop plans of action to counter react or prevent that which is preventable. Knowledge is power and can be highly motivating. I suggest you gather your interested residents and discuss these varied biological factors and get their feedback. Discuss other contributing biological factors that may not have been recognized. Empower your residents to take this information and turn it into personal strength and accountability.
Tune in Next Week as we continue our discussion with the Psychological Theories of Aging.