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Feeling old versus being old: Views of troubled aging

  • Medicine


This paper describes the results of an ethnographic study which explored the experiences of aging constructed by five older people, their adult children and a team of health professionals involved in evaluating their health status. Older participants made a clear distinction between being old and feeling old whereas their children did not. None of the five older people, who ranged in age from 69 to 86, identified themselves as old although each of them identified specific and transient episodes of feeling old. Their children, on the other hand, identified the older people as being old when they perceived them as having lost a characteristic which had been a central factor in the children's experiences of them as parents. Contrary to the older people's experience of feeling old as a temporary phenomenon, the children's identification of their parents as old included the understanding that their parents were in a process of inevitable and irreversible decline for which something needed to be done. In an effort to help, the children referred their parents to a geriatric assessment clinic to identify the cause of their problems and to recommend solutions for resolving them. The involvement of the assessment clinic generated yet another construction of the older people's problems. The study explores the impact which these sometimes conflicting views had in unwittingly precipitating an additional burden of trouble for both older people and children. Conversely, the study also demonstrates the power of the participant families' definitions of themselves and their situations to withstand the weight of opposing constructions generated by the clinic staff. Finally, the phenomenon of troubled aging is seen as a feature of the children's experience of their parents' aging rather than as a central aspect of the older people's experience.

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