Sunday, January 15, 2006

dignity in late life

Researchers who emphasize study of the "self" have developed important theories about humans' inner beings and inward experiences as they go through the various stages of life. Researchers observe that each person is conscious of having an inner being, and, although this inner being is stable and to a large extent under one's own control, it changes throughout life under the influence of outside forces-- including the way others treat one and the situations one is in.
Psychological research on happiness and self-esteem has consistently shown that older people maintain above average ratings in both areas, but it is obvious that an older individual's sense of dignity, or self-esteem, could be fragile. This is especially the case for individuals who become physically dependent or senile. Their circumstances may disability and dependence prevalence 73 bring on seemingly childlike behavior, but in fact they remain adults inwardly and, barring extensive mental breakdown, they look back on lifetimes as independent, self-responsible, and autonomous beings.
Consequently, people who relate to older individuals, and especially to those who are dependent, need to maintain respect for the rights of the old to the fullest extent possible. When decisions respecting the welfare of older dependent people must be made, the reasons for actions need to be given to them; matters should be explained; and their ideas and opinions should be solicited. Professionals who care for the elderly need to listen to them, and to address them personally rather than simply to communicate with family members. By making efforts to support the self-esteem of the old, both professionals and family members can assist them to experience life with dignity.
Bengtson, V. L.; Reedy, M. N.; and Gordon, C. "Aging and Self-Conceptions: Personality Processes and Social Contexts," in Birren, J. E., and Schaie, K. W., eds. Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1985.


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