Aches pains and illnesses are number one topics of discussion for some older people. We have a responsibility to get over ourselves. Being old is no excuse for boring our families, friends and strangers, even if our illnesses are serious.
Fear of ageing can be debilitating. We do need to talk about our problems and some people who need to know. Doctors and other health professionals. Our partners, because we may need their understanding and help. Our children, especially if they’ve agreed to be involved in our health care. Dear friends who are concerned about us.
Strangers and acquaintances? Not so much.
Twice in the last week while socialising, older people have cornered and regaled me with the details of their own and other people’s health problems, encounters with doctors and their medication and its effects.
Next they told me about people I don’t know, and really don’t need to know about. They tried to pry into my health and that of my husband.
Stopping such conversations takes grit and persistence. Finding leverage to change the subject takes imagination. Walking away demands guts.
Instead, I stayed, listened and became more and more grumpy.
These lop-sided discussions also set me thinking. I wondered about my level of compassion and sympathy, and whether it’s unkind to change the topic when people insist on talking about ill-health.
Developmental tasks of old age
Each stage of life brings with it advantages and disadvantages, as well as development tasks to be accomplished.
For some, retirement from the paid work force, and perhaps living on a decreased income are the first hurdle although retirement challenges people to find new, satisfying projects which often lead to self-actualisation.
Major tasks of old age include adjustment to incremental losses of strength, health, faculties such as eyesight and hearing, and the death of loved ones.
Some older people become care-givers to their spouses with the loss of much freedom. Yet others experience the loss of a partner, loneliness and the need to move to a smaller living space.
Old people must also come to terms with their mortality and their impending death, as well as making sense of their lives. Decreasing physical strength and the presence of chronic or acute illnesses, with the ensuing dependence on others, demand adjustment.
- We have a responsibility to minimise the effects of ill-health, including depression, by obtaining sound medical advice and treatment. We don’t need to discuss our aches pains and illnesses at every opportunity.
- Talking about pain makes it feel worse.
Instead of aches pains and illnesses
There are other things to occupy seniors and for them to talk about.
- Seniors have more leisure to fill with enjoyable pursuits.
- They may have families who welcome their wisdom and input.
- Grandchildren and great-grandchildren can be a source of great joy.
- For some, volunteering continues into late old age, bringing a sense of satisfaction.
- Seniors can be positive about the tasks of old age and so act as role-models for those who come after them.
- A healthy diet and regular exercise help to maintain physical function, improve sleep and provide a sense of well-being.
- Much better options than complaining about ill health include socialising with family, friends and other groups as much as possible. This brings enjoyment and a sense of belonging.
- We can create good, even wonderful memories with our children and grandchildren through shared activities when we are present and interested in them.