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Aging is Not a Disease: National Senior Citizens Day

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August 21 is National Seniors Day. Let’s celebrate by NOT treating seniors as debilitated, foolish children.

Specializes in Geriatrics, Home Care, Senior Care. Has 15 years experience.

Aging is not a disease. I feel very strongly about this, and I know many other nurses also do. Still, many nurses have a very different attitude toward seniors, and indeed, they reflect a lot of what society says about our elders. I want to remind myself and you to stop and reflect and examine our views and attitudes towards  Senior Citizens and how we treat them.

Aging is Not a Disease

Many elders are bright, active, contributing members of their communities. Let’s emulate the Japanese and honor our seniors.  There were 4,096,607 registered nurses (RNs) and 920,655 licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPN/LVNs) in the United States as of October 2019 (2020NurseandMidwife). I would venture to say most of us work with seniors at least part of the time, whether we are working in a doctor’s office, hospital, or of course, if we are working in Skilled Nursing or managed care facilities. So, the numbers tell us we affect many older people.  I have watched too many nurses talk baby talk to these beautiful people in our charge. Those nurses are well-intentioned, however misguided.

There is also a prevalent attitude that these people are naturally disabled. First of all, it is not always true. I knew one man, who would be considered elderly, who went on a mountain climbing trek for a vacation. I know another senior, 80 years old this month, who rides approximately 20 miles a day on his bicycle for exercise. You can probably think of those in your own life who are still very active and taking care of themselves, and perhaps even taking care of others. For those that have become weakened or even handicapped with age, we need to step back, let them do everything they can for themselves (I know, this takes a lot of patience), and then offer to assist before jumping in to do anything for them.

History of this Day

It was President Ronald Reagan who declared August 21 as National Senior Citizens Day.  He did this when he signed Proclamation 5847. At that time, he said: “Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honor of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land,” Reagan proclaimed. “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older — places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.” (National Senior Citizens Day – August 21, 2021)

Of course, it is poignant that Ronald Reagan himself ended up battling one of the Alzheimer’s diseases; one of the most debilitating diseases we face.

How We Treat Them is How They’ll Behave

The United States’ attitude toward Senior Citizens gets pretty low marks. Watch the advertising, and the TV shows, and the movies. So much of the time elderly are depicted as foolish, slow, or ludicrous. We all know people who play into that. I have even known co-workers at Skilled Nursing facilities who made very bad, deprecating jokes about older people in general. We can do better. All of us, seniors included, tend to act the way we’re treated. It’s a natural reaction. Remember the old adage “treat someone like a horse long enough, eventually they’ll put on a saddle”. I may be misquoting a little there. Anyway, for our own good and the good of others, let’s try to have a more healthy, positive perspective about aging in this country. We need to realize what our elders can give us – wisdom, kindness, encouragement, the benefits of their vast experiences. Many seniors contribute to the betterment of our communities with their volunteer work. Let’s honor all of them on this National Senior Citizen’s Day.

Davey Do

Specializes in around 25 years psych, 15years medical. Has 42 years experience.

With all due respect for you and the premise of your article, Nadine, I immediately disagreed with the premise in the opening two statements.

Firstly, "Aging is not a disease" is open for debate. One of the definitions of disease is "a disorder of structure or function in a human... especially one that has a known cause and a distinctive group of symptoms, signs, or anatomical changes".

Aging, does in fact, follow this definition of which I do not need to go into detail.

The concept of disease is widely open to interpretation which I first considered while in training to work on a CD unit. The medical director, a physician, presented the disease concept of addiction.

This disease concept was reinforced, while in the RN nursing program, when the OB/Gyn instructor made the statement, "Pregnancy is a disease".

The criteria for addiction, pregnancy, and the aging process all fit into the disease concept.

The following statement of "I feel very strongly about this" also caught my attention. Feelings are based on emotions whereas beliefs are based on facts.

The quoted statement connotes an emotionally based premise which can be logically debated.

Now, I wish not to poo-poo the assumed premise of your article, that the aging process is not a bad thing. The aging process is a natural event which affects various individuals differently.

I'll use myself as an example: I am 64 years old, have no apparent health problems, am on no medication, workout every day- sometimes several times a day- and am classified as being elderly. I am no way in the same shape that I was when I was young or middle age. The aging process, as the disease that it is, has noticeably affected my strength and stamina.

I applaud presenting the premise of aging as not a bad thing, however I disagree with the premise's presentation.

Honyebee, CNA

Specializes in Customer service.

I'm proud to say that I respect and admire the older adults or anyone who is older than me. 

 

Aging is normal. We start aging at the time of conception. 

batsek2013, BSN

Specializes in Retired...public health, primary care. Has 56 years experience.

Just to emphasize what I think of this article.......the article writer is correct in my opinion. Aging is not a disease although it can be accompanied by various diseases depending upon the person being discussed.  Aging cannot be prevented but the effects of that process may be delayed for awhile by altering lifestyle behaviors and by genetics, even though the body is still aging.  Aging can not be put into remission or cured. It is a natural process and part of living even though , again, lifestyle may play a part in decreasing acute symptoms or manifestations of conditions that threaten it. Aging happens to us all and to everything living. We must realize that. I am age 77 and still volunteer as a licensed, retired RN, most recently as a Covid 19 vaccine administrator in our health department clinics. Sure, I am aging, however, I am trying to delay the resultant end of aging which is death by staying active, engaged in life, safe, and  heathy overall. I know I cannot prevent , cure, or  put aging into remission.  Instead , I can live it to the fullest every day and embrace this phase of my life. I do realize I am slowing down and just try to adjust to those changes.

                                               And

Pregnancy is not a disease! I am appalled that a nursing instructor made that statement to student nurses! Pregnancy is another vital stage of life and if it did not exist, we'd not be here. We can prevent it, but there is no remission in pregnancy. If a woman is pregnant, she cannot be cured since it is not a disease. True, lifestyle behaviors and genetics play a part in having a healthier pregnancy and baby  but they do not cure anything. 
 

Pregnancy and aging are at opposite ends of life's spectrum just as the colors in the rainbow  run from    red to violet. Who are we to question either as being natural processes of life and nature?   There is also no question that both should be celebrated.

Judy B. Smith, RN, BSN

amoLucia

Specializes in retired LTC.

I think a better title for this thread would be "Aging: with or without disease or disability".

I don't know where OP is coming from, but I resent the implication that I, and a lot of others, treat seniors "as debilitated foolish children". And I kind of resent her wide-brush sweep of healthcare practitioners.

Yeah, I will give that there some practitioners in desperate need of some politically correct intensive educational sensitivity retraining.

Aging is normal; it's disease/disability impact that's the problem. And how to respond appropriately.

JBMmom, MSN, NP

Specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care. Has 9 years experience.

We as a society definitely do not place the same value on the aging members of our population as many other societies. Our elderly patients often reside in long term care facilities where they are infrequently visited by family members as they face the consequences of aging and the eventual end of life process. Our society is not set up for multigenerational households, those of use in the sandwich years are caring for both children and parents with varying degrees of success. 

I do agree that aging in and of itself is not a disease. There is a biological change in cellular structure and function, but for many they can pass through aging years without dysfunction. 

We all have experienced healthcare providers that treat patients inappropriately, regardless of age. But yes, the elderly are often viewed as having diminished mental capacity regardless of presentation. It's unfortunate, but unlikely to change, whether due to personality or misguided behavior on the part of those providing care. 

Kitiger, RN

Specializes in Private Duty Pediatrics. Has 42 years experience.

On 8/26/2021 at 7:58 AM, Nadine Buchanan said:
 

For those that have become weakened or even handicapped with age, we need to step back, let them do everything they can for themselves (I know, this takes a lot of patience), and then offer to assist before jumping in to do anything for them.

Right here, you hit the nail on the head. Respect people enough to allow them to decide when, and whether, they need help. And be ready to help when appropriate.

Kitiger, RN

Specializes in Private Duty Pediatrics. Has 42 years experience.

On 8/26/2021 at 11:44 AM, Davey Do said:

Firstly, "Aging is not a disease" is open for debate. One of the definitions of disease is "a disorder of structure or function in a human... especially one that has a known cause and a distinctive group of symptoms, signs, or anatomical changes".

Aging, does in fact, follow this definition of which I do not need to go into detail.

Pregnancy, birth, puberty - and yes, aging - are developmental stages. 

If aging fits into the definition of disease, then perhaps the definition of disease should be modified.

A disease is "a disorder of structure or function in a human... especially one that has a known cause and a distinctive group of symptoms, signs, or anatomical changes", when such changes are not a part of normal development.

Davey Do

Specializes in around 25 years psych, 15years medical. Has 42 years experience.

Good point, Kitiger.

I duly note that my premise has been successfully blasted on the bow and is taking on water.

Kitiger, RN

Specializes in Private Duty Pediatrics. Has 42 years experience.

17 minutes ago, Davey Do said:

Good point, Kitiger.

I duly note that my premise has been successfully blasted on the bow and is taking on water.

Davey, you make us think. Thank you. 🙂

 

Nadine Buchanan, LPN

Specializes in Geriatrics, Home Care, Senior Care. Has 15 years experience.

Davey,

Your points are all well taken. Kitiger is right, you make us think. I love a good lively conversation.

Nadine Buchanan, LPN

Specializes in Geriatrics, Home Care, Senior Care. Has 15 years experience.

Kitiger,

Thank you for all of your good comments. I like your comment about development stages, and thank you for including pregnancy. Thank you for your support words about waiting until someone asks for help.