Fear of Aging and Death
The purpose of this paper is to explore fear of aging and death. People who live will experience aging and death. People have positive and negative beliefs on aging and death. The first section of this paper looks at factors that cause negative attitudes of aging and death. The second section focuses on those with positive attitudes of aging and death. Throughout the paper, evidence points out simple action steps people can use to cut fear of aging and death.
Keywords: death, aging, fear
Fear of Aging and Death
Aging causes varying levels of fear, anxiety, and apprehension in each person. Biosocial, cognitive, and psychosocial changes as one ages cause people to realize their own mortality. Attitudes of aging and death go together, because as people get older they are concerned with their own mortality (Benton, 2007). Research shows negative, indifferent, and positive aging attitudes among people. These attitudes highlight health, relationships, productivity, and faith as important to embrace aging and death as part of life’s journey.
Negative attitudes produce fear of aging and death, and poor health relates to people’s negativity (Ron, 2007). Oswald Chambers (1915) wrote:
There is nothing, naturally speaking, that makes us lose heart quicker than decay – the decay of bodily beauty, of natural life, of friendship, of associations, all these things make a man lose heart, but Paul [He wrote fourteen books of the Christian Bible] says when we are trusting in Jesus Christ, these things do not find us discouraged, light comes through them. (p. 9)
One hour of moderate exercise per day has shown to have health benefits. Healthy eating choices, moderate amounts of sunshine, black coffee, and regularly scheduled doctor appointments help support health and fitness levels and add years to one’s life. The Dr. Oz Show (2013) website allows users to browse for topics and find information on a variety of health topics related to aging.
A second cause of fear is from a negative life attitude. Those who are positive early in life tend to stay positive as they age, and negative people tend to end up negative. People adapt their new experiences into their mindsets. People tend to gravitate towards the familiar, because the unfamiliar needs more energy, although people can change (Ron, 2007). Research showed that “Seventy-five percent of all the research subjects changed their [aging and death] attitudes, one way or the other” (Ron, 2007). People who held negative aging beliefs in their youth turned positive as time passed. Those who were indifferent in their attitudes about aging were least likely to turn positive (Ron, 2007). Evidence shows people do not believe they change as they age. For example, the typical eighty-year old thinks he or she is in a younger stage of life. Those who want to live with less fear of aging and death need to find ways to create positivity in their lives (Pope, 2013).
Negative attitudes occur because a lack of planning can cause frustration. Natalie Pope (2013) found people did not consider aging until friends, family members, or themselves are affected. Caregivers and the aging were slow to adapt to new realities because they were unprepared. People who plan for getting older cut fear. This applies to both the person aging and the caregiver. Fear is reduced when long-term care insurance, funeral arrangements, and living wills are in place. One daughter reported her mother’s positivity related to “She knew where she was going” (Pope, 2013). People with a plan have direction, and direction reduces fear. Focus on day-to-day tasks, striving for financial security, or pursuit of hobbies take time away from planning (Ron, 2007).
People’s ideas of aging show common themes among the young and the elderly. Society places value on youth, speed, and winning, which tend to diminish with age. The elderly part of society is a larger segment of the population susceptible to stereotypes of aging, which may lead the elderly to adopt the negative stereotypes of aging. Sick, depressed, or slow are several of the stereotypes mentioned (Ron, 2007). Because America attacks its aging population with a message of unusefulness, the aging population begins to accept it as truth (Roth, 1978). Elderly people tend to view others as old, which allows them to cope with aging, as they label older people with the stereotypes of aging. Excessive meditating on aging and death creates negativity in people, and those who try to understand why old age is negative tend to have fear of old age (Ron, 2007).
Cognitive ability decreases as one ages because nerve tissues decrease, which impairs learning and memory. The brain does not work as it once did as learning is slowed, and loss of memory increases fear in people as they age (Villeda, 2011). Those who learn to adapt, accommodate, or assimilate the new reality gain positivity towards aging and death.
People with indifferent aging and death attitudes did not plan because they focus on daily survival, difficult life issues, or things other than aging and death. Research shows their mindset turned negative, and they experienced fear when confronted with aging and death (Ron, 2007).
Joy during the later years of life occurs when one takes time to assimilate or accommodate the new information. As people start to experience aging, they gain a new perspective. A change in perspective can shift one’s perceptions. Elderly people discover aging is not what they once thought (Ron, 2007). Effects of aging in a person are unfamiliar, and unfamiliarity causes fear, anxiety, and apprehension. Fear of the unknown can disappear once someone has experience. Comprehension that each new life stage has a period of adjustment and giving oneself time to adjust is important. As people age, they show less anxiety towards aging and death. People learn to cope with aging and death by exposure to their friends dying and increasing conversations with their peer groups (De Raedt, 2008).
Natalie Pope (2013) found remaining active, exercise, and maintaining health keeps people positive. Pope wrote of one of her research subjects:
Eva, a former ballerina committed to diet and exercise, said she still felt ‘‘extremely young’’ at age 63 with her mother being 96 and her grandmother living to be 103. Looking ahead she reflected, ‘‘If I age as good as my mother, I realize it is going to be a nice, long life.”
Fitness is a response to seeing older people struggle with walking as they age (Pope, 2013). Exercise, eating healthy, and plastic surgery are reactions to fear of aging. Old age, death, and mortality are out of mind when one looks young (Benton, 2007). Villeda confirmed exercise helps reduce the negative physical effects of aging (2011). Positive attitudes of aging and death arise from maintaining physical capacity. The benefits extend to mental health and increased self-esteem (Roth, 1978).
Self-esteem correlates with relationships and productivity. As people age, they learn to get self-esteem from within, although it takes a daily effort to stay positive. As people age, they experience a loss of cognitive and physical ability, respect, and friends. People need to prepare for work and activities they can do later in their lives to create self-worth (Benton, 2007). When work ends, and experience becomes viewed as a liability, this lowers self-worth and positivity that requires new avenues of self-worth (Benton, 2007). Elderly do better when shown respect from younger people, and removal of the youth from their lives is harmful. Self-esteem remains high when using talents and gifts, learning, and remaining productive (Roth, 1978). Natalie Pope’s (2013) research agrees that as people age, staying busy, being involved with others, and remaining productive are important to positivity.
People struggle with suffering. In particular, the loss of independence, loneliness, and quality of life is what concerns the elderly (Pope, 2013). Religious faith can help one stay positive as aging occurs. Health, relationships, and productivity will fail to keep the elderly positive throughout their entire lives. Benton found one perceived losses as he or she ages. Humans have a remarkable capacity to get educated on aging, which allows tolerance and understanding of others, although not for themselves. Religious faith could keep one positive as they age and approach death.
The ability to make societal contributions can keep people positive, but fear returns when people can no longer contribute. Religious faith is the way to stay positive. As Pope reported in her research, knowing where one is going keeps one positive (2013). Relationships end, health fails, and productivity ceases. When one thinks through aging, no coping mechanism of plastic surgery, endless learning, or relationship building, except with God, will stay until the end of aging. Death strikes each person. Roth’s (1978) research begins with “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
Hope and encouragement are important, and Christ provides this for people. Those with fear of aging and death could embrace a biblical or secular worldview. A secular worldview finds its encouragement in practical and commonsense solutions. Plastic surgery, exercise, or self-help provides temporary relief. For example, the secular message claims that as one advances in age, he or she can have plastic surgery, and look young (and by implication, alive) forever. Drugs and therapy can cut fear of aging (Roth, 1978). A hip replacement surgery can bring relief to pain, which gives the impression of youth. Continual learning, new work or worthy volunteer activities can increase one’s level of productivity. The problem is time and aging catch up with any secular worldview invention (Tripp, 2013). Pope’s (2013) research found a common theme in her study. One participant, Evelyn, summed up those studied when she said, “No big deal to tell somebody how old I am. That does not bother me—being incapacitated does’’ (p. 5). No one escapes this fear. People’s fear has to do with the manner of aging instead the actual event of dying. People self-report low death fear, yet none were ready to die.
There was evidence of less death anxiety for those with religious faith. When people age, they focus less on long-term goals. Building a career, financial security, and competition are exchanged for daily living and decreased concern of future threats (De Raedt, 2008). Matthew 6:25-34 is the “birds of the air and lilies of the field” parable and tells people the positivity they receive from their focus on eternal things. Each person will end up incapacitated, and the hope to eternal positivity is in a relationship with Christ. The apostle James wrote that suffering is part of life’s journey, riches will not satisfy, and Christ alone provides everything for a person (James 1:2-12). The power of a positive mind frame is a biblical principle (Philippians 4:8). It is important for the elderly to find the hope and encouragement Christ provides.
No person escapes aging and death, although people do what they can to deny and cope with their mortality as long as they can. Israel’s King Solomon wrote that one could gain wisdom from people who have experienced getting older (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). Levels of fear, anxiety, and apprehension are different, yet exist in each person. Positive attitudes can cut fear of aging and death. Maintaining, developing, and improving one’s health, relationships, and productivity help one stay positive during this last life stage. Faith in Jesus Christ is the eternal positive step one needs to take (John 3:16).
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