Coping with the prospect of death

Perhaps the most salient reminder to an individual that he or she is aging is retirement. It marks the beginning of the passage to old age and ultimately -probably many years later – death. When waking up the day after retirement the individual is setting out on a period of life that, unlike childhood or adolescence, has no set length. This gives rise to feelings of uncertainty, which makes it inevitable that thoughts about death should become more of a prominent feature of this stage of a person’s life. For most people, the prospect of dying does not seem to destroy their ability to make the best of old age. There are many elderly people whose aim is to keep as active and involved in life for as long as possible, believing that if they allow themselves to slow down they will turn into ‘vegetables’ and be a burden to others. Some researchers feel that this view has its shortcomings in that a person who continues to devote his or her energy to worldly matters cannot possibly have the time to solve the psychological problems of old age. There is, however, no single pattern which can be recommended as the recipe for a successful old age because each individual eventually discovers the best way to cope. In many cases it is ill health that has most effect on decline in old age. And although slowing down seems to be a universal consequence of aging, those individuals who make a conscious effort to keep themselves in good health experience fewer of the negative aspects of aging. One study showed that when compared with a group of 21-year-old men, a group of elderly men aged between 65 and 91 years and who had been diagnosed as extremely healthy, were found to be almost as vigorous and capable of exercise as the young men. In a further comparison, this same group was found to far outshine a similarly aged group of less healthy elderly men. The lifestyle and health habits of the healthy group were analyzed, which together with the results of many other studies have led researchers to believe that the secret of survival seems to lie in following a rewarding and healthy living pattern, lending support to the view that a person’s death is not decided merely by biological factors.