In this blog, I would like to emphasize four principles that contribute to the formation of the identities of aging in people with disabilities and medical conditions. Understanding the identities of aging in people with disabilities and medical conditions in association with the essential principles will give insight into synthesizing the aging process utilizing a biopsychosocial perspective.
First, and foremost, everyone, regardless of which age group each individual belongs in, will experience transitions throughout the course of life. When you are a child, you are spending time with your friends and going to school. When you are an adult, you start to establish personal and professional responsibilities when it comes to work, owning a home, and raising a family. When you approach death, you make note of the experiences, knowledge, memories, and wisdom you have acquired throughout your entire life. Everyone experiences gains and losses, whether physically; socially; mentally; or emotionally. What about for people with disabilities and medical conditions? I think when children are diagnosed with a disability, whether visible or invisible, or experience medical conditions, they are not fully aware of their conditions, and this is where informal supports such as family and formal supports such as medical providers have to communicate to children as concretely as possible they can understand what they are experiencing, how their disabilities or medical conditions are affecting them in their lives, and to rationalize the purpose of providing children medical treatment. When children however go into adolescence and young adulthood they start to experience emotions they may never have before like anxiety and depression. They also start to make the effort to initiate friendships and experience relationships that they may be accepted or rejected which may or may not be as a result of their disability or medical condition (s). Independence may be possible for some, but unlikely for others whether that be getting a driver’s license; getting a job; owning a home; getting married and raising a family; and other life events. Some people need extensive supports while others need minimal supports and are able to advocate for themselves. People with disabilities and medical conditions, regardless of age, are trying to find independence by recognizing their needs and tapping into their strengths. Heading into older adulthood, people with disabilities and medical conditions try to compensate for limitations by again tapping into strengths, and while some may need extensive supports to meet ADL and IADL goals and objectives, others may be able to function on their own. People do change in the way they think; they feel; and reason. The way a person with a disability as a child will think and feel differently in comparison to a person with a disability that is an older adult. However, in generalization, people with disabilities and medical conditions will, regardless of where they are in terms of an age group, experience similar trends in terms of gains and losses when it comes to the transitions that occur throughout the lifespan.
Second, people that remain alive are the ones that will continue to age. What does this mean? People that take care of their health and well-being are those that are likely to live longer. However, sometimes this is not the case. While all of us have a chance at meeting or exceeding the average life expectancy, often times, there are people in life that will fall below the average life expectancy. Whether you are a child, an adolescent, a young adult, or an older adult, if you have disabilities or medical conditions that substantially impair your life, and health and well-being is rapidly and progressively declining, someone may unfortunately die sooner depending on the outcomes of treatments and health care. Sometimes tragic and unfortunate events contribute to the death of someone that is young that is not connected to any disabilities or medical conditions. Tragic and unfortunate events also happen to older adults too. Again, the idea is that people with disabilities and medical conditions will be similar to people without disabilities and medical conditions in the sense that, regardless of where you are in the age group, if you are still alive, you will continue to age, and then if you die, you will not continue to age.
Third, people are people, and people are individuals. While people may have disabilities and medical conditions throughout their lives as children, adults, and older adults, they have the right to always be treated as people, and to have equal access to the same opportunities that people without disabilities and medical conditions also have access to whether that be employment opportunities; educational opportunities; housing; relationships; and other means to achieve independence and active living. People with disabilities and medical conditions have a lot of strengths and they have a lot of needs, but the focus should not in its entirety be needs, but rather, utilizing the beneficence that positive psychology can offer in terms of improving the lives of people with disabilities and medical conditions across the lifespan. Remember, empathy, effective listening, and having a mutual understanding with people can help to promote successful aging in people with disabilities and people with medical conditions.
In Conclusion, the forth principle I would like to state is that the normalcy of aging of someone without a disability or disease will differ in comparison to someone that has a disability or disease. Like I previously stated in the second principle, when people get older, people with disabilities and medical conditions often experience limitations in activities of daily living which may not only alter their health and well-being, but it could get to a point where individuals are close to approaching death. Individuals that age without disease or disability will still experience age-related changes often associated to areas such as: memory; cognition; physical appearance; gait; relationships; economic status; employment status; and other physical, social, mental, and emotional changes that influence the aging process in the normalcy of aging. However, with the normalcy of aging, people do not just rapidly decline and die quickly, and they do not have any disabilities or medical conditions even though there are studies that suggest that the majority of older adults especially will eventually have a disability or medical condition (studies have suggested about 2/3 or about 66 to 67 percent of the older adult population).
While it is important to recognize that disabilities and medical changes can indeed factor in the transitions associated with people’s lives; we also need to recognize that these principles are universal. Universal is key in that people with and without disabilities and medical conditions all experience life transitions; they continue to age as long as they are still living; all individuals of all age groups have strengths and needs; and it is true that, “normal aging” is different from disease as some gerontologists state.