Self-esteem is defined as the satisfaction and confidence in oneself or the self-worth (Rosenberg, 1965:15). It is also a fundamental part of a human being. It involves the mental makeup and human psychology. It involves how individual views oneself and the kind of relationship they have with members of their community. In other words, self-esteem concerns how an individual socializes in society. Every individual has self-esteem and they are aware of its presence and including the elderly. On the other hand, self-esteem is influenced by time and role changes and the elderly are no exception.
As they become old they tend to become more dependent on their family members and this leads them to begin feeling unimportant, a burden and they also feel that other people perceive them as such. This leads to stress which in turn affects their self-esteem. Neal states that studies done show there is a relationship between self-esteem and stress and stress has been found to have a harmful effect on how elders view themselves. In American society, the elders are generally viewed as a burden, dependent, poor, and so on. Therefore the society tends to have a negative attitude towards the elderly and when they become old and dependent the devaluated concepts become engrained in them thus lower self-esteem (Bengtson, Reedy, & Gordon, 1985).
The elderly face a reversal of roles they now depended on their children while earlier they were the ones providing for their children’s needs, performed their jobs, went shopping, etc. When they lose that ability they feel unworthy and they lose their self-esteem. The people in the society may start to use what is called elder speak where they address the elders as “sweetie”, “dear”, some speak slowly or loudly to them and this irritates most elders. This is because it shows that people view them differently or treat them as little children (Leland, 2008). The seniors feel worthless when they depend on others and some find it difficult to cope with the loss of a spouse. The elderly feel that they have outlived their usefulness and their reason for existence and life starts to fade away. They find it difficult to accept the fact that they cannot do simple things for themselves like driving around, walking which become very difficult to accomplish. Coping with the death of spouses, dependency, failing health, and so on becomes very hard. This becomes hard because loss is not easy to live with. Eventually, their self-esteem is eroded and this is usually followed by health problems (Leland, 2008). When they lack support at this crucial period they may turn to drug abuse or even commit suicide in extreme cases. Therefore the elders’ caregivers should be sensitive to the changes in the self-esteem of the elders. These symptoms may include withdrawal, self-neglect, suicidal thoughts, and so on. Social support has been found to reduce stress levels and the elderly are able to live more satisfactory life (Kai, Lu, Chu, Chang, & Chou, 2008).
The elderly need to be offered emotional support to raise their self-esteem. The caregivers or their families need to provide for their medical needs by noting ailments they may have and seeking medical attention for them. When they show signs of withdrawal the caregivers can let them spend their time with their grandchildren. This way they will feel useful when they give a hand at watching the kids. The elderly need to be encouraged to socialize with their old friends. This gives them an opportunity to talk about old times. More importantly the elderly need to be treated with compassion and a lot of patience to help them cope with their changes.
The elderly need self-esteem and many communities have acknowledged this fact. They realize the role the elderly play in society. To address and help the elderly a technique called Life Review Group Program was initiated and the results were positive. This is because the elders are given an opportunity to interact with other elders and share stories about their lives. Many methods like role-playing, activities were used in a study done on a Chinese population. The elders’ self-esteem and increased after the test and this could be attributed to the elders getting a chance to look back into their lives, acquiring new interpretations, integrating, and rediscovering the meaning of life (Kai et al, 2008). In other societies, this has led to the construction of centers where the old people meet their friends and the younger people. The elders are given a chance to share their talents with the younger generation as well as learn new things. This helps them to be proud of themselves that after all, they can make a useful contribution to society. This helps to rebuild their self-esteem. On the other hand, the elderly have a role to play in helping to preserve the culture and history. When they share this information with the younger generation they fill a niche that only they can. They make a difference in their communities and this leads to self-confidence which results in self-esteem (McReynolds, Joyce, Rossen & Eileen, 2004).
The elderly need to be taken care of by the physicians as well. When an elderly person checks into a hospital they encounter doctors and nurses. The nurse has to play many roles in the life of the elderly patient. Therefore the nurse has to combine his or her experience, theory, personal traits, and social skills to ensure that the elder feels well and safe in the new environment. The nurse has to cope with the patient, family members, stress, and so on. The elderly have problems with their sight, hearing, loss of memory, loneliness, and often have suspicious behavior. The nurses are supposed to observe the elderly and come up with the right diagnose. They also have to guide the patient as well as the family members to cope with the changes exhibited by the elderly and to ensure that they do not lose their self-esteem. According to studies elders in care, centers showed higher esteem than those living with families (Pnina, 2007). Therefore, in case they have lost it they should work towards rebuilding it to give the elderly meaningful lives even after losing the ability to do most things for themselves. Nurses use the emotional approach in treating elderly patients because this makes them feel accepted and safe thus they regain their self-confidence. The nurses should encourage their elderly patients to speak about their past accomplishments in raising their children as well as grandchildren. They should be reminded of their achievement in raising the children who turned out to be great people in society. This helps to boost their self-esteem and have an increased life span (Kai et al, 2008). It is also important to note that the elderly often tell the physicians what they think will be favorable and they may conceal the truth about what they are feeling. There the physicians should be aware of somatization where the patient guise psychiatric issues for example depression with pain in some body parts. Therefore the physician should be careful not to erode the self-esteem of the patient by doing tests on the somatic complaints as well as psychiatric analysis (Barkin, L & Barkin J, 2008).
When the elderly are given good care they tend to age gracefully. This care includes proper nutrition, social support, and physical activity. When the elderly are given proper nutrition it helps them to remain healthy as it boosts their immune systems. When the lifestyle of the elderly includes physical activity they are able to remain healthy and active. They should be encouraged and given support to walk around, be given an opportunity to play with their grandchildren as this will keep them physically fit. Social support is very necessary for the elderly. They need to be included in the social activities taking place in the family and society. This way they feel as part and parcel of the community and enable them to defeat the feelings of unworthiness (McReynolds, Joyce, Rossen & Eileen, 2004).
The elderly are very important persons in society. They are custodians of knowledge and vast experiences.
Therefore they should be appreciated and cherished. However, this is not always the case. The elderly are often seen as people who have outlived their time and are unrelated to this generation that is characterized by big strides in technology and information. This is wrong as by doing so we are denying the fact that this elderly generation contributed to what society is today. They need to be engaged due to their expertise. The elderly are the foundation upon which modern society is built. They have been through a lot in their lives as they tried to cope with the changes in society. They provided education to their children, raised families, and did their role in building the nation. Therefore they should not be taken for granted or be seen as people lost in the present day.
Due to their immense contribution to modern-day life, the least we can do for them is to show them a little appreciation. We should take time to listen to them as they talk about their past they are the living history. Teach them how to use modern gadgets, invite them for dinner once in a while, visit those who live alone, etc. Lets us make their lives easier by giving them back the self-esteem they may have lost. After all the experiences we are going through today they encountered yesterday. Tomorrow you and I will be the elderly and how we treat the elderly today we shall be treated by the younger generation.
Barkin, L.R & Barkin, J.S. (2008). Reexamining the Elderly Patient’s Presentation with Depression, Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 10(5): 415-416 PMCID: PMC2629060
Bengtson, V.I., Reedy, M.N., & Gordon, C. (1985). Aging and self- conceptions, personality processes and social contexts. In J.E Birren & K Warner Schaie (Eds.). Handbook of psychology and aging, pp544-593. New York Nostrand Reinhold.
Kai, J.C., Lu, B.R., Chu, H., Chang, C.Y., & Chou, R.K. (2008). Evaluation of the effect of a life review group program on self esteem and life satisfaction in the elderly. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23: 7-10.
Leland, J. (2008). In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly.
McReynolds, Joyce, L., Rossen & Eileen, K. (2004). Importance of physical Activity, Nutrition, and social Support for Optimal Aging. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 18(4):200-206
Neal, K. (2008). Life Stress. Social Support and Self-Esteem in an elderly Population. Psychology and Aging, Vol 2, No. 4, 349-356
Pnina, R. (2007). Self-esteem among elderly people receiving care insurance at home and at day centers for the elderly. International Psychogeriatrics, 19, pp 1097-1109 Doi:10.1017/S1041610207004929
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.