Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Symbols of Aging as Perceived by the Young

Mildred Louise Hamner

Abstract

Exploration of attitudes is the first step toward the ^ acquisition of a positive philosophy toward the aged and the aging process. Studies have been conducted with various young health professionals including nursing, social work, and medical students which indicated that they had negative stereotyped attitudes toward the aged. If given a choice, the majority of the health professionals would rank the aged last in clients they would most like to care for.1 Also, many of the students are frightened and may experience emotional trauma when confronted with an aged client. This experience may be traumatic because it causes the students to have visions of their own aging as well as of parents and grandparents while they are struggling with their own identity.

Acting on this premise, it was believed important to provide a mechanism in a class in adult health nursing to stimulate an intellectualizing and/or discussion of the students' personal attitudes. If possible, this would be helpful to do before they were assigned to a client who may trigger negative reactions in the young student. A method was utilized by the writer as adapted from an idea described in a book by Monea.2 The students were asked to take a nature walk or look around their homes for some symbols which represented aging to them and to bring a symbol to class. Each student was asked to share his/her symbol with the class and to explain why the object was a symbol of aging to them. The students had obviously given much thought to this portion of the class on the subject of aging and what it meant to them. They were willing to freely share their feelings with their peers.

A die was presented by one student which had been owned by her grandfather who, according to the student, had been a gambler. The implication that I derived from her presentation was that life is a gamble and what we are is based upon those in our family who came before us. Perhaps this student may have been placing too much emphasis on heredity as a determinant of what she is to become.

Another student brought a flash cube which she stated represented four life stages. The significance of her presentation was that all but one of the flashes had been used and she made the statement that the aged have "one flash left." She expressed a real fear of growing old and being alone.

Aging meant a river to another student. Her explanation was that it started as a trickle or small stream and got larger and larger but, in so doing, the flow became slower and slower. My perception of this symbol was that it included both positive and negative connotations, but that it included much realism in viewing the life cycles.

The fact that we are becoming what we will be as an aged person was portrayed by one student who stated that she brought herself. The explanation was that she would be as an aged person the same type of person she is today.

Carved statues of aged men which were made in another country were presented by another student. She talked of the physical appearance of the aged person. We could possibly conclude that the losses in the area of physical attributes were of concern to this student. At least this is an area which could be explored. Another statement was that these statues reminded her of the fact that many of the aged are lonely and isolated.

The last example is concerned with a male student who brought a branch of…

Exploration of attitudes is the first step toward the ^ acquisition of a positive philosophy toward the aged and the aging process. Studies have been conducted with various young health professionals including nursing, social work, and medical students which indicated that they had negative stereotyped attitudes toward the aged. If given a choice, the majority of the health professionals would rank the aged last in clients they would most like to care for.1 Also, many of the students are frightened and may experience emotional trauma when confronted with an aged client. This experience may be traumatic because it causes the students to have visions of their own aging as well as of parents and grandparents while they are struggling with their own identity.

Acting on this premise, it was believed important to provide a mechanism in a class in adult health nursing to stimulate an intellectualizing and/or discussion of the students' personal attitudes. If possible, this would be helpful to do before they were assigned to a client who may trigger negative reactions in the young student. A method was utilized by the writer as adapted from an idea described in a book by Monea.2 The students were asked to take a nature walk or look around their homes for some symbols which represented aging to them and to bring a symbol to class. Each student was asked to share his/her symbol with the class and to explain why the object was a symbol of aging to them. The students had obviously given much thought to this portion of the class on the subject of aging and what it meant to them. They were willing to freely share their feelings with their peers.

A die was presented by one student which had been owned by her grandfather who, according to the student, had been a gambler. The implication that I derived from her presentation was that life is a gamble and what we are is based upon those in our family who came before us. Perhaps this student may have been placing too much emphasis on heredity as a determinant of what she is to become.

Another student brought a flash cube which she stated represented four life stages. The significance of her presentation was that all but one of the flashes had been used and she made the statement that the aged have "one flash left." She expressed a real fear of growing old and being alone.

Aging meant a river to another student. Her explanation was that it started as a trickle or small stream and got larger and larger but, in so doing, the flow became slower and slower. My perception of this symbol was that it included both positive and negative connotations, but that it included much realism in viewing the life cycles.

The fact that we are becoming what we will be as an aged person was portrayed by one student who stated that she brought herself. The explanation was that she would be as an aged person the same type of person she is today.

Carved statues of aged men which were made in another country were presented by another student. She talked of the physical appearance of the aged person. We could possibly conclude that the losses in the area of physical attributes were of concern to this student. At least this is an area which could be explored. Another statement was that these statues reminded her of the fact that many of the aged are lonely and isolated.

The last example is concerned with a male student who brought a branch of a cedar tree. He reminded us that although the branch was cut two days before that it was still green. He referred us to the book of Psalms which indicated that the aged would be as Cedars of Lebanon. In a moving moment, he used the wilted but still green branch to imply that no matter how debilitated, dehydrated, and ill a person becomes, there remains in him an element of life that should always be considered as worthy of our care and concern.

My immediate impression was that the aged would do well if cared for by these students, but yet there remained the belief that many have negative feelings which should be explored and dealt with.

This teaching strategy captured the attention of the entire class and caused them to begin exploring their own attitudes and feelings about the aged. One student reported to me that she went home and visited her aged neighbor.

If we as nursing instructors will be more diligent in providing experiences which enable the young health professional to begin the process of developing a positive philosophy of aging, we will make a valuable contribution toward upgrading the health care of the aged client. The aged of our society deserve our best. We must be diligent in providing dynamic, enthusiastic, and pleasurable learning experiences for the young health professional because they hold in their hands the destiny of the future care of the aged. WE must not do less.

References

  • 1. Gunter LM: Students' attitudes toward geriatric nursing. Nurs Outlook 19(7):466-469, 1971.
  • 2. Monea HE: Instructor's Manual to Accompany Irene Burnside's Nursing and the Aged, New York. McGraw-Hill Book Co, 1976.

10.3928/0098-9134-19770701-05

Sign up to receive

Journal E-contents