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The poing program is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant he made from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The challenge of aging. Today's program the changing attitudes toward aging. A program from the series human behavior social and medical research produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service with special assistance from the National Health Council and the National Health Forum. You will hear today Dr. Leo W. Symons executive officer of the Institute of Research and service in nursing education in Teacher's College of Columbia University in New York City. And my name is Glenn Philips. Dr Simmons said the problem of aging can be stated in three parts. When does one grow old. Is aging determined. And what attitudes prevail regarding aging. My first question of Dr. Simmons was
what would you say are the broad generalizations about aging. He answered the first great broad generalization that comes to my mind is reeling in a sense a correction of a stereotype about aging. It is generally held that there's something similar in aging worldwide that variation is not as important as uniformity in aging. If I've learned any single lesson about aging it is a fact of variability. Aging various around the world. Individuals vary in the way they age when they age. And what it means to them to be 0 for example whether it's a challenge or a curse. The second generalization of great significance to me is the fact that it is only possible in a social and cultural environment. Man was unable to age very far
along until he had created a society that made aging possible aging is culture bound we age in the way and to the extent that our particular culture makes possible for us. Therefore as we move from society to society we find aging taking on different colorations and reaching different degrees of. Senility. But Dr. Simmons would you consider to be some of the major themes that people who are interested in this problem of the senior citizen as they are often referred. What would you consider to be some of the major themes to which these people should address themselves. Well I could suggest a few. First for example there is a time one is in aging that may be golden. There is first of all the timeliness of threshold when one
assumes a status of 0 it can be too early or too late. There are some who claim that they felt as early as in the twenties and others who deny that they fellow are ready to assume the status of aging until late in the 70s. There is also a time when it's in the peak of ageing when the glories of the advantages of ageing can be achieved. Moreover it might be said that there is a timeliness in the closure of life a time for the good departure and a time beyond which such a good departure becomes a long drawn out period of loneliness and desperation. In short there is a timeliness in aging that must be faced up to. That is a phrase to a major theme that needs a lot of. Further study. A second theme of importance is the theme of delicate equilibriums in
aging. There is for example the equilibrium of aggression on one hand and passivity only such as when to resist or to resign when to fight or retreat when to extend and spend or to hold back and save oneself and one's resources when to keep on doing for oneself or when to let others do for one when to be become an invalid and when to over do too late. As another example there is the equilibrium of individual and social decision making. Perhaps there are a few things in life more precious to an aging Persian than the right and privilege to make his own decisions. But if he waits too long or if he makes decisions too late they can be a great handicap both to him and to his associates. Then there is a problem of the equilibrium of interdependence between
young and oh that balance in itself is one of the most difficult ones. Moreover there is an equilibrium of detriments. And compensations for all of them. Such For example the use of the cane in walking our glasses in seeing our hearing aids for the deaf. There is then a time when as an equal we have whims like we mention the timeliness in aging itself in the third place there are serious pitfalls in the transitions from middle aged to old age. Many primitive peoples have recognise this and call them rights. All right TS rites of passage. There is the difficult transitional period known as the climacteric especially in women. There is the retirement transitional period for man. There is a time when one loses a spouse or the loss of help even the loss of purpose
in life. These transitional periods are especially a problem for aging because. New equilibriums have to be established. And although one make of it. Vice is almost to be enjoyed in old age. If there's anything the agent learns quickly. Is that these things become tiresome and satiating. In other words they are few real honeymoons in all age. That lasts very long whether they be honeymoons in regard to vices or new activities hobbies or travel or so for then there is. Although we should speak of it with reservation and calmness and there you see unresolved dilemma in life's closure the question famous in Shakespeare have to be or not to be comes to us again in our aging and we oldsters often think about it.
We know now that in them or in the arms of modern medical care and public welfare it is becoming We might say more and more difficult perhaps to die timely. Dr. Simmons I wonder if you would forgive me if I digressed but left these said QUESTION Just to ask you a couple of questions that are not included in the sheet here. You mentioned a moment ago about the mind versus the physical and aging is aging as much a state of mind as it is a state of the physical. Well it's part of both. We in our society are perhaps victims to the calendar more than any other single criterion of aging. And when we look at the calendar and know that we're going to retire say within three or four more years that's bound to have an effect on us. In fact it's very difficult to separate the physiology
and mentality of mind and body. There are so interwoven that we have to see them as wholes in part an attempt wherever we can to integrate these factors in a general consensus of feeling an attitude about our position in life. I suppose growing old is as much a psychological or social logical or economic or sometimes even political phenomena as it is a biological age. But we have to see these things as holes if we can because these factors are really integrated in experience if in no other way. But when we were talking before we started the record you mentioned four different words motivations interests desires and needs in aging. Now what are these basic ingredients. When we think of motivations we may think of them in two on two
levels. We may think of them as instrumental goals if we wish and I mean by that things that we want in order to satisfy deeper needs money would be an example of that. We may go below that level of instrumental needs into the primary motivations of life that level has interested me more and I have endeavored wherever I could in a world wide study of a sample of true groups who are aging about over the Earth to ask myself this question What are the basic needs or desires of interest or interest of aging people everywhere irrespective of the level of their cultural economic development. It seems to me there are five of these basic fundamental interest in aging. The first one is to live as long as possible
providing of course life satisfaction still outweigh its privations or its burdens. There's no doubt about it life remains very precious to the old and we will bargain again and again for just a little bit more. But life and nothing else pretty soon is nothing else. So somewhere along the point interest in life of course will fade. A second basic interest of aging is to get more rest or release from the humdrum pasts and overtaxing physical exertions opportunities no words to safeguard and preserve the waning physical energies. Oh people have to hoard their forces. I recall the story of Will Rogers who was once asked what would he do if he had just 30 more days to live. His answer was live them up one at a time.
In a sense we have to as we grow older keep that in mind using our resources. Miserly. A third major motivation as it is appeared to me from studying people in different societies has been to remain active participants in group affairs in either operational or supervisory roles. Any kind of participation being preferable to idleness and indifference or withdraw. No professor of mine Harry Hubbell once put it in these words. Something to do and nothing to be done at least today. A fourth motivation is to safeguard our strength and any prerogatives acquiring such as skills possessions rights already a prestige property and other rights are the thing really an aging there's always a distinct difference between the aged with and without property for example. Finally. A fifth go one might say is to be able to withdraw
from life when necessity requires it as honorably and comfortably as possible and with maximum prospects for an attractive hereafter. These five wishes are interest and motivations. Life rest participation prerogatives in an easy and honorable release probably can be subsumed under two words influence and fulfillment that is fulfillment for one's life. If they're used in a broad sense that's the way I would sum up at least the motivations in aging. You touched a moment ago on a point that I have wondered about but have never really thought to ask the question of anyone. That is the difference in aging between men and women. Is there a perceptible difference in attitudes between men and women as they reach the older years.
Yes I suppose there is some difference. I remember I haven't heard one person say that. A woman is is only as she looks and a man as old as he feels. Of course that's not in the full picture but I guess there is something to it. We know the climacteric is more pronounced in woman than in man. That may also influence the feelings of aging. Then we know that women outlive men perhapses man gets the idea that he has less life to live than a woman it may make him feel that he must hurry along to reach the stages in life at a faster pace. That is entirely open to question album. There
are differences without any doubt as well as their likenesses in age in between men and women. I wonder if you would care to comment. You said reach the stages of life at a faster pace. With this have anything at all to do with the fact that men because of their role in society are sometimes forced to reach a role faster than a woman perhaps at times. I suppose our society is slanted toward placing the greater responsibility on man at least in our present contemporary times. I saw a study not too long ago of the incidence. Of certain disorders. Which were greater among women. About a hundred years ago and now are greater among men. The only explanation that we have for that is that the burden of responsibility has
shifted upon man to such a degree that he suffers under these possible diseases more than women although that too is open for debate. We have talked a great deal about aging and there are many conferences around the country and there will be a national conference next year. But I don't think I have asked the question specifically as to what the picture might be in the United States about aging. Could you enumerate some of the factors there. We could draw a thumbnail sketch of how America looks with respect to aging. As you know there are now over 15 million men and women 65 or older in the country roughly between 8 and 9 percent.
There is an increase of one and one quarter million people 65 or over annually. I don't suppose you stop to think about it but today for example there have been approximately 3000 birthdays of men and women who've just passed their sixty fifth birthday. Also today approximately 2000 people have died. That means a daily net gain of about a thousand people who are classified as aged. More than a third of all persons 65 and over have reached 75 of that or by 1975. We see 20 million of us classified as oldsters and by 2000 A.D. We estimate twenty six million. Now mind you these people don't have to be born they were already born in
at least 25 years old. Another part of the picture is a ratio of women to a hundred men. If we take the population 65 and over there is one hundred and twenty women to 100 men. It would take the population 85 are over. There are a hundred and forty women into a hundred men. We might ask where did we get the idea that. Women are the weaker sex after all. Indeed this may be one of our attitudinal fixations. Life expectancy for men is 65 as you know is now about 13 years. For women it's 15 and a half years. But these differences taper off. And by 80 years of age the expectation for a woman is no more than six months longer than for a man.
When we look about look at the distribution of the aged in the country that's rather interesting. The highest concentration we might say the points of high saturation is in the on in cooperated villages of less than a thousand population where the percentage of the aged is 13 and a half percent. The next largest continent concentration is found in certain states Massachusetts New Hampshire are going in Vermont. Not Florida incidentally except in pockets also in the metropolitan areas of a hundred thousand in the states named and the metropolitan areas of 100000 I'm over. The percentage is about 10 percent. And in the far more rule sections particularly among farm families it is. About 7 percent. So there really are fewer proportionately fewer aged persons on the
farm now. Than either in the villages or in the large cities when it comes to marital status. If we take age 65 62 percent of the men are married and 46 percent of the women. But if we look at the marital status from 85 years of age and over. 30 and for 10 percent of the men on marriage and only 5 and 3 10 percent of the women. So the picture in it backs and age is one of the. Growing. Masses of. Wicked women the kind of new matriarchy in the country. I suppose if we look at the living arrangements of older people 65 and over. Ninety four point three 10 percent live in water cold households. A About 70 percent of the cases of the old person is either
the head of or the wife of the head of the house in 21 percent they are relatives of the head of the house and only 4 percent are they non relatives. But if we look at those above 85 the household heads have greatly diminished and the couples are other widows moving in with children. The trend then with advancing age and loss of independence is a tendency for older people to move in with their children. And when this happens the widows move in with their own daughters or couples move in with the daughter of the wife. In a sample survey in 1950 to 33 percent of the old people who are living with their children. Did you want anything on the occupational activities and sources of income of the people.
I think that would be a most interesting area. Yes he would most aged persons I mean by that 65 are over on not gainfully employed employed. As a matter of fact in December 1958 when a sample census was made only one person in 5 65 and older had a paying job. But there are a few women 65 or older married to younger men. If we add those women who had husbands at work although not 65. It would give us approximately one person in four who are employed above 65 years of age. Employment decreases rapidly with increasing age especially after 70. Interesting enough when we asked these people in this sample survey why they quit work. Most of them said it was because of ill health. If we look at the end come of these people we get some striking figures also
from a sample study in 1958. It was showed that shown that out of every five people three are receiving less than a thousand dollars a year. That is startling when we think of what inflation has done to the American dollar. One out of every five was receiving between 2000 and 2000 dollars a year. And the other one out of five was receiving more than $2000. So the aged really do not have adequate income in general. And the aged with the very lowest income are the widows. Dr. Simmons you have spent over 30 years in Africa logical study.
In those 30 years what would be some of the chief lessons which you've learned and found out. Well in addition to those that I've mentioned I think that I would have to say that I've been impressed with how aging has become apparently a more and more complex and a more and more challenging proposition with the rise and development of civilization. It seems to me much simpler to have grown old in primitive societies. The first mistake that we make perhaps due to our attitudes toward aging is to try to compare and choose between old age and new. We really can't do that. The choice after all is between aging and dying. We've had our you. Some of us. At any rate now it's age or else. The second mistake is to regard aging
primarily as a time of resting. I mention resting as a goal but qualified rest in there. Whole age for rest is only half a truth at best. The efforts in the strategy of life have to go on refined and intensified to be sure. Aging in us to be successful is somewhat like riding a bicycle. To stop is to go down. Then another complication of aging is that which we've mentioned be making the calendar. Our big book above and how we do play with it and differ about it would be amusing to just take the case histories of certain individuals and show how they played along with the idea of the calendar. Let me use George Washington as one example. Who wrote in when he was 51. I quote him he said at 51. This scene is at length closed. Move gently down the stream of life until I
sleep with my followers. The very next year he wrote again that he was descending the hill or take another example listen to Sir Winston Churchill who is speaking back in 1934 34 mind you. He said I am now getting a very old man I shall attain my 60th birthday in a few weeks. I haven't held great offices of state for nearly a quarter century. I can assure you I am quite indifferent whether I hold office again or not. How that great and wise man misjudged his age. But after all it's not a simple thing. I suppose in the last analysis others tell us when we are Olan put us in our places by the way they treat us. My second lesson if you care for another one is that really after all age can be good or bad.
And when it is good it's generally is more of an achievement than a gift. We don't have a good age because it is handed to us on a platter even by our government. It really depends on how we fit into the society in which we live. After all aging successfully is a gamey proposition. You have to work at it and fit in in order to make it a useful experience for yourself and others. A third lesson if we can go that far. And this is a more critical one is I have found throughout the world that a stage is reached in aging everywhere in which the social assessments of the condition is uniformly dissimilar. Among all peoples a point is reached where it looks hopeless and helpless. We call it senility. Others call it over age rather useless stage of the sleeping period or
so forth. But whatever we call it it seeks streamlet difficult if we faced this long period which imposed upon us by our society in which we have more and more life with less and less in it. Our thanks to Dr. Leo W. Simmons who is the executive officer of the Institute of Research and service in the nursing education at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City for his participation on this program. Changing attitudes toward aging. Next week you will hear Dr. Elliot Barrett who is chief of the department for care of the aged of the royal board of social welfare in Stockholm Sweden as he discusses some Swedish experiences with agee on the next program from the series human behavior social and medical research. We extend our special thanks to the National Health Council and the National Health
Forum for their assistance plan Phillips speaking asking that you join us next week and thanking you for being with us at this time. This program has been produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the NEA E.B. Radio Network.
The challenge of aging
Changing attitudes toward aging
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University of Michigan
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features an interview with Leo W. Simmons, Ph.D., Columbia University, New York City.
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Part of a WUOM series on human behavior, this series seeks to explore the challenges facing the aged.
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Social Issues
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Interviewee: Simmons, Leo W., 1897-1979
Producer: Phillips, Glen
Producing Organization: University of Michigan
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-28-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:52
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Chicago: “The challenge of aging; Changing attitudes toward aging,” 1961-04-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
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APA: The challenge of aging; Changing attitudes toward aging. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from