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  • To what extent would you agree with the claim that death and dying are taboo subjects in contemporary society? Critically analyse this question and incorporate different historical constructions of death and dying.
  • How might representations and experiences of old age differ across culture and history, and what are the challenges we face in an ageing society?
  • Critically discuss and analyse the key physical, cognitive and psychosocial changes which occur during midlife, placing this within a life course perspective.

Essay - requires students to complete a written assignment related to sociological analysis of the life course, with particular emphasis upon ageing.

Importance of Life Course Approach to Health, Wellness and Aging

Health and wellness play are crucial in the life of every individual. The factors, which affects the health of an individual in the later years of life. The report brings out the significance of life course approach to health, wellness, and ageing. The life course approach also, known as life course  perspective refers to the approach to understand and analyse the lives of people in the social, structural and the cultural contexts. This approach consists of various events and the roles that individuals perform over time.

Health, wellness, illness, or ageing are the major areas considered crucial for the sustainable and happy life. Health can be defined as a state of physical, mental, and the social wellbeing for living a full life. Whereas, wellness can be stated as a process of becoming aware and making efficient choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. It is a wider concept with a strong emphasis on the constant improvement and growth during the phase of life. Ageing or aging is the process of becoming older, which represents the physical, psychological, and the social changes in a human being over time.

According to the research and evidences by several authors, there is an increasing importance of the life course perspective in the life of human being, which states health is a product of various things such as risk behaviour, several protective factors, and the environmental agents. Life course perspective encounters with several physical, cognitive, and psychosocial changes that are described in the later part of the report.

Every stage of life brings some changes in the life of an individual; there are some physical changes during the midlife through a life course perspective. Midlife can be defined as a period or the lifespan between the young adulthood and the old age. Midlife generally represents the age group of 40-65; therefore, this is central period of a person’s life . Although people in their younger adult age years live a good health and physical functioning. However, these individuals face some changes or transitions in their health with the passage of time. Midlife is a stressful time as individuals faces discontentment, due to the increasing complexities of life and they struggle with the problem of maintaining a balance between mortality and their purpose in life . Gradually they start losing their ability or capacity to hear, sense, or interpret things. In addition, their organs do not function with much efficiency. Physical changes in an individual relate to the loss of hair, wrinkles, vision and hearing loss and the weight gain. These physical changes may disturb the person’s health condition and lead to illness.

Physical Changes During Midlife

As the individuals increase in their age their lens of the eye gets larger, but they lose some of the flexibility. Especially night vision is affected with the increasing age, as the pupil becomes less capable to open and close due to the drastic changes. Men tend to gain fat on their abdominal, which is a common problem in the midlife. The major physical changes observed in the females during midlife are related to the vision, and the another common issue seen is presbyopia (far-sightedness or difficulty reading), presbycusis (difficulty in hearing high-pitched sound). Reproductive system also represents some differences during this stage, i.e. the climacteric changes in the human body. The bio psychosocial changes observed is menopause that describes the stoppage or cessation of menstruation in women. Then there are some consequences due to the menopause such as irritability, dizziness, headaches, and the swelling in the body parts. Men also experiences certain biological changes, i.e. the production of testosterone reduces with the passage of time leading to the acute symptoms such as weakness, loss of appetite, and inability to focus on specific tasks for extended periods. They tend to experience the situation of climacteric but not like the menopause, the quantity of semen or the sperm also decreases after the age of 40.

Climacteric refers to the period of the time preceding menopause during which the human body adjusts to lower estrogen levels. They feel problem in erection and become habitual of alcohol, smoking, and other habits, which harms their health and leads to diseases. The changes in men are not only related to the physical transitions , but their emotional health is also affected. Similarly, the body of a woman also depicts the reproductive changes such as the drop in the production of estrogen. The reproductive capacity reduces generally in the age group of 42-58 and the average age is 51. During the middle age, there is a realisation men feel demotivated towards accomplishing their dreams in life and become less energetic. Moreover, there is deterioration in sexual drives or desires in both men and women during this phase. The changes in the skin includes, sagging, spots.

Due to the emergence of some drastic changes, this often leads to illness and disability in the human body. For example, the most chronic disease Cancer which is causing death to almost 1/3rd of the people in the U.S during the midlife. Men become more vulnerable to the health problems. Therefore, the midlife embodies various physical changes in the human body, which influences the healthiness over time .

Cognitive Changes During Midlife

Cognition is referred to as higher brain functions, which are reasoning and memory. There are certain changes in the concentration, memory, and awareness. In other words, cognitive changes refer to the changes in the mental abilities of a person, which affects the cognitive performance of the person. Reasoning and the memorization ability of the person reduces with the age. During midlife, people remain distracted and unfocused towards things. The ability to learn or remember information, organize, solve problem, and focus determine the cognitive ability. The cognitive (thinking) skills vary on the grounds of gender, age and the educational background of the person. The ability or skill to remember the list of words declines after the age of 55 years .

For overcoming the negative impact of the cognitive changes during midlife, a person should practice maintain and gain skills as the idea of “Use it or lose it” holds true for understanding cognition. Use of different strategies can help to improve the cognitive skills.

             During this stage, the brain has reached maturity; life at this stage produces both cognitive gains and losses.  In the period of middle adulthood, two forms of intelligence are keenly observed i.e. crystallized and fluid. These are the focus in everyone’s life during this phase. This further explains that the crystallized intelligence is all over dependent on the acquired and the accumulated knowledge and experience, it is the knowledge, experience, information and the skills that we have obtained throughout our life. Facts like mathematical formulae, chemical formulae, vocabulary size, and the history dates are all the examples that indicate the presence of crystallized intelligence. This kind of intelligence tends to hold firm and steady as we age and it may even improve with the passage of time. On the contrary, the other form i.e. fluid intelligence is opposite and tends to decline even prior to the beginning of the midlife. It is primarily dependent on the information processing skills.           

The cognitive changes are often observed in a negative manner such as various kinds of stress, which affect the cognition and mental health of a person. Stress slows down the efficiency and cognition of an individual. The ways in which stress affects individuals, such      as adverse change in behaviours such as getting addicted to drugs, alcohol and smoking habits. In addition, there are other physiological harmful effects, such as heart disease. Stress poor eating habits, and the other effects such as isolation. In addition, there are changes in the career related aspects of an individual. Verbal memory seems to be at peak during this stage, and the characteristics of wisdom are identified, at this stage. The midlife provides many opportunities for the individuals to learn and grow over time. Many in their midlife tend to be at the heights of their careers, which also mean increase in their job responsibilities. In other words, the career pressures, along with other changes, taking place in their lives requires ability to balance and coordinate personal and professional responsibilities.

Psychosocial Changes During Midlife

Psychosocial is the approach towards an understanding of the combined influence that the psychological and the social factors or surroundings have on their physical, and mental wellbeing. This approach is used for medical practitioners, to help professionals in health and care settings . Psychosocial changes are linked to the hormonal and the neurodevelopment changes in the human body and these cannot be separated from, the physical changes. Due to the declining activeness of the sensory organs, a person is not able to work with full efficiency; consequently, psychosocial state is affected .

Psychosocial changes include both psychological and social factors. Psychological factors refer to the mental factors that help in maintaining the thinking of the person in right frame. These factors or changes affect the relationships with spouse and children. The sociological analysis of life focuses on identifying the social issues or trends. There is a direct relationship between the health, wellness, and ageing . As Psychosocial change, include psychological and social aspects of health, therefore people during their midlife become productive at home. It means they focus more towards developing and maintain healthy family relationships.  Midlife adults have overloaded stress on them due to the increasing demands of children on them. During midlife or middle adulthood, the personality of an individual tends to become stabilized and relationships become more intimate.

As the study of lifespan development implies, an individual’s personality is a part of human development, which is plastic and dynamic in nature. It means the personality of every individuals encounters several changes during different stages of life. Although there are no changes in the childhood, but there are frequent changes in the personality, therefore it can be stated that the middle adulthood is a period of consequential psychological growth. In the midlife, the most influential to an individual are their immediate family members such as parents, siblings, and their spouse. The relationships between siblings tend to get closer during the later years of life due to the separate living arrangements and the occurrence of major life events. However, there are improvements in relationships in the later stages, but there are negative influencers also such as financial stressors, and the life crisis. These forces have devastating effect on the relationships, which are mature.

One of the social factor or change is marriage, and others such as families, divorce, single parent families, and the child-custody. These have impact in the overall growth of an individual. People throughout their married life faces several problems , declining personal interest and satisfaction, financial stress and many others. As adults during middle adulthood grow, they continue to form relationships, and they become socially stable. The major social changes during this phase restructure the social life of a person, as their parents become ill, and the person themselves become a parent ,therefore they have multiple duties to fulfil at home and work too. Therefore, the psychosocial factors are significant to the life of every individual.

Factors Affecting Health and Wellness in Later Life

Health, well-being, and ageing are crucial aspects of medical science and study a variety of factors that affect the health and wellbeing of a person. These factors include regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and intake of nutritional foods, avoiding junk foods, meditation, and yoga. Some other factors include, happy relationships with partner, network of close friends, spiritual beliefs, fun and fulfilling interests, ability to adapt to the changes in the environment, sense of belongingness, and an optimistic outlook towards life. There is interrelatedness among the factors that influence wellbeing of a person. For example, when a person starts a job, then the job provides not only money, but also fulfils the purpose of  satisfying one in terms of purpose, individual goals, friendship, and builds healthy relations at workplace thus, contributing towards establishing a sense of belongingness. Moreover, in some cases some factors supplements the lack of other factors, such as happy married life can compensate for the lack of friendship in one’s life.

Ageing is the process of becoming older, with the passage of time. There are some common signs and symptoms of ageing which include, increased susceptibility to infection, bones start breaking easily, stooped posture changes. During the later years of life course perspective, the occurrence of old age is studied in a way that it is the characteristic of several complex, health state which  tends to occur only in the later years. These are referred to as geriatric syndromes. A number of factors affect the process of healthy ageing, genetic factors, physical and social environments, as well as from the individual’s personal characteristics such as ethnicity, sex and their socio-economic status. Therefore, ageing being one of the crucial factor in the phase of every life faces some challenges, which are diversity in older age, which describes that there is no typical older person. A person with the age 80years may have mental and physical abilities similar to the adults. On the contrary, people at younger age may face problems related to their mental and physical health. Other challenging components include, health inequities, the dynamic world, outdated and ageist stereotypes. Therefore, ageing plays an important role to sustain health throughout life.

To conclude the above discussion on the life course perspective approach to the health wellbeing and illness, it is stated that the health care is vital to each individual to sustainable living. The life at each stages faces some challenges or difficulties, which have an impact on their health in the longer term.  Despite the factors affecting health during the course of life, there is a special emphasis on the changes during midlife or the middle adulthood. As an individual age, their bodies changes in numerous ways and the change is observed at every stage. The period of midlife encounters several changes such as physical, cognitive, and psychosocial changes. Midlife is the central period of life, which defines the phase between the ages of 45-65 years. A longer life for every individual brings opportunities not only for himself, but also for older people and families and the societies as a whole. To meet and balance with the challenging nature of life, an individual should focus on the improvement of health each day. Making efforts towards healthy eating, regular exercise, and developing and maintaining sense of belongingness, fulfils the life. The sociological analysis of life that reveals out the social factors of life that affects the health of an individual. There are several influences on the mental and physical condition of an individual during midlife. Midlife represents both positive and negative impact on the personality and referred to as the “period of peaks” or “new goal setting” .  Across the period of middle adulthood, there are social, cultural, regional and the structural changes in the human beings.

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