“The life span approach proceeds from the understanding that development at all ages (including old age) is a ratio of gains and losses”
Old age (whatever that means to the reader) is usually (and automatically) associated with loss, decline and negative change, a kind of never ending endurance course full of obstacles (like falls, incontinence, loss of independence etc.). Juxtaposed with this depiction is that of “successful ageing” – those photoshopped pictures of no wrinkles, perfect teeth and a face that screams BOTOX and FACELIFT! Happy couples walking on sandy beaches, barefoot, in perfect shape, in love with the assumption of glorious sex every night and no nocturnal bathroom routines. Well, both of these are a media created fallacy.
“The life span is a ratio of gains and losses”. The entire life span consists of gains and losses that are constantly requiring our negotiating such. As we journey through our lives these gains and losses come our way through our own chronological growing up, our society, our gender and many other psychological and social spheres. We lose our status as a child, gain the status of adult, we lose our status as a single person, gain the status of having a spouse, lose our status of not having children to gaining the status of becoming a parent. And so it continues. There is a constant negotiating gains and losses, what we win on the swings we lose on the roundabouts. That is life. It does not necessarily become worse as we grow older, in fact, we acquire a lifetime’s worth of skills to help us negotiate this journey. The collective of skills that we acquire equates to resilience.
Our development as human beings is a complex tapestry woven within the contexts of history, our cultural and social environments that frame our experience of being-in-the-world. “The life span approach to human development is characterized by six central propositions (e.g., P. B. Baltes, 1987): (1) Human development actually continues through-out the whole life span, (2) it proceeds multidirectionally, (3) it can be described as a gain:loss ratio, (4) it reveals great plasticity, (5) it is comprehensible only with reference to its historical embeddedness, and (6) a scientific explanation of development has to include contextualism as a paradigm”.
“Human life should never be separated from human growth” – principle nine of The Eden Alternative. In fact, while we are living, we are growing. If we stop growing, we are dead. This growth is happening in all directions and in all aspects of our lives, albeit in different domains at different times. It is not always linear or even progressive – we will experience losses in certain areas and gains in others. It is multidirectional and multidimensional. The dynamic process of growth implies that we evolve – we experience gains and losses that form our Being. Plasticity, especially neuroplasticity, means that we are geared to growth, that we can expand like a rubber band and not lose our essence. Our brains have this ability to grow new neurological pathways throughout our life course. We are all grounded and rooted in history – amongst other things. We are ecobiopsychosocialspiritual Beings, not just a body of functions. We are situated within a context – our upbringing, our environment of school and parents and culture all contribute to our development.
We are constantly adapting to a changing world, now during COVID-19, more than ever. The so-called “normal” is something of the past, gone forever. And we all have the ability to adapt, to change, to respond to this crisis. Some people are (stupidly) refusing to accept this reality, mostly in fear of their own development or growth. Yes, we must adapt and develop and change, that is life. “Development is adaptation”. It is a TRANSaction – we are in a transactional negotiation with and between ourselves and the world/nature/environment. Nothing will ever stay the same, that will imply death. The world is changing, we must affect this in a negotiation of development through innovation. This requires (Piaget) that we assimilate the changes, even the disturbing ones, in order to reposition ourselves in relations to this change, painful as it may be. Only then do we transcend ourselves and our environment to a higher level of (in my opinion) consciousness and awareness. And harmony – which does not mean that things will now go our way and be smooth from here on, a mere equilibrium. The only constant is change, our reality is that we have to be open to this change, welcome and embrace it, as it contributes to our wellbeing and growth and ultimately to our concomitant resilience.
Resilience is made up of our biology, our culture and us as developing individuals. Fact is that we will not survive without resilience, it is our way of negotiating our Being-in-the-world, the absence of which will lead to serious psychosocialspiritual illness. These are not necessarily what we would call “coping mechanisms” but are our standing, our position, the way that we present ourselves to the world. For the world does not act upon us, we are co-creators of the universe, hence the multidirectionality. We are intricately connected and connecting with our environment in the most complex developmental system of Creation. There is no other way. “…development is always the product of a complex interaction between nature and nurture, genes and environment, individual and social influences.”
Where does all this lead to? It leads to the wonderful gift of old age, where the culmination of negotiating these gains and losses evolve into wisdom. Old age is not about decline, or at least it does not have to be about decline, if we take this life seriously, apply our minds and engage with what comes our way in a constructive manner. (COVID-19 included). We grow towards self-related wisdom within which we re-evaluate, reposition, reconsider, repair our sense of Being. The closer we move towards our Being-in-the-world the more we will be able to sense the fine balance of gains and losses, and the more able we will be to negotiate this precarious balance without expectations of bliss or misery.
“A large number of national and international studies show that the functionality and overall positive status of self and personality generally diminish little if at all in old age. Indicators for state of mind such as self-esteem, general well-being, contentment with one’s own age, and the conviction of being able to directly or indirectly control one’s own life show little to no change with age. This has made an essential contribution to rejecting, as too partial and incomplete, the stereotype of aging characterized by deficits and losses. This picture has been replaced by the more multifaceted image of “productive” aging, which emphasizes the opportunities and options of “successful aging” alongside the undisputed crises and losses.”
COVID-19 is a gift to humanity, to broaden our horizons, negotiate our standing and interaction with one another and with our environment. It is the time of ageing, creating a new normal that will be inclusive, compassionate and kind.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za