The 5 Stages of Aging: What Seniors and Family Need to Understand

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No one likes the idea of getting older, yet it happens to all of us, whether we like it or not. Growing old is also a long process, taking a few decades at times. As we age, we will experience several age-related changes; some may even need long-term care in the later years of life. It is also common for seniors to need assistance with physical activity as they age. Some older adults find it difficult to do everyday activities, such as doing laundry, cooking a meal, or keeping up with house repairs. Physical changes are not the only problem for seniors as well. Some may experience emotional changes, such as feeling alone or withdrawn from the family. Other changes may deal with mental health, such as experiencing cognitive decline, which may affect their behavior. 

One thing to remember about aging is that everyone will go through it in their own way. We just need to learn to adapt to these changes as we enter each stage of aging.  Carefully preparing for these stages and adapting to new situations as they occur is necessary for every older adult over 50. Also, sometimes you may need to improvise your thinking, since certain stages may come quicker or last longer than others do. For those who have children, seniors should stay connected and keep the communication open. It may be a good idea to keep them in the loop on how you feel throughout the day or at least share with them, on occasion, any types of changes from the previous year’s activities.  Below are the five stages of Aging and what to expect from each stage. 

Stage 1: Independence

For most senior citizens, this stage will last throughout their 50s and their 60s. Many handle the basic everyday care and needs on their own and with not much help from others or even family members. Many can still drive, do their finances, travel to stores and Dr. Appointments, or complete household chores, all on their own. There are very few mental or physical impairments at this stage. However, some may exhibit a minor decline, yet not enough to make a huge impact on their lives. For many people, the Independence stage can last the longest of all five aging stages. There may also be some adults in their 70s or even 80s still living a good life in this first stage of aging. Yet, there are some changes that do occur while in this stage. 

Aging women may experience hot flashes, dry skin, mood swings, and poor sleep at times. Although aging changes are unavoidable, seniors can help fight these changes by improving their diet, creating an age-appropriate exercise plan, keeping regular medical appointments, and participating in mind-sharpening activities. Some physical changes around the house can also help, such as fixing flooring problems to minimize the risk of falls, adding touchless faucets, widening hallways for wheelchair access, improving lighting, and upgrading electronics with smart technology so they are controllable at the touch of a button. By doing these little changes, older adults can stay in this Independence stage for two to three decades.

Stage 2: Interdependence 

The next stage in the aging process is Interdependence. It may not be as long, yet for some, it could continue for about a decade or so. An older adult in this stage of aging will need a caregiver to help in some aspect. Most interdependent seniors will need help with monthly, weekly, or daily activities, such as paying bills, mowing the lawn, and driving around town. Most seniors will enter this stage in their 70’s and 80’s. This also may be the time when seniors tend to become stubborn and want to do everything on their own; although, they know they really can’t or have a hard time doing so.  They may be resistant to the idea of needing help. Many can do some things on their own, just a little slower.

Getting assisted living help is an option, yet they do tend to have a specific number of required hours for the care they provide each week. Adult children of interdependent seniors should encourage their parents to stay active as long as they can. Also, be aware of physical and emotional changes, including health issues that may worsen as they age. Seniors in the interdependent stage should stay up to date with physical check-ups, neurological testing, and counselor appointments. Some improvements on and around the house can help with this aging stage. Here are some examples of improvements that may help aging parents around the house:

  • Grab bars
  • Shower chairs
  • Walk-in showers
  • Ramps for wheelchairs
  • Emergency medical alert necklaces
  • Health monitoring systems

Stage 3: Dependency

By this stage, many age-related changes are more noticeable, and seniors find it difficult to do everyday tasks. Both mental and physical activities are becoming challenging, and many seniors will have to depend on others for driving or traveling to places that they normally enjoyed independently. In some cases, feelings of depression or uncertainty can occur in older adults that are in the dependency stage. They may feel that they lost control of their independence, and this can cause anxiety to some. Adult children will need to step in to help their aging parents deal with this stage in their lives. Continue to encourage senior parents to engage in games, crafts, music, reading, or any type of learning abilities, if they are able. It is also good to provide assistance to seniors in every aspect of their lives. Many adult children can provide meal preparation, so their parents only have to warm up dinner in the microwave when they get hungry. Hiring a caregiver or having a live-in family member around is also something to consider. A caregiver can monitor physical activity, prepare meals, and manage medication.  

How to Prepare for the Last Two Stages of Aging: Crisis Management and End of Life

By now, your elderly parents are probably in their later 70’s or 80’s. Some may even be close to 90. As an adult child taking care of your aging parents can be overwhelming and very challenging. It can also play on your emotions, causing you to feel sad and fear what life will be like without them. Many adult children have already made changes to their aging parents’ schedules, and improvements around the house since they entered the interdependency stage. It is at this time where your aging parent will need you the most. Due to their impending needs, places such as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and hospice care are often considered to help seniors in their later years.  Although these may be good options for some, they can also be expensive. Sometimes just living the last few years or decades at home is the best and most affordable option. Senior parents should sit down with their adult children early in the aging process, so both can agree on what is the best care option for their loved ones.

Many seniors in the dependency stage can still share their opinions on what kind of care would be best for them and their children. Adult children should approach these topics of end-of-life care with compassion and sensitivity to their aging parents, so both have peace of mind. For those who have not talked to the family doctor about changes related to the health of their aging parents, this would be a good time to do so. The next two stages will tend to go fast, getting your estate or important documents in order now will be easier for your loved ones once you pass.

Stage 4 and 5: Crisis Management and End of Life Care

The Crisis Management stage kind of goes hand in hand with the End-of-Life stage. Many times, they can intertwine with each other, or crisis management can be a short interlude in time before the last stage begins. When a senior reaches the need for crisis management in their life, they often will need round-the-clock care. It is also the time when assisted living facilities are imminent, or hospice care is necessary. As we can see by now, the aging stages can be a long, drawn-out process. Many times, it can seem like everything is going ok, but then changes happen, and you have no control over it.  Everyone will go through these age-related changes in their own way, and every situation may vary from one to another. Elderly parents often are not comfortable with their adult children being in control of their lives, especially if the senior has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They can become stubborn and angry at the one that is trying to make their last years as comfortable as possible. Looking after an elderly parent can be a struggle for the rest of the family as well. Don’t lose hope; there are many support groups for adult children and grandchildren to take advantage of; to cope with the aging relative and find peace in the midst of loss. 


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