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1.1 Background to the Study
Aging is both a ‘natural’ and ‘universal’ process; but growing old can be as peaceful as it can be traumatic, especially in a transitional society. The perception of the younger generation towards the aged is a global phenomenon. How the aged are perceived goes a long way in determining how they are treated or cared for. These perceptions are often informed by ideas and their manifestations are embedded in a culture of a given society across the globe (Atchley and Barusch, 2004). Perception of the aged is therefore culture bound.
The increasing numbers of older people, especially in Africa, unfortunately is taking place in a situation where the society is least prepared for challenges that older people are presenting and shall present as the demand to meet their needs grow (Adedokun, 2010). This increasing nature of the older people has been greatly attributed to improvement in education and healthcare services. The range of problems that older people in Africa are facing is constantly increasing as societies are locked up in conflicts, experience economic recession and hardship, natural disasters, diseases and deterioration in family relationships. The negative attitudes that society has towards older people has meant that solutions are being sought for all other population groups except older people (Nhongo, 2006).
Like many developing countries in the world, Nigeria is currently witnessing rapid ageing of its population (Asiazobor, 2015). This growth has brought with it many social, political and economic challenges and those problems associated with health in older ages. This makes old age to be perceived as ‘problematic’ phase of life. As people live longer and begin to have health challenges, provision of care and support by the younger generation becomes more important.
According to the Nigeria Population Commission (NPC), 2006 census showed that the Nigerian population was 140,003,542 out of which 6.8 million were aged 65 years and above, which is a significant increase compared with the figures of 1963 and 1991 respectively. With this significant increase in the population of the aged, they are no longer valued, cared for, the way they were valued, treasured and cared for when they were few (Gowri, 2003). Another available data indicates that in Africa and especially Nigeria, 80% of the elderly reside in the rural areas while 20% live in the urban centres. This worsened the conditions of the elderly in rural areas; as a result of modernization and urbanization which enhanced mass migration of the younger population to urban areas in search of better living conditions, thereby making the elderly to suffer neglect from the younger generation who should have provided support for them (Alanana, 2005).
It has also been observed that media and informal learning influence adolescents’ perception of the aged. Adolescents through what they learn informally by interacting and watching movies that portray negative images of the aged have come to develop large ageing stereotypes. Images of old age might stem from problems associated with old age such as low socioeconomic status, poor health, loneliness, senility and death. Peterson and Eden (1977) opined that literature can be a very important source of misinformation for the adolescent people about the elderly.
These factors above which includes culture, population growth of the aged, urbanization, modernization, the media, literature and many more, showed that the manner in which the younger generation view the aged is not innate in them. For instance, adolescents are being misinformed through the media by portraying negative and ugly images of the aged and constantly using the elderly people in the role of witches or wizards or as people with diabolical powers in a play or drama.
The aged or the elderly are chronologically defined as people that have attained the age of 65 years and above (World Health Organisation, 2009). In addition to chronological age, the age of a person can be defined in many ways encompassing biological, psychological and socio-cultural processes (Cohen, 2002). Old age can be defined by the social roles one occupy, by person’s level of physical ability, by subjective assessment of how old one feels as well as their chronological years (Barret and Cantwell, 2007). Physical factors such as facial looks, hair colour, and body image have been highlighted in the literature as defining characteristics of ageing. Low mental alertness and poor mobility have also been considered particularly important criteria in defining an older person (Musaiger and D’Souza, 2009). However, there is no consensus reached as to what constitutes being ‘old’ across countries and centuries.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), adolescent is the period in human growth and development that occurs after childhood and before adulthood, from ages 10 – 19. The biological determinants of adolescent are fairly universal; however, the duration and defining characteristics of this period may vary across time, cultures and socioeconomic situations.
Every age comes with wisdom and its challenges. One society may treat older people with great reverence, while another sees them as a burden. Like gender stratification, age stratification varies across cultures. Societies world over, have some methods of age stratification that accompanies certain cultural roles and privileges with distinct periods in life. In the traditional African society, the aged people were highly esteemed because of the important roles they played by helping to integrate the society, preserve its cultural values, transmit knowledge and skills, settle disputes and educate the young. People in traditional African society and in Nigeria for instance, hold positive perception about elderly people. They got the best available food, drinks and their judgements were highly valued and respected. Anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists classified such societies as ‘gerontocracy’ – a system of government ruled by the elderly people. Mboto (2002) claims that the word ‘senator’ is a Latin word for older people.
In traditional societies, older people were often accorded a great deal of respect. Among cultures that include age-grades and adolescents, the elders had major and often the final say over matters of importance to the community. Within families, the authority of both men and women mostly increased with age.
In traditional African society, family and friends cared for older people at home until their dying days. There was an atmosphere (attitude) that parents make supreme sacrifices for their children and in turn, their grown children have to sacrifice for their elderly parents (Abanyam, 2011). However, changes in the structure of African society neutralized such privileges enjoyed by older people in African society; these changes brought about evolution of many challenges such as socioeconomic hardships, widespread poverty and rapid transformation of family structure, which older people did not experience.
Ageing in Nigeria is occurring against the background of social and economic hardship, widespread poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and rapid transformation of traditional extended family structure. Care for the elderly has always been taken for granted to be a filial responsibility with little or no government support, however, current social and economic changes have put into doubt the continued viability of such traditional arrangement for the elderly (Osayi, 2012). This study is therefore designed to examine the perception and care of the aged among the adolescents in Ikwo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Evidence from various studies support the notion that society has a well developed mythology regarding ageing as a biosocial phenomenon and that the elderly, as a distinct social group, have been marked out as subjects and victims of negative perceptions (Cox, 2001; Hazan, 2000; Moody, 2000; Palmore, 1999). Researchers such as Schwalb and Sedlacek (1990), have shown that perceptions of the elderly by a society are indeed negative and that the young, through socialization, assimilate these perceptions. Thus, in any given society, the way elderly are perceived and regarded or cared for is reflected in the forms of perception held about them.
Butler (1980) has argued that the tendency to perceive aging in a negative fashion reflects a deep-seated uneasiness and distastes for growing old. These feelings, he believed, arise partly from fear of becoming powerless or useless and from an apprehension of becoming a burden to others. Ward (1984) observed that negative images of old age might stem from problems associated with old age such as low socioeconomic status, poor health, loneliness, senility and death. Butler used the term ‘ageism’ to refer to all these various forms of age discrimination.
Bevan and Thompson (2003) and Okoye (2004) argued that other negative perceptions held against the aged by the adolescents include the belief that most older people are vulnerable and need protection, are sicky, are physically unattractive, are forgetful, have no interest in or capacity for sexual relations, are conservative, are poor, are depressed, cannot work effectively as younger workers and their lives are beset by serious health problems.
Peterson and Eden (1977) observed that literature can be a very important source of influence for the adolescents about the aged. With particular reference to children and youths studies carried out in different parts of the world, show that children and adolescents have largely negative images and perceptions of age and aging (Giles, Coupland, Coupland, Williams & Nassbaum, 1992; Haught, Walls, Laney, Leavell, & Stuzen, 1999; Hawskins, 1996; Lorreto; Duncan & White, 2000). In a review of children’s book, both Peterson and Eden and Storch and Cutler identified many negative images of older people which young minds are constantly exposed. Among these are that old people have low mental ability, act childlike, are isolated, are ugly, are always sick (Hillman & Stricker, 1996; Palmore, 1999; Ping-Kwong, 1998).
These negative perceptions tend to have damaging effects on the elderly as well disrupt the normal functioning of society. They can dehumanize the elderly as to affect their social and psychological world, which may result in ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ That is, elderly people may behave in a way that meets the expectations of society. This may lead aging persons to devalue themselves, to have a low self-image and self esteem. They may even consider themselves a social burden and develop a strong sense of ‘waiting for death’ (Ping-Kwong, 1998). For other members of society, studies show that negative perception of aging could lead youth to develop ‘gerontophobia.’ That is the fear of getting old. Such fears can induce anxiety and contaminate the minds of people (Glover, Baffi & Redican, 1998; Shuman, 1995).
The role of families in case of older persons has declined due to structural changes which have taken place in our society and the concomitant disintegration of the joint family system, which results in the rejection or neglect of the aged. According to Richards (2005), most people are of the view that the aged are no longer important in the family and society at large; and they are only in the circle of death. This makes the aged to feel dehumanized and rejected. It is based on the above stated problems that this study is organized to investigate the perception and care of the aged among the adolescents in Ikwo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State.
1.3 Research Questions
Research questions put forward to guide this study include:
1.4 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of this study are divided into two, namely:
The general objective of this study is to examine the extent to which perception affect care of the aged among the adolescents in Ikwo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State.
Specific aims include:
1.5 Significant of the Study
This study on the perception and care of the aged among the adolescents in Ikwo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State, has theoretical and practical significance.
Theoretically, it is believed that the findings of this study will contribute and add to the existing knowledge on how the elderly people are perceived and cared for by the adolescents and other age category in our society – Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. Future researchers will find the theoretical explanations provided in this study very useful for further scientific and objective investigation into the adolescents’ perception and care of the aged in the society. It is also hoped that this study will benefit both the aged and the younger generations through the proper understanding of the consequences of negative perception and neglect to care and provide support for the elderly.
Practically, the outcome of this study will encourage better and healthier relationships among the adolescents and the aged. The result of this study will contribute to the enhancement and implementation of ageing policies in Nigeria and beyond. Recommendations contained in this research work will encourage positive perception of aged among all the age groups, thereby giving the elderly persons sense of belonging in the society. The findings that will be curled from this study will enable the general public to understand that old age is not a CURSE rather it is a BLESSING.
1.6 Definition of Terms
For the purpose of clarity and understanding, the following concepts used in this study are defined according to the context for which they are used.
Adolescents: Young people within the ages of 10 – 19 years.
Age: The number of years that a person has lived.
Aged: This refers to very old people (those who have attained the age of 64 and above).
Ageing: This is also spelt as ‘aging’ and it means the process of growing old.
Ageism: This refers to an unfair treatment of people because they are considered very old.
Care: This refers to the treatment given to the aged by young people.
Chronological Age: This refers to the number of years one has lived rather than their level of physical, mental and emotional abilities.
Dehumanize: To treat people as though they are not human beings.
Discrimination: This is an unjustifiable different treatment given to different people or groups.
Elderly: This refers to the polite way of referring to people who are old.
Gerontophobia: This refers to the fear of growing old.
Industrialization: The period of economic and social change in which a society transforms from primarily agrarian society to one based on manufacturing goods and services using machine.
Migration: This refers to the movement of people from rural areas to urban centres.
Modernization: This refers to the process in which society goes through social changes that completely transforms the lives of its individuals.
Mythology: This refers to the collected traditional stories of a group of people used to explain nature, events, history and custom.
Perception: An image one has based on how one sees and understands someone.
Urbanization: This refers to the population shift from rural areas to cities or town.
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