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PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS LOOK AT OLD AGE: LEVEL OF ADJUSTMENT AND ATTITUDES TOWARD AGING
HERMAN FEIFEL
Am J Psychiatry 1954;111:459-465.
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V. A. Mental Hygiene Clinic, Los Angeles 15, Calif.

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Abstract

1. It is quite obvious, from the favorable positions accorded childhood, adolescence, and the early years of maturity as contrasted with the negative perspective held toward the later years of life, that both groups of patients generally view old age with a gloomy eye.2. The degree of mental disturbance in the patients has little seeming effect on their over-all saturnine attitude toward old age.3. In both the closed ward and open ward patients, there appears to be little association between the age of the patients and their outlook on aging. This agrees with the reported findings in the literature for "normal" groups. It is notable that both groups of patients, with mean ages in the 30's, regard this age period to be most favorable for the aspects of "living a full life," " meaningfulness of life," "job satisfaction," "activity in family affairs," and "clubs and organizations"; also, that many of them felt that for those in this age period the most favorable years for aspects like "happiness," "freedom from worry," "health," "ability to learn," "friends," and "ambition" have already passed by.4. The negative orientation of the patients to the older years of life is also consonant with the attitudes reported in the literature for various "normal" segments of the population. The conspicuous feature of this finding is that so little difference can be attributed to mental illness per se, of either moderate or severe degree. It seems that attitudes toward old age, at least on the level tapped by the questionnaire method used in this study, are heavily determined by a widespread social attitude or ideology, rather than by idiosyncratic experiences.It is often said that our culture highly values youth and sees little to admire or look forward to in old age. The findings of this study give substance to these impressionistic statements by sociologists. They emphasize the extraordinary degree of uniformity in attitudes toward aging which is maintained, even in the most deviant members of the community, as far as their mental health is concerned.5. There should be little doubt concerning the need for an educational program to train people for adjustment to old age. It could have the broad aim of anticipating and preventing the anxieties and maladjustments attendant on growing old. We possess mounting evidence that age changes are not uniform and that distinct individual differences exist; not only are there well-established inter-individual variations, but intra-individual ones as well. In addition, data increasingly suggest that the manner in which the culture treats and reacts to aging, as well as the person's own concept of what it means to grow old, may be responsible for more psychological difficulties than the aging process per se. An honest reevaluation of our thinking concerning old age is called for.

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aging ; attitude ; elderly
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