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This paper is about the personality changes that an inpidual undergoes as he ages, especially in relation to the numerous problems that the elderly face, and the specialized training that a psychologist and personality theorist needs in order to help the elderly through their problems and difficulties, at a time when they feel alone and depressed and unable to cope with what life offers.
Although it may be true that ancient wisdom had dictated that an inpidual’s personality would be ‘set in stone’ when he reached the age of thirty, this may no longer be true, states modern research. In fact, states a US based research on the issue of personality changes over a person’s lifetime; people may indeed grow wiser as they mature. Conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion were the five ‘key’ personality traits that were taken into account, on the 130,000 people aged from twenty one to sixty years, in this research, and it was concluded that these traits did not depend upon mood at any stage, because of the fact that they may be genetic, and may only change very gradually, if at all, as the person grew older.
Some of the interesting revelations were that while women displayed more signs of neuroticism as they aged, men did not, and also that openness tended to decline as the inpidual aged. An increased ability to deal with challenges was seen in the twenties, while the ability to show warmth and compassion increased during the thirties. (Bhattacharya, Shaoni (2003)
Today, the research and the study of culture and personality have been found to help those inpiduals who have to cope with personality changes, especially when they have grown older. Counselors too make use of research to address better the clinical needs of elderly patients under their care, although it is true that they would need specialized training and skills to deal with the elderly. It would help to remember the difference between a twenty year old and an eighty year old: while a twenty year old may recognize the fact that several uninterrupted years of life, both personal as well as professional, lie ahead for him, an eighty year old may recognize the fact that this may be the last decade of his life, and this would mean that his life goals would be completely different than that of the twenty year old, and it shows that time can play a critical role in influencing one’s life goals.
The older inpidual would in all probability select one or two goals that would have an immediate positive impact on his life, and this would in turn mean, according to socio economic selectivity theory, that for the elderly, only those goals that would offer them immediate positive benefit would be important, rather than, for example, starting a new social network, and as Cartensen stated, the older person be more likely than a younger person to concentrate his energies into developing a small set of relationships that would augment his emotional experiences at the present time.
Today, the world is composed of a great number of elderly persons, and most research on psychology and on personality changes over a lifetime focuses on the young, because this is considered to be the critical period of personality development, and the research does not include the elderly. It is important to focus on the elderly as well, because, as researchers state, personality functioning in the later stages of life can be extremely important, especially when taken in the light of the fact that the elderly are forced to contend with several difficulties, like for example physical decline, retirement, the death of a number of peers and close friends of the same age group, and these inpiduals may be at a loss to know how to cope with these several problems at this stage in their lives.
This means that, without doubt, there must be specialized psychologists trained in dealing with the problems of the elderly to help them deal with the personality changes that occur in later life. The personality theorist is an inpidual who hopes to discover truths about human nature in general, and since it has been proven that the focus of most psychologists and personality theorists is on the young adult, perhaps because of the importance that Freud gave to this stage of human life and development, the elderly have been largely ignored.
This must be changed with immediate effect, and the elderly, whose social motivations shift as they reach the fag end of their life, and who are forced to cope with several problems, including physical and emotional, must be given a helping hand. It is important to remember that today, with the advances in medicine, people are living far longer than they did in older times, and the world is made up of a large number of people aged above sixty, who may need specialized and well trained personnel to help them deal with the changes in personality that they undergo, especially when they enter their eighth decade of life and above. (Pervin, Cervone and Oliver (n.d.)
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