In the practice of the social work, experts face with crises in different age groups. However, the problems of elderly people are the most urgent. In many developed countries, the demographic situation has a tendency of the growth of people of the older generation in number and the tendencies of discrimination of a person by age are observed in the society. This form of discrimination in the English-language literature is called “ageism”, which means, on the whole, the oppression of the old and weak people by the young and strong. Given that a significant proportion of the elderly are women, the problem of discrimination by age is often exacerbated by the gender discrimination.
The problems of elderly people are the subject for the gerontology as a specific science. Social workers need to know the fundamentals of the gerontology and, when rendering services to clients, they should take into account the social, psychological, and physiological aspects of human aging that allow to understanding the behavior of older people, taking into account their individualities.
The main social theory of aging is a disengagement theory. The basis of this theory is the principle of homeostasis, the necessary balance between the productive (young) and the unproductive (elderly) generation. In this regard, the intergenerational alienation is actualized, according to which, people distance themselves from the younger generation in the course of aging. The definition of disengagement is related to the process of disconnection with the ordinary social life and the lack of the social importance that people experience while they become elderly. They are freed from social roles, usually associated with the labor activity. The process of alienation is conditioned by the social context, which is a way of adapting to the new situation. The limiting possibilities prepare the old person for death. In the theory of disengagement, the process of alienation is seen as a fatal inevitability and an objective process, when people of the older generation give way to the young, able to work more productively. According to this theory, the elderly, forced to part with their usual roles, feel the loss and their uselessness in the society. Preserving their needs and activities, as well as in middle age, they resist when they are excluded from the active life. To maintain their self-esteem and self-consciousness, they must provide other types of activities that are feasible for them. The fulfillment of new, socially important roles by older people preserves their psychological balance. Each older generation has a unique experience that cannot be repeated, but individual elements of this experience can be used by subsequent generations.
Psychological concepts of the individual consider the development of a human throughout his life way. The late period of the human life is interpreted in them in different ways, depending on the approach that dominates this or that concept.
According to the concept of Sh. Buhler, a person passes through five phases of his development. The last phase of life (65-70 years) is characterized by the fact that people stop pursuing the goals that were set in their youth. They spend their energies on various forms of leisure, forwarding time. This is the period when a person tries to realize the meaning of his existence, perceiving life as a whole. Some people, having analyzed their lives, feel satisfaction, others – disappointment, since the goals were not achieved. The old people, who have not realized themselves, are aware of the inability to start all over again. They have two types of irritation: regret about the impossibility of experiencing their lives anew and denying their shortcomings with transferring them to the world around them. For the social work, this concept is useful because the problems of older people are considered in it as an age-specific psychosocial crisis, and are explained by analogy with the conflicts and frustrations of previous age periods. The physiological aspects of the old age are associated with the weakening of a number of functions. There is a deterioration of sight, hearing, and sensory organs. The mobility and the active activity are lost. There may be processes of an impoverishment of emotional life, narrowing of communication links, which can lead to the human degradation to the level of physiological needs: food, sleep, and physical needs. Older people may be prone to fears, anxieties, they may have increased anxiety. Characteristics for this age are heart disease, sclerosis, and tumors. Physical illnesses, like mental disorders, can lead to the senile nocturnal delirium, when normally quiet people become aggressive, restless, and raving.
The last stage of a human (65 and beyond) is designated as late maturity. During this period, a person’s health deteriorates, he seeks solitude, sometimes experiences the death of a spouse, friends of the same age. During this period, a person is faced not so much with a psychosocial crisis as with an integrative assessment of all life lived. Only in the old age, the real maturity comes, allowing a person to evaluate the previous experience and achievements. As a result of emotional stress, there may be abnormalities in the cerebral circulation, leading to speech disorder, paralysis, epileptic seizures. Changes in mood lead to depression and hypochondria. In such cases, old people blame themselves for seeming misconduct. Mental disorders in the old age have a complex of causes associated with psychosomatics, organic disorders, biological and social factors. The peculiarity of the elderly client is that he often acts as an object of violence from the social environment, but this does not mean that the elderly do not have problems associated with loneliness, the crisis of family relations, alcohol abuse, depression, and mental imbalance.
The violence over the elderly is one of the biggest problems for social workers. According to modern studies, elderly people may be subjected to various types of violence, including poor care, physical, psychological, moral violence, chronic verbal aggression (threats, insults, etc.). In the scientific literature, the problem of violence against elderly people is often singled out. It is also necessary to mention the problem of the alcohol abuse by elderly people. An addiction to the alcohol is largely due to the fact that the restrictions associated with the work, caring for the family, and the importance of others’ opinions are removed for the elderly. There is a certain mythology, caused by real psychosomatic reactions and psychological attitudes. Among them are opinions: “alcohol improves digestion,” “alcohol helps to fall asleep,” “alcohol warms,” “alcohol helps not to feel lonely,” etc., which, along with other factors, can also lead to the alcoholic abuse. At the same time, reverse reactions are observed. The alcohol leads the elderly to hypothermia, worsens memory, causes depression, can worsen the work of the food tract and bladder. The use of alcohol with drugs is especially dangerous.
All these problems must be in the spotlight of social workers. Only knowing the disengagement theory, as well as other social and gerontology theories, social service officers can achieve success in their activities.