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Relationship between Aging and Death Anxiety among the Elderly (Research Paper Sample)


The research paper provides a comprehensive descrption of how the elderly percieve death and how they handle the associated anxiety.


Relationship between Aging and Death Anxiety among the Elderly
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Relationship between Aging and Death Anxiety among the Elderly
Death anxiety or the fear of death is a phenomenon that manifests itself from the awareness of death and nonexistence. The fear of death arises from social constructs, self-esteem, and the anticipation for immortality while aware of ultimate death. Several factors that contribute to this phenomenon include physical and mental health, age, among others. The aim of this research is to find the connection between aging and death anxiety among senior citizens aged above 60 years. The reality of dying and death becomes pronounced as one ages. Fear of death arises from societal constructs and the knowledge that their lives are towards an ultimate end, leading to nonexistence. A “Multidimensional Fear of Death Scale” will be used to determine the connection between aging and death anxiety concerning their health, social support, and religiosity.
According to Cicirelli (2002), previous researchers on death anxiety among the elderly have published inconsistent findings but most evidence proves that the fear of death reduces as one age. Recent research revealed that death anxiety remained stable for most individuals between 61 and 87 years. The shortcomings of the previous research methods used to make these conclusions. Instead of using quantitative techniques, most researchers interviewed individuals who reported that although they did not fear death, they were afraid of the dying process (Cicirelli, 2002). From the previous findings, it is certain that death anxiety decreases during adulthood and fails to decline further through old age. This revelation is paradoxical as the elderly are at a higher risk of death due to their frailty. However, the more people understand the reality of ultimate death, the less anxious they become (Cicirelli, 2002). Instead of panicking of their nonexistence, their greatest worry becomes the cause. Terror management system theory (TMST) is an approach that extensively focuses on the origin and the control of death anxiety.
The fundamental assumption of terror management theory (TMT) is that individuals are driven towards continued existence and survival while knowing of an ultimate ending. The knowledge of ultimate mortality is potent enough to cause a subconscious terror of dying and death. The greatest death anxiety arises from the fear of annihilation, that is, the extinction of soul, spirit, and mind, and the ultimate destruction of the body leading to nonexistence (Cicirelli, 2002). Most theorists of the fear of death assert that death anxiety could be sickening without means to eliminate it from awareness. The inability to suppress death anxiety is because the knowledge of the ultimate death is an intrinsic property of one’s mind (Cicirelli, 2002). The basic role of the terror management theory is to find solutions that can help maintain the suppression.
TMT theorists assert that individuals developed cultural worldviews over time that perceived the universe as rational, predictable, and permanent. Socialization itself is sufficient to protect individuals from the fear of annihilation. Through socialization, individuals can define standards that improve their livelihoods while at the same time find means to transcend death (Cicirelli, 2002). When people meet their standards defined by their culture and become more socialized, they boost their self-esteem and attain a feeling of immortality. This is to say, the more people feel successful in their lives, the less they become anxious about annihilation (Cicirelli, 2002). Self-esteem is the basic psychological mechanism that promotes an individual’s suppression of death anxiety. The more motivated and satisfied an individual is, the more immortal they feel.
According to Zhang et al (2019), the aging population must brace to meet their ultimate end. Death is a mandatory aspect of life that triggers anxiety among aging people because they feel less secure. This feeling magnifies their worries leading to even stronger fear. According to Zhang et al (2019), this state of mind is defined as death anxiety. It is a conscious or subconscious state of the mind caused by the defense mechanism, which manifests itself when an individual feels threatened by death (Zhang et al., 2019). According to “The Northern Nursing Diagnosis Association,” death anxiety is a feeling of fear or anxiety related to dying or death. Although death anxiety is prevalent across all ages, older people are more death anxious compared with younger generations. Increased anxiety may result in psychological problems thus creating a need to suppress the feeling. Relieving older adults from death-related anxiety helps improve their self-esteem thus improving their quality of health.
Many theoretical models have been put forward in an attempt to define death anxiety in older citizens. Examples of these models include “self-realization theories, personal construct theory, self-concept discrepancy theory, search-for-meaning theories, theories of denial, and others” (Zhang et al., 2019). These models share four common aspects. Death is a means to separation, annihilation, a threat to the meaning in life, and a hindrance to success. However, these theoretical models have several limitations. One of the underlying weaknesses is the overlap of arguments among the theoretical models. Threats to the fear of death can be placed into two categories according to the theoretical model as either self-realization or meaningfulness in life. More precisely, threats to fear of death can be categorized according to two factors. These are external causes and internalization. External causes include the “search for meaning in life” while internalization involves “self-evaluation.” (Zhang et al.,2019).
The phrase “meaning in life” is defined as the act of people understanding their objectives in life and committing themselves toward achieving them. Each individual has unique targets and objectives in their lives, and understand what is needed of them to achieve them and work towards realizing them. According to Steger and Frazier (2005), “meaning in life is a personal understanding of life such as understanding themselves and the external world and adapting to it.” Precisely, “the meaning in life” is understanding the need to live, setting standards of the kind of life you want to live, and working towards realizing set life goals. Stager suggested a 2-dimensional approach to the “meaning in life”: the presence of meaning and search of meaning (Steger &Frazier, 2005). The phrase “presence of meaning” refers to the level of commitment towards the realization of life goals. This commitment focuses on the effectiveness of the strategy employed to realize the goals. Individuals realize the meaning in life if they achieve these goals. Several scales measure “meaning in life” such as the "Purpose in life Test and Sense of Coherence Scale” (Steger & Frazier, 2005). The scales do not give satisfactory results thus making it difficult to quantify the meaning in life. However, the two-dimensional model remains popular among researchers.
Death anxiety affects individuals in various ways. This dread has been defined as a anxious feeling of fear when one thinks about death or dying. In 1915, Sigmund Freud named death anxiety as thanatophobia in his essays titled: “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (Brown et al., 2009). According to Freud, death anxiety was closely associated with an individual’s subconscious belief in immortality. Because death is the ultimate end of life, the knowledge of the inevitability of death becomes an essential part of our lives. Thanatophobia exists in two different forms: the fear of death itself, and the fear of dying (Brown et al., 2009). While some respondents in death anxiety researches report they are afraid of death, others are specific on the fear of the dying process. Unfortunately, the two fears result in the ultimate end of one’s life. Therefore, death anxiety could be defined as the fear of death, fear of destruction of the body, fear of lost time, or the fear of the unknown (Brown et al., 2009).
The causes of death anxiety remain debatable with some researchers settling on conflicting findings. Several reasons have been stated to influence the fear of death. They include religiosity, age, state of the mind, and gender. The psychological status of an individual has been cited to be the most significant contributor to the manifestation of death anxiety among individuals. Individuals suffering from general anxiety disorder are at risk for high death anxiety. It is generally assumed that death anxiety occurs as a result of physical distress and unsettled psychological problems. According to Kesebir (2014), individuals with high levels of humanity exhibited less pronounced anxiety as opposed to people with self-centered personality traits. Some scholars argue that death anxiety among adults occurs as a result of a psychological problem arising from a strife to separate themselves from parents and start new independent lives. Young children are anxious about the death of their parents because of the dependence on them. This means that adult children are more anxious about the deaths of their parents as opposed to their own. As they grow to adulthood, they set life goals in pursuit of getting meaning in life. At this stage, they become more worried about themselves and their lives.
Religiosity, as many research...

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