Challenges Of Aging

Survey Results - Cartoon Elder Individuals

As you age, your individual needs can become clearer over time or change in ways you may not expect. This can be both surprising and unnerving as you learn to adjust your life. Understanding the challenges of aging, and the way our needs may change with time, is key to maintaining the best quality of life for as long as possible. The aging process, and situations like chronic illness or the pandemic, can actually impact your own personal hierarchy of needs and can ultimately affect how you prioritize the needs in your life. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: An Overview

If you have ever studied psychology, you have probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—an ordering of human beings’ needs by renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow. He believed that, in order to remain mentally, physically and emotionally healthy, we need to have all of our needs met in a certain order.

Maslow offered five levels in the hierarchical pyramid of human needs. He organized them by importance, placing the most important and most basic needs at the base of the pyramid, and the needs that allow us to reach our potential placed at the top of the pyramid.[1][2] 

  • Physiological Needs: Air, clothing, food, shelter, sleep, warmth and water 
  • Safety Needs: Access to healthcare, access to resources, personal property, personal security, stable employment and stability in social relationships
  • Love and Belonging Needs: Close family relationships, friendships, sense of belonging and connection and trust in valued relationships
  • Esteem Needs: Feeling respected by others and maintaining self-esteem
  • Self-Actualization Needs: Ability to realize potential, achieve fulfillment and seek growth

Moving from the base through to the top of the pyramid, this physical representation of the hierarchy of needs illustrates the most basic idea behind Maslow’s theory. Beginning with our basic needs, including the need for air, shelter, sleep, warmth and water, Maslow suggested that certain needs can only become important once our more basic needs are met.[1][2] He named the bottom four levels of this pyramid “deficiency needs,” because we rarely think about these needs unless they are not being met. When these needs are not met, however, we experience distress.[1] For example, you probably do not think about your sense of belonging until you feel you no longer belong in a certain social group. At the point that a deficiency need is no longer being met, you then become aware of it and experience distress as a result of the deficiency in that area. 

Maslow called the final level, self-actualization needs, a “growth need” because these are the needs that we tend to think about frequently and aim to fulfill on a more consistent basis. These needs grow and change with us over time, and they allow us to grow as human beings and to reach our full potential.[1][2] However, according to Maslow, we cannot focus on our growth needs until our deficiency needs have been met. Once they have been met, we become concerned with meeting our self-actualization needs in order to continue to grow and evolve. 

So how does this hierarchy relate to you when it comes to the challenges of aging? Exploring how the hierarchy of needs may work differently for the aging population or someone with a chronic illness, and how that may impact a person’s choices and priorities, is a helpful way to understand how best to meet the needs of someone in that category. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for the Aging Population

As you age, your needs change. You may need more help in certain areas, have a harder time meeting certain needs or place more importance on certain needs than you did before. Older folks are also less likely to take certain needs for granted than young people, and may realize that these things are not given. For the aging population, and for anyone living with chronic illness, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is meaningful in a slightly different way. These needs may now be harder to meet and certain needs may be dependent upon others.

Let’s take a closer look at each level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how the aging population, or people living with chronic illness, might struggle to meet those needs.

Physiological Needs

These are the basic needs required for you to sustain life, including air, clothing, food, reproduction, shelter, sleep, warmth and water. Older folks and people living with chronic illness could struggle with meeting these needs in any number of ways. Older folks and people with chronic illness may be unable to meet these needs as their health deteriorates or when they experience flare-ups with certain health problems.

People who are unable to perform their activities of daily living are also unable to meet these needs on their own, and will need help making sure they get everything they need. If you cannot meet your basic needs on your own, it is at this point that you need more support from a loved one or professional, and may need to look into in-home healthcare or assisted living facilities.

Safety Needs

These are the needs that provide you with safety and security, and they can be fulfilled by loved ones or by society. These needs include access to healthcare, access to resources, emotional and financial personal security, personal property, stable employment and stability in social relationships. Older folks and people living with chronic illness could struggle with meeting these needs if they have financial concerns, if they struggle with maintaining or accessing adequate healthcare, if they struggle with paying bills or have trouble getting what they need. Older folks tend to be more vulnerable to phishing scams and other fraud, putting safety needs at further risk. In most cases, if you cannot meet your safety needs on your own, you will need help of some kind—care from a home health aid, help with bills or healthcare or help getting groceries—to ensure that you can meet them adequately. 

Love and Belonging Needs

These are the social needs related to a feeling of belonging, being connected and being loved. Love and belonging needs can be fulfilled by friendships, close family relationships, trusting the people around you and maintaining the relationships you value through family, friends or work. Older folks and people living with chronic illness may struggle with meeting these needs if their partner dies, close friends die, they have to move into assisted living or away from their home or they have to quit a job or stop participating in a treasured social hobby. This can be one of the first parts of aging or living with a chronic illness that can make the reality of the situation feel particularly heavy for you.

Esteem Needs

This is the need for self-esteem, as well as the need to feel respected by others. Esteem needs can be fulfilled in many different ways, including your ability to do things on your own and be successful at them. Because of this, the ability to maintain freedom, mobility and independence are essential to most people’s esteem needs. Older folks and people living with chronic illness may struggle with meeting these needs when they lose their ability to do things on their own, either because of age or illness. Becoming dependent on others, or dependent on medical equipment or medication, is often very difficult to accept. This can cause a huge loss of esteem, both in regards to self-esteem and the way others see you.

Self-Actualization Needs

This refers to the ability to realize your potential, achieve fulfillment and seek growth, whether that is creatively, academically, economically, athletically or in personal relationships. Older folks and people living with chronic illness may struggle to meet these needs when they can no longer participate in their work or hobbies. This is often associated with some mental decline, although it can be the result of physical or health restrictions, too. If you spend a great deal of your time being active, for example, suddenly being unable to walk and participate in the things you love can be devastating. 

The way these needs are essential to your well-being and happiness comes into sharp focus as you age. Similarly, if you have a chronic illness, needs that you previously took for granted become even more essential. It can be helpful to approach the challenges of aging or living with a chronic illness in this way. Once you begin to view things in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it can become easier to prioritize certain needs. It also becomes clear that certain needs cannot be met until others are met first. 

Survey Results: The Challenges of Aging Can Impact People’s Ability to Meet NeedsSurvey Results - Daily Tasks

As you age, it can be harder to meet your needs for a variety of reasons. If you have a chronic illness, you experience these same difficulties, though it may be surprising to discover how much your chronic illness impacts your ability to fulfill each need. Requiring help or support to meet certain needs can be difficult to accept, particularly if you were extremely self-sufficient before.

Because of this, we wanted to learn more about the areas older folks typically struggle with in order to find out how to best support the aging population and people living with chronic illness. We surveyed 402 people across the United States to learn more about their daily lives, whether they were getting their needs met and how struggling to meet needs affected their well-being. Of those 402 people surveyed, 224 survey participants were age 65 or older. The results of this survey provided us with helpful information about which needs on Maslow’s hierarchy were often going unmet for this population, as well as how that experience affected them. 

When It Comes to Day to Day Tasks

We began by asking how difficult day to day tasks were for respondents, and 48.2% of survey participants 65 and over said that day to day tasks were moderately to very difficult for them. Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the activities essential to a person’s basic survival and ability to maintain their own physical care and well-being.[3] A person’s ability to accomplish day to day tasks on their own is one of the ways that healthcare professionals determine a person’s overall health and whether or not they need additional support or assistance.

Generally speaking, if someone is struggling with their day to day tasks, they may be unable to meet their safety needs, including completing basic tasks like cooking or getting dressed, without risking injury or exhaustion. It may even mean that they are struggling to access basic resources like food or adequate clothing.

Mental Well-Being

So how does this affect a person’s sense of self? We asked survey participants how important their day to day activities were to their mental well-being. The survey showed that 71.4% of those surveyed rated their day to day activities as moderately important to their mental well-being, or more. This means that, for many people, the ability to meet their own physiological and safety needs is essential to their esteem needs. In other words, one need is dependent upon the ability to meet another.

How Needs Impact Other Needs

Survey Results - Budget for HobbiesWe found additional examples of one need depending on another in the results of different survey questions. For example, in response to the statement “I am often stressed or overwhelmed by my financial situation,” 32.8% of survey participants agreed with the statement. This means that these respondents are concerned about meeting their safety needs, and may even worry about meeting their physiological needs for clothing, food, water and warm shelter. In fact, when we asked how easy it was to find comfortable housing that met respondents’ needs and budgets, 61.7% of survey participants said it was not easy for them, and 47.1% of respondents said it was moderately to very hard.

If you are worried about finding adequate housing, and being able to afford that housing, it is near impossible to meet your esteem needs. This, in turn, can cause depression, anxiety and more. In addition, the ability to meet these basic needs is dependent on being mentally competent or receiving the help needed to find and maintain physiological and safety needs. If that help is not received, or there is mental decline, there can be a cascading effect on the hierarchy of needs. Once the most basic needs go unmet, no other needs can be met.

Health and Social NeedsSurvey Results - Communicating with Doctor

Maintaining social needs, for instance, can be difficult for people whose safety needs are not consistently met. If a person is struggling with their health, it can impact their ability to spend time with loved ones or participate in regular socializing. When we asked study participants how impactful their health was to their social interactions, 71.6% of respondents said that their health impacted their social interactions, and 58.9% of respondents said their health had a moderate to high impact on social interactions. This is not necessarily surprising, as your health is often the deciding factor in what you can and cannot do, but once you consider the cascading effect poor health can have on your needs, maintaining good health becomes paramount.

COVID-19’s Impact on Human Needs

Particularly in our current world, with COVID-19 having changed our everyday lives, focusing on meeting as many needs as possible is of particular importance. We asked our survey participants what impact COVID-19 had on their daily lives, and 72.3% said they were affected in some way, while 51.8% said they were moderately impacted. For high risk populations, including older folks and those with underlying health problems, COVID-19 has made regular activities suddenly dangerous. Additionally, COVID-19 has meant that social needs go unmet as people isolate and they are unable to participate in many things that bring them joy, so the impact can be staggering for people who already struggle with meeting their needs.

Survey Results - Favorite HobbiesHigher Level Needs

However, even if a person’s physiological and safety needs are being met, the higher level needs also need to be met for a person to thrive. In order to feel happy and fulfilled, most people need to have their social needs of love and belonging met, as well as their esteem needs. When we asked survey participants about how often they were able to enjoy their favorite hobbies, 37.6% of respondents said once per week or less. In fact, 31.4% of those surveyed said they could not participate or hardly ever participated in their favorite hobbies, which means that nearly a third of those surveyed were struggling to meet their esteem needs, self-actualization needs or both. Additionally, since 58.9% of people aged 65 and over said that their budget did not allow them to enjoy their favorite hobbies, for many people, it was the inability to meet safety needs that kept them from being able to meet higher needs. Without the ability to maintain self-esteem and respect, seek growth and achieve fulfillment, most people become unhappy, anxious or depressed. This can result in a lack of interest in maintaining basic needs, which can become a dangerous and unhealthy cycle. 

Inogen Can Help You Meet Your Needs and Minimize the Challenges of Aging

Meeting deficiency needs must be a priority for all people, but for the aging population and for people living with chronic illness, it can become more and more difficult to meet higher needs as basic physiological and safety needs become a challenge. Ensuring that those basic physiological and safety needs are met is the best way to ensure that social, esteem and even self-actualization needs can continue to be met for as long as possible. 

At Inogen, our number one goal has always been to improve quality of life for oxygen therapy patients. Our products can help older folks, and people with chronic illnesses, meet their needs for longer. This can help postpone certain challenges by helping patients maintain their freedom, mobility and independence longer. This means that patients using Inogen products can participate more fully in their lives for longer, allowing them to spend more time with the people they care about and feel more positive about themselves and their future. Inogen can help patients fulfill vital physiological and safety needs, so that they can continue to fulfill the higher social, esteem and self-actualization needs. 

We are honored to be able to help improve our customers’ quality of life. Inogen was founded because of a beloved grandmother, Mae, whose needs were not being met by her oxygen delivery device. We decided to find a way to meet her needs better, so that she could enjoy her life more fully. Because of products like our small, powerful oxygen concentrators and Inogen TAV® System respiratory assist device, we can help you meet more of your needs so that you can enjoy your life more. Find out which of our oxygen products is right for you by contacting us today. We look forward to helping improve your freedom, mobility and independence so that you breathe better and live your life.

Oxygen. Anytime. Anywhere.®  

Sources:

[1] Burton, Neel. “Our Hierarchy of Needs.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 23 May 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/our-hierarchy-needs. 

[2] Mcleod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 20 Mar. 2020, www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html. 

[3] Lyon, Sarah. “What There Is to Know About ADLs and IADLs in a Healthcare Facility.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 7 Oct. 2019, www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-adls-and-iadls-2510011.

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