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Emotional needs in later life

What happens to our emotional needs in later life? Do we still have the same needs? Of course the answer is “yes” even if we might seek to get them in slightly different ways to when we were younger. When we get to the stage where we are no longer able to care for ourselves any longer, when we have experienced the loss and bereavement perhaps of a lifelong partner or close friends, when we are experiencing physical problems and illnesses that restrict what we are able to do, despite the fact that we are totally mentally alert, life can be extremely challenging, in a way that it never was in our earlier life.

My previous few articles looked at the idea that we come into the world with a set of emotional (as well as physical) needs that have to be met if we are to be emotionally healthy and resilient to stress and mental illness. There is broad agreement today about what these needs are and some of the most important are: Security, attention (to give and receive it), a sense of autonomy and control, emotional intimacy (to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”), feeling part of a wider community, privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience, an emotional connection to others, sense of status within social groupings, sense of competence and achievement and most important, a sense of meaning and purpose — which comes from being stretched in what we do and think.

A Case Study

Over the past ten years I have given out discussion exercises (based on fictional case studies) to groups of adults in the classroom, as part of a Carers qualification. Having looked at case studies of people in different stages of their lives, which though challenging, seem to present us with alternative ways of getting our needs met, the students are often shocked how poorly our needs might be met in old age. This is the fictional example of Maureen, aged 78:

Maureen is 78 years old and has recently had to move to a nursing home because she can no longer look after herself in her own home. Her husband died a few months ago and Maureen suffers from arthritis, a heart condition and her sight is not very good. Although the nursing home staff are kind, Maureen now has to rely on them more and more for fulfilling even her most basic needs.  She needs help with getting in and out of bed, walking, getting dressed and even feeding herself.  Maureen is still extremely mentally alert, – she worked as a school teacher for many years. Her daughter and grandchildren live in the UK and can only get over a few times a year. Maureen has a good friend who visits as often as she can but her friend’s health is also not good.

Looking at the Emotional Needs Audit, how would Maureen score?

Many times students have expressed their sadness at this scenario, it is something they have never looked at in this way before. There are often comments such as “she must be quite depressed and lonely even though she is receiving good care from kind staff.” Although Maureen’s basic needs are met and she is safe and secure, she many well not feel this way as she is unable to carry out even the most basic bodily tasks. Certainly there is a complete loss of control, of status and of achievement. Also a loss of being part of her local community – at least the community she was used to. Hopefully she will be able to start to feel part of her new community quickly and that staff will be sensitive enough to allow her as much autonomy as they can. Providing group activities and outings and engaging her in intelligent conversation will be important.  Also that her good friend will continue to be able to visit as she gets much enjoyment from this and from her family’s visits.

How are your own needs being met?

Check out how well your own emotional needs are being met right now! If you would like a free copy of the Emotional Needs Audit , click here:

Need some advice and support?

If you would like to discuss any of the  issues raised in this article further, or perhaps look at ways that you can start to get your own or  your family’s emotional needs met in a balanced way, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Emotional Needs in childhood, Emotional Needs of college students, Emotional Needs after losing a job