Several studies indicate that cognition declines with ageing. More specifically, ageing is associated with various neurological changes, which cause cellular alterations besides affecting mechanisms of neural plasticity. However, as opposed to earlier studies, which indicate that the age-related decline in cognitive function is associated with extreme neuronal losses, contemporary studies show that region-specific functional alterations particularly in the medial temporal lobe and the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are more significant in causing selective cognitive impairments. The most notable changes in these vulnerable brain regions include the subtle changes in the morphology of neurons, gene expression, and cell-to-cell interactions. These subtle changes are also implicated in various alterations in neural plasticity, thereby affecting the network of neuronal ensembles, which in turn lead to selective behavioral impairments in aged human beings and animals (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2008; Burke & Barnes, 2006).
On the other hand, ageing affects sexuality in different ways. For instance, age-related physical, emotional, and biological changes in men and women may affect their ability to have sex. More specifically, persons who are experiencing menopause or any surgical procedure such as hysterectomy, which eliminates the possibility of unwanted pregnancies may enjoy sex more freely. Furthermore, with ageing, the vagina may shorten, become narrow, or stiff, and therefore, most women may experience less sexual pleasure. Conversely, with age, impotence becomes a reality for many men meaning that the ability to have an erection is diminished. In fact, studies indicate that over 25 percent of men are bound to experience impotence by age 65. Moreover, various sexual problems may be caused by or associated with age-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, chronic pain, and high blood pressure (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2008; Burke & Barnes, 2006).
Person-Environment Congruence Models in Gerontology
Apart from physical, emotional, and biological changes, which affect wellbeing of the elderly, physical environment is also very important in predicting the welfare of older adults. In order to study the interaction between a person and the physical environment, most prominent gerontologists designed various Person-Environment (P-E) congruence models, which include competence model, congruence model, priority model, and weighted priority model. The first gerontologist to develop a framework for assessing the P-E interaction was Lewin (1951). According to Lewin, the relationship between an individual and a ‘life-space’ (which includes the person, the physical space, and the psychological space) can be conceptualized through the equation, [B = ƒ (P, E)] in which a person’s behavior (B) is equivalent to the function (ƒ) of personal attributes (P) and environmental resources (E). All these conditions provide the framework upon which an individual assesses a life condition in the present, future, and past (Cvitkovich & Wister, 2001).
Based on Lewin’s equation, Lawton and Nahemow (1973) proposed the competence model, which states that in the P-E interaction, the number of unmet personal needs predicts the wellbeing of older adults. On the other hand, Kahana (1982) and other gerontologists such as Carp and Carp (1984) opposed the competence model because it emphasized negative environmental demands and the passive role of the person while ignoring positive environmental demands and the proactive role played by the person. As a result, the latter gerontologists proposed the congruence model, which suggested that the total sum of unmet needs and environmental resources predicts wellbeing of older adults. This implies that the congruence of environmental resources with the unmet needs compliments or compensates for person’s competence in meeting daily needs. Along the same perspective, Kahana (1982) proposed two additional models: the priority model and the weighted priority model. According to the priority model, unmet needs with the highest priority tend to predict wellbeing more accurately in any environmental domain. On the other hand, the weighted priority model emphasizes the importance of unmet needs and environmental resources in measuring P-E. Besides, this model overstates the skewed prioritizing of environmental domains in weighting P-E congruence relative to priority. Therefore, in one way or another, these four competing models explain the effect of P-E congruence on the wellbeing of the elderly population (Cvitkovich & Wister, 2001).
Ethnic Minority Elders
Generally, ethnic minority elders are members of the African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American communities. Furthermore, it is important to note that these ethnic minority groups are diverse in many ways, but they are unified by the color of their skin, culture, and linguistic traditions. For example, the Native American community can be subdivided into American Indians, Aleuts, and Inuit, while the Asian community comprises of the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Samoan, Filipino, Hmong, and Mein people (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2008). Contemporary studies indicate that there has been a dramatic growth in the number of the ethnic minority elderly populations, and it is projected that by 2050, one out of ten people drawn from the ethnic minority groups will be in the age bracket of 65 years and above. On the other hand, elderly persons drawn from the ethnic minority groups are capturing the interest of gerontologists and other social scientists considering inherent disparities in education, economic status, healthcare, and other social welfare services, which threaten the wellbeing of ethnic minority elders. As a result, most gerontologists are working towards developing theoretical models and empirical studies to inform policy formulation and implementation with the aim of reducing the impact of disparities on the wellbeing of ethnic minority elders (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2008).
Economic Status of Older Women
Studies indicate that elderly populations in the United States have experienced remarkable economic growth over the last few decades. However, major disparities are evident in certain groups of the elderly particularly women, the oldest old, and most black Americans. Here, it is imperative to note that women are still experiencing the highest rates of poverty compared to their male counterparts. Apart from married women who are protected against the effects of poverty, most women in other marital statuses are not protected from poverty considering that over 20% of windows and 24% of divorced older women are poor. Furthermore, studies indicate that 60% of older unmarried women are poor compared to about 25% of older unmarried men. Moreover, studies show that the household income of most married women is relatively low compared to their male counterparts. This implies that most women are at the risk of becoming poor should their partners die or their spouses divorce them, or get committed to nursing homes. Most importantly, despite the effects of cessation of marriage at old age affecting both genders, these effects are more profound in older women due to many years of economic subordination (Hooyman & Kiyak, 2008). Therefore, as most gerontologists and other social scientists look forward to addressing the problems facing the elderly, women should be prioritized since they suffer from many economic challenges, which may compromise their wellbeing at old age.