Explanations of Adjustment to Old Age
Social Disengagement Theory
Let us now turn to each in turn and consider their merits:
Social Disengagement Theory:
Cumming and Henry’s Theory (1961) rests on the claim that as people they have less energy and enthusiasm for activities in which they were keenly involved earlier
Becoming more isolated and separated from previous social roles, less concerned with family and friends and more self sufficient. Evidence for this gradual disengagement can be found amongst some people in the west, in other cultures old age is treated as a sign of maturity.
They described three phases in the process of disengagement as people move towards the end of their lives:
There is shrinkage of life space brought about by fewer interactions with others and the relinquishing of some of our roles.
There is increased individuality as the individual becomes more flexible in the way in which the remaining roles are expressed.
There is acceptance of these life changes. This is not meant to imply that the individual is resigned to disengagement. Instead, acceptance leads to the person becoming more inward and self reliant as though preparing for death.
Evaluation of social disengagement theory:
· Culturally specific view in which society is seen as withdrawing itself from the person.
· Disengages and reorganisers:
· People who disengage may simply be embracing a life style that they prefer but were prevented from adopting before.
· Cumming & Henry (1961) and Havinghurst et al. (1968) identified different personality types there were some called disengaged who’s activity but not contentment levels had fallen. By contrast there were reorganisers who’s activity levels had not dropped, they had simply changed.
· It’s a case of Quality not Quantity.
· Cohort effects:
· Latter generations of elderly people may be healthier, more financially secure, generally better catered for socially and have a greater choice. If this proves to be the case then ‘disengagement’ may disappear. Bromley (1988)
Havinghurst’s Activity Theory (1968) is a direct reversal of disengagement theory. It portrays elderly people as striving to remain socially involved, despite society offering them fewer opportunities to engage socially.
· The benefits that a child, teenager, young married or middle aged person, derives from parents will be different, as will those from various friends and acquaintances.
· Field and Minkler (1988) identify the benefits that certain social relationships provide for elderly people.
· There is an obvious need for companionship. Teenagers, who have their whole life before them can afford not to be too selective and keep a wide circle of friends.
· Older people can afford to be more selective in their remaining years and choose to spend time only with those who provide them with pleasure and satisfaction.
· Even people from within one culture have widely different physical and mental abilities and considerably different health, social circumstances and support systems. Its hardly surprising, therefore, that no-one theory can explain all reactions to aging.
Evaluation of Activity Theory:
Bond et al. (1993) observed that activity theory might underestimate the importance of western culture. Places emphasis on being economically productive. However, anxieties about the adequacy of pensions and the need to retain older workers in employment has led some companies to recruit actively from older age groups.
Selectivity theory – e.g. Field & Minkler (1988) Lang & Carstensen (1994):
Focuses on the way in which social relationships and the needs they fulfil change with age. In our younger years we select relationships not just for companionship but for guidance information and affirmation. Older people appear to disengage from unrewarding relationships and engage or reengage with those that are primarily emotionally supportive and pleasant. This theory suggests that at least in an ideal world, individuals can find a balance that works for them.
Effects of retirement:
In previous centuries many working class people worked until they were physically unable to do so. They could only stop then if other people such as family supported them.
Atchley (1982, 1988) identified five periods of adjustment to retirement. It is not suggested that all people will pass through them all, or that any of them will last for a given period.
Period of relative enjoyment and euphoria.
Extensive travel and house moves are possible.
Rest and Relaxation Period:
Time to take stock after the initial activity of the honeymoon phase.
Affects only a small portion of retirees.
Take stock and adjust expectations in line with the more clearly understood reality of the situation.
A stable and satisfying routine is established giving structure and meaning to retirement.
Evaluation : Studies of retirement:
Individual differences & problems of adjustment:
Schaie & Willis (1991) – problems are least likely among those who retired voluntarily and who enjoy financial security and good health. People with high personal involvement in their jobs or who’s leisure time is unsatisfactory, feel the greatest disruption to their lives following retirement. Some of these will cope by retaining a foothold in their occupation for as long as possible.
Australian study by Sharpley & Layton (1998)
Questioned 349 males and 385 females between 44 and 90 years old the first five years after retirement from full time work.
Key finding was that voluntary retirement results in less anxiety than those who retired for ill health grounds.
Easing the effects
Sharpley & Layton’s findings suggested that pre-retirement education which addressed social health, personal, relationship and of course financial aspects of the retirement could help to reduce some of the psychological distress which is sometimes part of this phase of life.
Cognitive processing changes in late adulthood
· There is no automatic link between age and changes in cognitive functioning.
· A common sense intuition suggests that as we get older we get slower, both mentally and physically. Berk (1998) suggests that the neural networks that are involved in mental processing become disrupted and die with age. Cognitive processing takes longer as different cell assemblies have to become involved to access memories, thought and speech centres.
· A more optimistic conclusion is that what appears to be slower mental processing is, in fact a consequence of taking more factors into account, and considering the increased number of possibilities that age and experience have provided.
People with particular experiences have brains that excel in particular kinds of processing.
Intellectual ability is also difficult to define. Most researchers have identified several; types of intelligence. A distinction is often made between the type of intelligence that allows us to use stored information gleaned from past experiences (Crystallised intelligence) and the more abstract kind of reasoning needed for puzzle solving (Fluid intelligence) The first may continue to increase with experience while the other may decline with age.
The same cautions need to be expressed here as when claiming that memory loss occurs with age. There are different kinds of memory functioning and some (Such as recall) decline with age. Others, such as recognition, do not.
Laurenson (1997) involved 711 participants in a study:
1. Four cohorts born in 1922, 1932, 1942, 1952;
o Followed up every 11 years between 1982 and 1994.
2. Found a decline in:
o Non verbal; learning and memory
o Retention of verbal memory;
o Concentration and reaction time, which could underpin performance on other tests.
3. Problems inc. the fact that he started with over 1000 participants and lost 300.
o This could account for the apparent increase in participants’ loss of ability.
Evaluation: Research into cognitive changes in late adulthood:
1. Compensating for age related changes:
Stuart-Hamilton (2000) argues that elderly may be able to consider more complex strategies for problem solving and arrive at a better solution albeit more slowly.
2. Corhort effects.
3. The ‘Terminal Drop’:
Bee (1998) points out that there is little decline in intellectual functioning until about the last five years of life (A phenomenon referred to as the ‘terminal drop’. Because each cohort contains more and more people within this range, it looks as though the whole cohort is declining intellectually.
4. Cultural attitudes to ageing:
Levy & Langer (1994) found that persons own attitudes towards aging can affect specific cognitive tasks.
Coping with Bereavement:
For many people advancing age, and the death of loved ones, increases concern about their own mortality
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) Identified over 30 years five stages that many though not all terminally ill pass through.
People should be allowed to pass through these stages in their known time and with as much dignity as can be given them
Fulton (1970) outlines four stages that a person goes through when anticipating bereavement:
Murray Parke’s (1972) four stages of coping with loss following the bereavement:
Mourning rituals and support:
Performs the following important functions: (AKA a healing process)
Allowing the re-affirmation of social networks of friends and family;
Permitting the sharing of feelings about the dead person
Encouraging the expression of emotions;
Allowing all concerned to come to terms with the loss;
Allowing others to recognise the status of the bereaved person.
For those who cherished the individual who has died the loss will be most keenly felt, mitigated by their own beliefs about death and possible afterlife.
Lindstrom’s Norwegian research (1999) that found that women who adopted more modern , feminist roles coped better with the deaths of their husbands than women who followed those of a traditional caring and supportive female nature.
Factors in supporting the bereaved:
· Close communities also provide a sense of solidarity, which can assist in providing support.
· Time is said to be a great healer both in the mourning process after the bereavement and the sudden ending of a relationship.
· Just about all religious faiths have ceremonies associated with death.
· Many people who proclaim no religious faith at all still seek and say they benefit from a religious ceremony.
· Littlewood (1992) – 1966 in Abberfan:
o 116 children & 28 adults died when a coal waste tip engulfed a school and neighbouring buildings.
o Close community and family ties lead to ability top cope being high with relatively little outside help.
Concepts to note:
Define these terms:
Social disengagement theory
What did they do or say?
Cumming and Henry
Field and Minkler
Levy and Langer