Theories of Social and Emotional Development in Late Adulthood



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CHAPTER 18

  • Theories of Social and Emotional Development in Late Adulthood

Theories of Social and Emotional Development in Late Adulthood

  • Erikson’s psychosocial theory
    • Eighth or final stage of life is called ego integrity or despair; he believed people who achieved positive outcomes to an earlier life crisis would be more likely to obtain ego integrity than despair in late adulthood
  • Ego integrity versus despair
    • Basic challenge is to maintain the belief that life is meaningful and worthwhile in the face of physical decline and the inevitability of death; ego integrity derives from wisdom, as well as from the acceptance of one’s lifespan as being limited and occurring at a certain point in history; adjustment in the later years requires wisdom to let go

Robert Peck’s Developmental Tasks

  • Peck outlined three developmental tasks that people face in late adulthood
    • Ego differentiation versus work-role preoccupation
    • Body transcendence versus body preoccupation
    • Ego transcendence versus ego preoccupation
  • Ardelt (2008) writes that ego transcendence grows out of self-reflection and willingness to learn from experience.
    • Ego transcendence is characterized by a concern for the well-being of humankind in general, not only of ourselves and those we love.

Robert Butler’s Life Review

  • Butler (2002) suggests reminiscence is a normal aspect of aging.
    • People can be extremely complex and nuanced.
    • They can be incoherent and self-contradictory
    • Life reviews attempt to make life meaningful, to help people move on with new relationships as others in their lives pass on, and to help them find ego integrity and accept the end of life.
  • Butler (2002) argues helping professionals rely too much on drugs to ease the discomforts of older adults.
    • Pilot programs suggest therapists may be able to relieve depression and other psychological problems in older adults by helping them reminisce about their lives.

Disengagement Theory

  • Disengagement theory
    • Older people and society mutually withdraw from one another as older people approach death.
    • People in late adulthood focus more on their inner lives, preparing for the inevitable.
    • Government or industry now supports them through pensions or charity rather than vice versa.
    • Family members expect less from them.
    • Older people and society prepare to let go of one another.
  • Well-being among older adults is predicted by pursuing goals, rather than withdrawal.

Activity Theory

  • Activity theory
    • Older adults are better adjusted when they are more active and involved in physical and social activities.
  • Physical activity is associated with a lower mortality rate in late adulthood.
    • Leisure and informal social activities contribute to life satisfaction among retired people.
    • Israeli study found benefits for life satisfaction in activities involving the next generation, the visual and performing arts, and spiritual and religious matters, but there was also value in independent activities in the home

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory

  • Socioemotional selectivity theory
    • Looks at older adults’ social networks
    • Theory of motivation hypothesizes increasing emphasis is placed on emotional experience as we age
    • Research by Carstensen et al. (1999) indicated proportion of emotional material recalled increased with the age group, showing greater emotional response of older subjects.
  • Social contacts limited to a few individuals who are of major importance to us as we grow older
  • Does not mean older adults are antisocial
    • See themselves as having less time to waste and they are more risk-averse
    • They do not want to involve themselves in painful social interactions
  • Fig. 18-1, p. 374
  • Psychological Development

Self-Esteem

  • Robins et al. (2002)
    • Recruited more than 300,000 individuals, who completed an extensive online questionnaire that provided demographic information and measures of self-esteem
    • Results indicated self-esteem of males was higher than that of females
    • Self-esteem highest in childhood and dips with entry into adolescence
    • Self-esteem then rises gradually throughout middle adulthood and declines in late adulthood, with most of the decline occurring between the 70s and the 80s
    • All this is “relative”
    • The measure of self-esteem is above the mid-point of the questionnaire for adults in their 80s
  • Fig. 18-2, p. 375

Self-Esteem (cont’d)

  • Drop in self-esteem may be due to life changes such as retirement, loss of a spouse or partner, lessened social support, declining health, and downward movement in socioeconomic status
    • Or older people are wiser and more content
  • Older people express less “body esteem”
    • Older men express less body esteem than older women
    • Men more likely to accumulate fat around the middle, women accumulate fat in the hips
    • Sexual arousal problems more distressing for the male
    • Older adults with poor body esteem tend to withdraw from sexual activity, often frustrating their partners.

Independence/Dependence

  • Older people who are independent think of themselves as leading a “normal life”.
    • Those who are dependent on others, even only slightly dependent, tend to worry more about aging and encountering physical disabilities and stress.
  • A study of 441 healthy people aged 65-95 found dependence on others to carry out the activities of daily living increased with age (Perrig-Chiello et al., 2006).
  • Interviews of stroke victims found independence in toileting is important in enabling older people to avoid slippage in self-esteem (Clark & Rugg, 2005).

Depression

  • Affects some 10% of people aged 65 and above
  • Depression in older people sometimes a continuation of depression from earlier periods of life and sometimes a new development
  • Appears to have multiple origins
    • Can be connected with the personality factor of neuroticism
    • Possible structural changes in the brain
    • Possible genetic predisposition to imbalances of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline; may be link between depression and physical illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cancer

Depression (cont’d)

  • Depression is connected with the loss of friends and loved ones, but depression is a mental disorder that goes beyond sadness or bereavement.
  • Loss of companions and friends will cause profound sadness, but mentally healthy people bounce back within a year or so.
  • Depression goes undetected, untreated in older people much of the time.
    • May be overlooked because symptoms are masked by physical complaints such as low energy, loss of appetite, and insomnia
    • Healthcare providers tend to focus on older people’s physical health than their mental health

Depression (cont’d)

  • Depression connected with memory lapses and other cognitive impairment, such as difficulty concentrating
  • Some cases of depression are simply attributed to the effects of aging or misdiagnosed as dementia, even Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression in older people can usually be treated successfully with the same means that work in younger people, such as antidepressant drugs and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy.

Depression (cont’d)

  • Untreated depression can lead to suicide, which is most common among older people.
  • Highest rates of suicide found among older men who
    • have lost their wives or their partners
    • lost their social networks
    • fear the consequences of physical illnesses and loss of freedom of action
  • Fewer older adults suffer from depression than younger adults, suicide is more frequent among older adults, especially Caucasian men.

Anxiety Disorders

  • Anxiety disorders affect at least 3% of those aged 65 and above, but coexist with depression in about 8% to 9% of older adults.
  • Most frequently occurring anxiety disorders among older adults are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and phobic disorders.
    • Panic disorder is rare
    • Agoraphobia affecting older adults tends to be of recent origin and may involve the loss of social support systems due to the death of a spouse or close friends.
    • GAD may arise from the perception that one lacks control over one’s life.

Anxiety Disorders (cont’d)

  • Anxiety disorders increase levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
    • Takes time for them to subside
    • Cortisol suppresses functioning of the immune system, so that people are more vulnerable to illness.
  • Mild tranquilizers are commonly used to quell anxiety in older adults.
  • Psychological interventions
    • Cognitive-behavior therapy
      • Shows therapeutic benefits in treating anxiety in older adults
      • Does not carry the risk of side effects or potential dependence
  • Social Contexts of Aging

Communities and Housing for Older People

  • Older Americans report that they prefer to remain in their homes as long as their physical and mental conditions allow them.
  • Older people with greater financial resources, larger amounts of equity in their homes, and stronger ties to their communities are more likely to remain in their homes.
  • Older people with declining health conditions, changes in their family composition, and significant increases in property taxes and costs of utilities are likely to need to consider residing elsewhere.

Communities and Housing for Older People (cont’d)

  • Older people who live in cities, especially inner cities, are highly concerned about exposure to crime, particularly crimes of violence.
    • Most concerned
      • People of advanced old age (80 and above), in poor health, and of depressed mood
  • People aged 80 and above less likely to be victimized than people in other age groups
    • Social support helps older people cope with their concerns about victimization
    • If victimized, it helps them avoid some of the problems that characterize posttraumatic stress disorder

Communities and Housing for Older People (cont’d)

  • Older people who can no longer manage living on their own may have access to home health aides and visiting nurses to help them remain in the home.
  • Affluent older people may be able to afford to hire round-the-clock or part-time live-in help.
    • Others may move in with adult children
    • Others may move into assisted living residences in which they have their own apartments but community dining rooms and nursing aid with physicians on call and available in the facility

Communities and Housing for Older People (cont’d)

  • Older adults who relocate to residences for the elderly, whether or not they have facilities for assisted living, tend to experience disrupted social networks and challenges for finding new friends and creating new networks.
  • Residences should have communal dining facilities and organized activities, including transportation to nearby shopping and entertainment.
    • Residents take time in engaging other people socially and are selective in forming new relationships.

Communities and Housing for Older People (cont’d)

  • Older adults may be most reluctant to relocate to nursing homes because nursing homes signify the loss of independence.
  • Surveys indicate that older adults are relatively more willing to enter nursing homes when they perceive themselves to be in poor health and when one or more close family members live near the nursing home.
  • “Elder abuse”
    • Staff acts harshly toward residents, sometimes in response to cognitively impaired residents acting aggressively toward the staff; well-selected and well-trained staff can deal well with impaired residents

Religion

  • Religion involves participating in the social, educational, and charitable activities of a congregation as well as worshiping.
    • Religion and religious activities provide a vast arena for social networking for older adults.
  • As people undergo physical decline, religion asks them to focus, instead, on moral conduct and spiritual, not physical, “substance” such as the soul
    • Studies find religious involvement in late adulthood is usually associated with less depression and more life satisfaction as long as it is done in moderation.

Religion (cont’d)

  • Frequent churchgoing associated with fewer problems in the activities of daily living among older people
  • Older African Americans who attend services more than once a week live 13.7 years longer, on average, than their counterparts who never attend church
  • In-depth interviews with the churchgoers find reasons such as the following for their relative longevity
    • avoidance of negative coping methods such as aggressive behavior and drinking alcohol
    • evading being victimized by violence
    • hopefulness
    • social support

Marriage

  • 20% to 25% of marriages last half a century or more, only to end with the death of one of the spouses.
  • Couples report less disagreement over finances, household chores, and parenting/grandparenting.
  • Concerns about emotional expression and companionship
    • Older couples show more affectionate behavior when they discuss conflicts, and they disagree with one another less in general.
    • Similarity in personality is less of a contributor to conflict than in midlife, consistent with the finding that similarity in conscientiousness and extraversion is no longer strongly associated with marital dissatisfaction.

Divorce, Cohabitation, and Remarriage

  • Older adults less likely than younger adults to seek divorce; fear of loss of assets, family disruption, and relocation, and older adults do not undertake divorce lightly
    • If divorcing, often because they belong to an aberrant marriage that is punitive or because one of the partners has taken up a relationship with an outsider
  • 4% of older adults of the unmarried population cohabit
    • Less likely than younger people to wish to remarry
    • Older cohabiters report being in more intimate, stable relationships.
    • Younger cohabiters see their lifestyle as a prelude to marriage, older cohabiters are more likely to see their relationship as an alternate lifestyle.

Gay and Lesbian Relationships

  • Gay men and lesbians in long-term partnerships tend to enjoy higher self-esteem, less depression and fewer suicidal urges, and less alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Gay men in long-term partnerships are also less likely to incur sexually transmitted infections.
  • Gay men and lesbians sometimes form long-term intimate relationships with straight people of the other sex; relationships do not involve sexual activity, but the couples consider themselves to be “family” and are confidants.

Widowhood

  • Middle-aged male widowers are relatively more capable of dealing with their loss than older males.
  • Men and women need to engage in the activities of daily living (taking care of their personal hygiene, assuming the responsibilities that had been handled by their spouse, and remaining connected to the larger social community).
  • Widowhood more likely to lead to social isolation than is marital separation
    • Reasons for isolation are physical, cognitive, and emotional

Widowhood (cont’d)

  • Widowhood leads to a decline in physical and mental health, including increased mortality and deterioration in memory functioning.
  • Loss of a spouse heightens risks of depression and suicide among older adults, more so among men than women.
  • Men who are widowed are more likely than women to remarry, or at least to form new relationships with the other sex.
    • Women, more so than men, make use of the web of kinship relations and close friendships available to them.
    • Men may be less adept than women at various aspects of self and household care.

Singles and Older People without Children

  • Single older adults without children just as likely as people who have had children to be socially active and involved in volunteer work
    • Tend to maintain close relationships with siblings and long-time friends
    • Very old (mean age = 93) mothers and women who have not had children report equally positive levels of well-being
  • Married older men without children appear to be especially dependent on their spouses.
  • Parents seem to be more likely than people without children to have the social network that permits them to avoid nursing homes or other residential care upon physical decline.

Siblings

  • Older sibling pairs tend to give each other emotional support.
    • True among sisters (women more likely than men to talk about feelings) who are close in age and geographically close
  • After being widowed, siblings (and children) tend to ramp up their social contacts and emotional support.
    • Support begins to decrease within two to three years
    • A sibling, especially a sister, often takes the place of a spouse as a confidant
  • Twin relationships more intense in terms of frequency of contacts, intimacy, conflict, and emotional support
    • Frequency of contact and emotional closeness declines from early to middle adulthood, but increases again in late adulthood (mean age at time of study = 71.5 years)

Friendship

  • Older people narrow friendships to friends who are most like them and share similar activities.
  • To regulate their emotions, they tend to avoid “friends” with whom they have had conflict over the years.
  • Friends form social networks that keep elders active and involved.
  • Friends remain confidants with whom older adults can share feelings and ideas.

Friendship (cont’d)

  • Friends provide emotional closeness and support.
  • Friendships help older adults avert feelings of depression.
  • Social networking helps with physical and psychological well-being of older adults in the community and in residential living facilities.
  • Older adults have a difficult time forming new friendships when they relocate; with time, patience, and encouragement, new friendships can develop.

Adult Children and Grandchildren

  • Grandparents provide a perspective on the behavior and achievements of their grandchildren they might not have had with their own children.
  • Both cohorts view each other in a positive light and see their ties as deep and meaningful.
  • Grandparents-grandchildren conceptualize their relationships as distinct family connections that involve unconditional love, emotional support, obligation, and respect.
  • Grandparents and adult grandchildren often act as friends and confidants.
    • Their relationship can seem precious, capable of being cut short at any time
  • Retirement

Retirement and Retirement Planning

  • The average person has two decades of life in front of him or her at the age of 65, indicating a need for retirement planning (Arias, 2011).
  • Retirement planning may include regularly putting money aside in plans (IRAs, Keoghs, and various pension plans in the workplace).
    • Investing in stocks, bonds, or a second home
  • Older people may investigate the kinds of healthcare and cultural activities that are available in other geographic areas of interest.
    • If they are thinking of another area, they will also be interested in learning about the weather and crime statistics

Retirement and Retirement Planning (cont’d)

  • Couples in relationships—including married heterosexuals, cohabiting heterosexuals, and gay and lesbian couples—usually but not always make their retirement plans interdependently.
    • The greater the satisfaction in the relationship, the more likely the couple are to make their retirement plans together
  • In married couples,
    • husbands more often than wives tend to be in control of the plans
    • although control was also related to the partner’s workload and income level

Adjustment to Retirement

  • Older adults who are best adjusted to retirement are highly involved in a variety of activities.
  • The group most satisfied with retirement maintained leisure and other non-work-related activities as sources of life satisfaction or replaced work with more satisfying activities.
    • They retired at a typical retirement age, had a wealth of resources to compensate for loss of work; they were married, in good health, and of high SES (Pinquart and Schindler, 2007)

Adjustment to Retirement (cont’d)

  • The second retiree group retired at a later age and tended to be female.
  • The majority of the third group retired at a younger age and tended to be male..
  • The second and third groups were not as satisfied with retirement; they were in poorer health, less likely to be married, and lower in socioeconomic status than the first group.
  • The third retiree group had a spotty employment record; retirement per se didn’t change these people’s lives in major ways.

Adjustment to Retirement (cont’d)

  • Adjustment of older retirees may be affected by their pre-retirement work identities
    • Upscale professional workers continued to be well-adjusted and had high self-esteem
    • They considered themselves retired professors or retired doctors or retired lawyers
  • Hourly wage earners and other blue collar workers had lower self-esteem and were more likely to think of themselves as simply a retired person.
  • The following factors made adjustment to retirement difficult:
    • a lengthy attachment to work
    • lack of control over the transition to retirement
    • worrying and lack of self-confidence

Leisure Activities and Retirement

  • Engaging in leisure activities is essential for retirees’ physical and psychological health.
  • Joint leisure activities contribute to satisfaction of marital and other intimate partners and to family well-being.
  • Contributing to civic activities or volunteering to assist in hospitals enhances retirees’ self-esteem and fosters feelings of self-efficacy.
  • If health remains good, leisure activities carry over from working days and may ease transition to retirement.
    • Physical aspects of aging and the death of companions with whom the retiree had shared leisure activities can force changes in choice of activities and diminish satisfaction.
  • Successful Aging

Successful Aging

  • Americans in their 70s report being generally satisfied with their lives.
  • Many older people are robust.
    • According to a national poll of some 1,600 adults by the Los Angeles Times, 75% of older people say they feel younger than their years (Stewart & Armet, 2000)
  • Definitions of successful aging
    • Physical activity, social contacts, self-rated good health
    • The absence of cognitive impairment and depression
    • Not smoking
    • The absence of disabilities and chronic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes
    • Another definition includes high cognitive functioning and high social networking

Selective Optimization with Compensation

  • Selective optimization with compensation
    • Older people manage to maximize their gains while minimizing their losses
  • Successful agers
    • form emotional goals that bring them satisfaction
    • no longer compete in arenas better left to younger people, such as certain athletic or business activities
    • tend to be optimistic
    • often challenge themselves by taking up new pursuits such as painting



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