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- Go to chapter: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Personal Perspectives on Theory Development in Aging
This chapter provides a brief introduction to approaches to coping theory-from its early roots in psychodynamic defense mechanisms, through cognitive and personality approaches to coping styles, to more current work on coping and adaptive processes. The coping process approach recognizes that coping strategies are influenced not only by person characteristics such as personality, values, and developmental history but also by environmental demands and resources. The chapter develops a definition of ‘resilience’ as the ability to recognize, utilize, and develop or modify resources at the individual, community, and sociocultural levels in the service of three goal-related processes: maintenance of optimal functioning, given current limitations; development of a comfortable life structure; and development of a sense of purpose in life. A common assumption of life-span developmental theories is that the increasing physical and sometimes cognitive limitations with age necessitate changes in adaptive processes.
This chapter reviews biodemographic theories of aging that attempt to answer the proverbial ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions in gerontology. Biodemography of aging represents an area of research that integrates demographic and biological theory and methods and provides innovative tools for studies of aging and longevity. The historical development of the biodemography of aging is closely interwoven with the historical development of statistics, demography, and even the technical aspects of life insurance. The chapter also reviews some applications of reliability theory to the problem of biological aging. Reliability theory of aging provides theoretical arguments explaining the importance of early-life conditions in later-life health outcomes. Moreover, reliability theory helps evolutionary theories explain how the age of onset of diseases caused by deleterious mutations could be postponed to later ages during the evolution this could be easily achieved by simple increase in the initial redundancy levels.
This chapter describes the interpretive perspective in all its richness and variability in guiding research and advancing understanding of a wide range of phenomena in aging and life-course research. It discusses the interpretive perspective with other variants of social science theorizing, particularly normative perspectives on aging and life course-placing its development in historical context. The chapter addresses the contentious issue of causal explanation, as understood in diverse disciplinary contexts. It highlights some prominent normative theoretical approaches in social gerontology, by way of providing a comparative context for our primary consideration of the interpretive perspective. A given theoretical perspective in gerontology can focus solely on macro level, structural phenomena, on micro-level behavior and social interaction, or on understanding of the links between macro and micro phenomena.
This chapter traces the development of concepts and theories in the sociology of aging from the 1940s through the mid-1970s through seven themes. The first theme describes the importance of age in social structure and the place of the aged in changing societies. The second theme focuses on the issue of ‘successful aging’: how to define, measure, and achieve it. The third theme highlights the tension between social structure and individual agency in the activity versus disengagement theory controversy. The fourth theme concerns the social meanings of age, age cohorts, and generations, as well as interactions between age groups. The fifth theme focuses on families, aging, and intergenerational relations. The sixth theme of age stratification deals with the interplay between cohort succession and the aging of individuals. The seventh theme addresses the life course as a socially constructed process.
There can be little doubt that older people have today assumed a special place in the American social policy and political landscape. They constitute a large and growing population, they are increasingly well organized, and they are the recipients of public benefits that are the envy of every other social policy constituency in the nation. This chapter reviews and assesses different theoretical approaches that may help account in all or in part for these fairly recent and remarkable developments. The organization here centers on six distinct theoretical avenues for better understanding these political and policy developments: the logic of industrialization and policy development, the role of political culture and values, the presence of working-class mobilization, the impact of individual and group participation, the weight of state structure, and the effects of policy in shaping subsequent events.
- Go to chapter: Theories of Environmental Gerontology: Old and New Avenues for Person–Environmental Views of Aging
This chapter provides some integrative perspectives to some of the enduring conceptual challenges in the area, such as place dimension while we age; what available theories in the ecology of aging are telling us; and what kind of new impulses refinement in this area are needed. It argues that the current trend toward intensive measurement designs in the daily ecology and the related increasing use of ambulatory assessment, taking into account short-term, interindividual variability in areas such as cognitive and emotional functioning, and daily stress experiences, may benefit from environmental gerontology perspectives. As we see it, environmental gerontology rests on three main principles two more related to the concept level and one more related to research strategy: importance of person-environmental (P-E) transaction and developmental co-construction; importance of explicitly considering the environment, with a focus on the physical-spatial dimension; and importance of optimizing ecological validity in research.
The lifelong manifold process of aging implicates biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors that interact over time and across place in complex ways to direct and temporally organize the shapes and boundaries of lives. As such, aging is a long, broad, and deep process: long, because it occurs continuously across the life span; broad, because it continuously integrates diverse factors from across levels of observation; deep, because it is never fully and directly observable as an ongoing generative process. Over the last two decades, theory building in aging inequality has focused on defining the role of health in the aging process. Arguably, health is now the core metric of aging; the diverse and complex patterns of disease, disability, and mortality with age have become the central problem for aging researchers, especially those concerned with social inequality and its pervasive and enduring effects.
The general topic of successful aging (SA) has long been a major theme in gerontology and has been an especially prominent and growing aspect of gerontological research and program development over the past 25 years. This chapter focuses on substantial empirical research that builds on the general concept of SA to inform theory evolution and various forms of program development at the individual and community level. There has been very substantial theoretical work, over several decades, on the interrelated but differentiated dual approaches of the life-course and life-span perspectives on aging. Usual aging was seen as laden with risk of disease and disability mediated by lifestyle-related increased lipids, glucose, and blood pressure, and decreased renal, pulmonary, cardiac, immune, and central nervous system (CNS) function. A successfully aging society can be seen as one that is productive, cohesive, secure, and equitable.
Health promotion efforts will play a powerful role as we work to enhance function and reduce morbidity by intervening on modifiable risk factors such as physical activity (PA), inactivity, social engagement, and nutrition. This chapter examines the state of the art of theoretical foundations for health behavior change that are used to design and implement health promotion programs for older adults. The principles of social cognitive theory (SCT) have been used frequently in health behavior interventions. The chapter uses the ecological model as a guide to describe the level(s) targeted by each theory. It presents the most prominent multilevel approach, the social-ecological model. Recently, there has been a push toward broader ways of thinking about behavior change using structural approaches that target all levels of the social-ecological model. The chapter presents theories targeted at each level and argues for the use of multilevel interventions whenever possible.