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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 introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on theoretical and conceptual developments in research on aging, both within and across disciplines. Recent years have brought major investments in longitudinal data, investments essential to understanding aging as a dynamic, multifaceted, and interactive process. The book summarizes what is meant by theory, and why theory is so important to advancing aging-related research, policy, practice, and intervention. The theory portrays the relationships among the complex variables suggested by a theory. A good theory identifies the problem and its most important components based on the separate findings and empirical generalizations from research. As the field of gerontology and research on aging continue to rapidly expand, the need for a strong theory will only grow.
Gerontology has an uneasy and codependent relationship with chronological age. This chapter describes the meanings and uses of age in research on aging, focusing mainly on concepts and theories but also making a few observations on methods. To advance theories of social phenomena, investigators must reveal the relevance and irrelevance of age in contemporary social life. Researchers often use age as a proxy for things that are highly age-related but have not been measured-say, some biological, psychological, or social aspect of development. Age-based explanations are about maturation, but cohort-based explanations are about historical events and social change. Larger life phases can be the basis for ageism and age stereotypes-common images or perceptions of people of different ages, and their physical, psychological, and social characteristics. Stereotype embodiment theory (SET) has advanced recent research on ageism and age stereotypes.
This chapter discusses prominent theoretical models that link age-related changes in emotional processes with changes in cognition. It also discusses the dynamic integration theory (DIT), which outline how older adults may optimize emotional experience to compensate for reduced affective complexity resulting from declines in fluid cognitive processing. The chapter evaluates the current evidence for and the potential contributions of these theories. It introduces neuroscientific perspectives and reviews how these perspectives interpret age-associated changes in the brain in terms of cognitive-emotional processing. Aging Brain model (ABM) and DIT, therefore, provide more neurologically based explanations for age-related changes in emotional processing, whereas socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) postulates motivation as the cause of such changes. Another theory that might be relevant to the aging literature is the arousal competition biased theory, which posits that the affective state of the perceiver may also play a role in the salience of information.
- Go to chapter: Theories of Help-Seeking Behavior: Understanding Community Service Use by Older Adults
This chapter focuses on the prominent psychosocial theories and models used to predict service utilization. It begins with a discussion of Andersen’s Behavioral Model of Health Services, the most commonly used framework for predicting formal service use among older adults. The need-use gap has been documented in use of mental health services, home and community-based services (HCBS) among non-Whites, among caregivers of older adults, and in the use of adult day care, respite care, personal care, meals, and transportation services. The chapter focuses on help-seeking behavior models that were not necessarily developed for or frequently used with older populations, but have the potential for enhancing the study of service use in late life. Developing new theories and further elaborating and testing existing models are essential for unraveling the use-need paradox and helping reduce the barriers to programs and services that, when accessed, can contribute to increased well-being of older adults.
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.
Scholars studying social connectedness draw on the sociological theory of social capital. In recent years, social scientists have proposed theoretical and conceptual models to explore the role of social connectedness in the specific context of aging. Recent data on the social networks of older adults paint a rich picture of the individual, or egocentric, social networks of the elderly community-dwelling population. This chapter discusses the theory of social capital, and explores the main effects and stress-buffering models of social connectedness and health. Although social capital theory has effectively guided empirical research, new ideas and concepts in aging research are generating interest among scholars, and are taking the field in innovative directions. A series of studies based on the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study (NAS), an ongoing study of aging established in 1963, documents a relationship between air pollution and various health conditions such as increased blood pressure and inflammation.