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.
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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.
- 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 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.
This chapter begins with analysis of life-span development and life-course perspectives as applied to research on older adults and their families. It examines theories that are useful for guiding such research, thus yielding broader and deeper understanding of the ways older adults and their relatives negotiate family roles, responsibilities, and interactions in the context of both traditional and pluralistic family configurations. The chapter also examines the promise and problems associated with two key theoretical approaches that have been particularly effective in guiding family gerontology research in recent years, intergenerational solidarity and conflict, and intergenerational ambivalence. These approaches are strong in their own right and have the further advantage of linking well with life-span development and life-course perspectives. The chapter focuses on their theoretical tenets and principles, empirical applications, and strengths and limitations, with a critical assessment throughout. It considers theoretical and empirical directions for future research in family gerontology.
This chapter illustrates that aging in place is richer and more dynamic than simply understanding aging as loss and place as a static physical environment. The conceptual cornerstone of environmental gerontology is Lawton and Nahemow’s Ecological Model of Aging, otherwise known as the ‘competence-press model’ of aging. The concept of aging in place has evolved from the simple homeostatic notion of person-environment (P-E) fit to a more dynamic conceptualization that considers people, places, the programs they embody, constructive selective and accommodative processes, and the goals that motivate the entire enterprise, as they all evolve over time. The ecological framework of place (EFP) identifies a variety of factors that are hypothesized to affect P-E fit, including characteristics of individuals, places, and time.
This chapter discusses prismatic history a selective, select account of theory building in the field, which ideally stirs gerontological imaginations about future theoretical work. Several of gerontology’s founders promulgated or borrowed theories to guide research on aging. Based on work in pathology, cytology, and immunology, Metchnikoff formulated ‘phagocytosis‘, an interdisciplinary theory of aging hypothesizing that large intestinal white blood cells destroyed microbes that hastened premature senility in humans, apes, dogs, and plants; the construct anticipated various degenerative and wear-and-tear theories. Biologist Vincent Cristofalo, endorsing no unified biological theory of aging, reduced models into groupings of stochastic and developmental-genetic theories. Gerontologists demolished disengagement theory in Unripe Time. Not even a giant like Robert Havighurst could salvage parts of activity theory in order to sustain his pioneering theory of successful aging.
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.
This chapter focuses on three major areas of investigation into the role of religion and spirituality in older people’s lives: age differences in the nature of religious and spiritual belief and practice; health benefits that accrue to older people who profess a religious faith and engage in spiritual activities; and influences on social and intergenerational relationships and support resulting from membership of a faith tradition. Social gerontology’s recent concern with religion and spirituality in later life has had a relatively limited impact on theorizing about aging and social relationships. Hinduism is also widely regarded as an age-friendly religion, which ascribes a distinct more mature stage of being to the last stages of life, in preparation for the transition to a new life beyond death. The chapter concludes with a stress on the importance of conducting research on religion, spirituality, and aging in non-Western and non-Christian cultures.
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.