The assigned chapters are dedicated to the psychological theories of aging. More precisely, the chapters provide a comprehensive overview of theories of emotional well-being and aging, emotion-cognition links, social support, stereotypes, and terminal decline of functions. Overall, these readings clearly explain how to communicate with older adults, support them, and take care of them. Below, the present paper contains key insights retrieved from the third part of the Handbook of Theories of Aging.
The 11th chapter of the handbook discusses what older adults should do to adapt to their new status and various age-related losses. Charles and Hong (2016) introduce several theories, i.e., activity theory and continuity theory, the critical message of which is that older adults should remain active and keep on being engaged in similar activities as they did while being younger if possible. It is also immensely curious to notice that even though aging provokes cognitive decline, the well-being of older people still might be maintained on a high level (Charles & Hong, 2016). The explanation for this peculiar phenomenon lies in the substitution of the losses with emotional gains.
The same logic is emphasized by Ngo et al. (2016), the authors of the 12th chapter of the handbook. Similarly to Charles and Hong (2016), Ngo et al. (2016) argue that even though senior citizens commonly experience “more difficulty with executive function, working memory, and fluid cognitive processing,” they, nonetheless, could mitigate these losses through positive emotions and the optimistic worldview (p. 258). Overall, the central idea of these two chapters is that even though age-related changes in the brain are inevitable, aging adults should have an active lifestyle, affirmative worldview, and pay attention to strengthening their cognitive abilities.
While the 11th and 12th chapters focus on theoretical explanations of why positive attitudes and active lifestyle are essential for older people, the following chapter describes what could be done to achieve these outcomes. According to Uchino et al. (2016), for elderly people, it is crucial to maintain close relations with friends and relatives. Without a doubt, it is essential for every person, regardless of age, to have supportive people who can be trusted. Nevertheless, the need of the elderly generation for social support is much higher than that of young people. From this, it could be inferred that the quality of the aging process depends not only on the efforts of elderly adults per se. It also depends on the extent of involvement of their friends and relatives in their life and the strength of relations with them.
At the same time, it is reasonable to suggest that it is still hard for an older adult to tolerate aging despite the existing social support due to self-stereotypes related to this process. Undoubtedly, aging is characterized by the terminal decline of cognition and sensory, motor, physical, and psychological functions (Hulur et al., 2016). In addition to that, a person might experience an intense fear of death (Hulur et al., 2016). Nonetheless, these inevitable natural processes are not a reason to develop stereotypes on elderly adults. What is more, each person’s aging is unique because everyone has different life experiences, jobs, attitudes to life, and personality traits. As Meisner and Levy (2016) put it, there are positive and negative stereotypes of older people. That is, “older adults are often described as being friendly, good-natured, sincere” and, at the same time, people might treat them as “incapable, incompetent, unintelligent, and unskilled” (p. 311). Bias towards people of older age is a huge problem that severely affects their quality of life and prevents them from being satisfied with their lives.
In general, the primary purpose of the given section of the Handbook of Theories of Aging is to familiarize the audience with the major theories of aging and discuss various aspects of this process. The key insights gained from these five chapters are that it is tough for elderly adults to adapt to their new way of living and accept that they are becoming old. Society and relatives could help older adults mitigate the adverse effects of this process by escaping stereotypical thinking of them, being attentive to their needs, and being respectful of them.
Questioning of the Assumptions
The theories mentioned in the given section of the handbook are fundamental for the science of gerontology. Nevertheless, the authors criticize almost none of the approaches that they describe in their chapters. For instance, Charles and Hong (2016) claim that staying active is necessary for older adults by referring to the activity theory of aging. However, it is essential to notice that this theory has several disadvantages. For example, it fails to explain how to treat older people that do not want to try new activities or keep doing the previous ones. In addition to that, health and socioeconomic conditions might also prevent adults from being active. This way, it is necessary to explain how to persuade such adults to keep on having an active lifestyle and being engaged in hobbies.
The discussion of the role of social support in the aging process also causes some concerns. For example, Uchino et al. (2016) write that social support is an essential instrument that helps older adults stay positive and active and maintain high self-esteem. At the same time, it is possible to suggest that, in some cases, support might be harmful to aged people. Excessive support might make them realize their weakness and physical fragility, reinforce worries and strengthen stereotypes on aging.
Charles, S. T. & Hong, J. (2016). Chapter 11: Theories of emotional well-being and aging. In V. Bengston & R. Settersten (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging (pp. 235-257). Springer Publishing Co.
Hulur, G., Ram, N., & Gerstorf, D. (2016). Chapter 15: Terminal decline of function. In V. Bengston & R. Settersten (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging (pp. 330-356). Springer Publishing Co.
Meisner, B. A. & Levy, B. R. (2016). Chapter 14: Age stereotypes’ influence on health: Stereotype embodiment theory. In V. Bengston & R. Settersten (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging (pp. 310-329). Springer Publishing Co.
Ngo, N., Sands, M., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2016). Chapter 12: Emotion–cognition links in aging: Theories and evidence. In V. Bengston & R. Settersten (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging (pp. 258-282). Springer Publishing Co.
Uchino, B. N., Ong, A. D., Queen, T. L., & Kent de Grey, R. G. (2016). Chapter 13: Theories of social support in health and aging. In V. Bengston & R. Settersten (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Aging (pp. 283-309). Springer Publishing Co.