Theories of Aging
Within this essay, I will be discussing 2 theories of aging and these affect people sociologically. The two theories that I will be discussing are the Disengagement theory and the Activity theory. The activity theory is when people are actively involved with others in their social circle which means that they will be more satisfied with their life. The disengagement theory is when people naturally withdraw from social involvement as they grow older. The sociological theory focuses on how a person engages with the society around them and their attitudes towards them.
The Disengagement theory was developed by social scientists; Elaine Cumming and Warren Earl Henry in their 1961 book Growing Old. In Growing Old, Cumming and Henry developed an argument about why older adults would naturally disengage from society (Courses.lumenlearning.com, 2018). Their book, (Cumming and Henry, 1961.), explained 9 theories to explain why it is rational for individuals who know that they are at the end of their life death and who have seen friends of their age pass begin to anticipate their own deaths and disengage. As People get older they tend to disengage from society as they may become more housebound as their mobility could become more restricted (Courses.lumenlearning.com, 2018). Another reason would be that as people get older their friendship and social circle reduces due to illness, death or relocation; therefore, there are fewer reasons for older people to go out and socialise.
Functionalists believe that everyone expects to die at the end of their life, this is one reason that older people disengage from society as they are slowly losing friends. Interacting with other people help the individual to stay connected with society without having interacted with other people they become isolated this is a circular or self-perpetuating process. An Individual’s ego change over time, this can cause skills to deteriorate. Functionalists believe that disengaging from society is a natural part of the aging process, this can explain why older people retire from work as they step down from their job to make way for the next generation, this helps serve a useful function for the wider society. Disengagement theory claims that it is natural and acceptable for older adults to withdraw from society and personal relationships as they age. Disengagement happens when the individual and society are ready for this to happen, a disjunction between the two will occur when one is ready but not the other.
Functionalists believe that if an individual abandons their role than then and adopt the new social role. Men tend to focus on work and traditionally women focus on marriage and family, this suggests that when they withdraw from society then they won’t be happy and will be directionless until they adopt a role to replace their familiar role that is compatible with the disengaged state (Cummings and Henry 1961). Individuals that recognise that their lifespan and requirements of the rational-legal professional system in a comfortable society; the nature of the nuclear family; and the differential death rate. Fewer interactions from central roles can lead to the relationships in the remaining roles to change; this, in turn, creates a more diverse environment. Criticisms typically focus on the application of the idea that seniors universally naturally withdraw from society as they age, and that it does not allow for a wide variation in the way people experience aging (Hothschild 1975).
The Activity Theory of aging proposes that the older adults are happiest when they stay active and maintain social interactions. The theory was developed by Robert J. Havighurst as a response to the disengagement theory of aging. The disengagement model suggests that it is natural for the elderly to disengage from society as they realise they are close to death. The disengagement model suggests that it is natural for the elderly to disengage from society as they realize that they are ever nearer to death. However, withdrawing from their central societal roles like working, marriage, raising a family this means they drastically lose social life space and so suffer crisis and demoralization.
Activity theory proposes that successful aging can occur when older adults stay active and maintain social interactions; this theory suggests that older adults are happiest when they stay active and maintain social interactions; this theory was in a response to the disengagement theory of aging. The theory suggests that successful aging occurs when adults stay active and maintain social interaction. According to the Activity theory, the levels that individuals are interacting with each other and getting involved in the key process is the key to happiness (Havinghurst 1961; Neugarten 1964; Havinghurst, Neugarten, and Tobin 1968). The theory suggests that the more active and involved the individual is then the happier they will be, the access to social opportunities and activities are not equally available with creates some limitations within the theory. There is also another limitation of this theory as not everyone finds it fulling to participate in activities as some older people might view doing certain activities as boring and tiresome. Reformulations of this theory suggest that participation in easy activities, like for example hobbies that the individual enjoys doing can affect them later life satisfaction (Lemon, Bengtson, and Petersen 1972).
Interacting with activities, especially when the individual has experience doing it can help replace the feeling of loss as they will have something to do to replace the role they have just lost, an example of this is when a person retires they tend to replace their daily routine with distractions to help them still feel connected to society. The theory suggests a positive relationship between staying active and being happy, it reflects that the functionalist perspective that the balance that an individual develops in middle age should be maintained in later years. The theory assumes that older adults face role loss will substitute former roles with other alternatives.
Critics of the activity theory state that the theory overlooks inequalities within the health and economic sector as it displays that older individual can engage with activities and does out into consideration any challenges or implications that may occur. Research can suggest that the activity model is more accurate than the disengagement model as not only does it benefit society but the older people both mentally and physically as it allows them to socialise with other people, this can increase self-worth and increase the importance of happiness.
There are many advantages of having an understanding of the Ageing theories within society can be very beneficial as having the knowledge and understanding of the two theories, disengagement and activity theory, can help me to apply the theories to real life. It helps to change other people’s perception of older people. The understanding of the disengagement theory can also help to identify who may be disengaged from society and can help identify client’s needs. Considering both theories older people shouldn’t be active as some people may have physical disabilities or might not want to join in. Older people are more than likely to be active in more of a mental capacity than a physical way. In the majority of care homes have an activity coordinator which helps to keep older people active and engaged in their little community in the care home, which will help provide opportunities for individuals to maintain for their lives and remain as active as they want. Considering all the above a positive influence on the elderly people and care provisions would be introduced diverse activities in which everyone can join in. Activity co-ordinators are important for the care home to achieve dementia quality standards for social care set by National Institute for health and social came excellence. Providing activities for older people to continue to participate is an essential part of government policy whatever the people’s age, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religious need. Being able to involve and participate with activities is it helps us to see the benefits on the elderly e.g. physical and emotional. Providing a quality service that meets all individual needs.
Courses.lumenlearning.com. (2018). The Functionalist Perspective on Aging | Boundless Sociology. online Available at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/the-functionalist-perspective-on-aging/ Accessed 8 May 2018.
Growing Old, by Cumming and Henry, (1961)
Havinghurst, Robert, Bernice Neugarten, and Sheldon Tobin. 1968. “Patterns of Aging.” Pp. 161–172 in Middle Age and Aging, edited by B. Neugarten. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Hothschild, Arlie. 1975. “Disengagement Theory: A Critique and Proposal.” American Sociological Review 40:563–569.
Lemon, B., V. Bengtson, and J. Petersen. 1972. “An Exploration of the Activity Theory of Aging: Activity Types and Life Expectation among In-Movers to a Retirement Community.” Journal of Gerontology 27:511–23.