Triumphs and Challenges in Healthy Aging
- Stacey Obispo
Everyone has got a story. Your story along with everyone else’s’ develops as you advance through life. Research theorist have studied the stories of different people and have concluded that a persons’ story develops based on; their personal characteristics, the environment in which they live, time, relationships that they have, life transitions encountered and social change (Hutchinson, 2010). The life course perspective looks at how age, life transitions, relationships and social change has formed people’s lives from birth to death (Hutchinson). Encompassing one’s life course perspective is a path full of twists and turns followed by triumphs and challenges aging brings. In this issue of Healthy Aging, an interview with Crista Doe is shared with readers to show has her her life course perspective has developed thus far and how activity and disengagement theories in aging fair in explaining her level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with aging.
Interview with Crista Doe
Crista Doe is a 75 years old woman living in Lake Elsinore, CA. She is a widowed lesbian who lost her partner of 50 years 5 years ago. Currently, Crista lives by herself in a modest one story cottage style home.
Crista retired at the age of 65 as a records administrator. She was employed by the State of California. She chose retirement at 65 so that she could be a fulltime caregiver for her ailing wife at the time.
Now that Crista has reached her later years, she enjoys gardening and being a member of the Reptile Society. However, Crista’s physical disabilities have kept her from gardening as frequently as she would like and from being an active member (one that goes to road shows and schools educating the public about reptiles) of the Reptile Society.
Crista does not relate to her younger and only surviving family member. She has little to no relationship with her nephew because she never had a good relationship with her nephew’s mother (her sister) growing up. As a result of her failing relationship with her sister she distanced herself from her and her nephew. Crista is the younger of two sisters. Her sisters were 15 and 16 years older than she, both have passed away.
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Historical change that impacted Crista’s life was WWII. Crista was born and raised in Germany during WWII. She never saw daylight until she was five years old because she and her family lived in underground bunkers and could only come out during nightfall. Her dad was a Nazi army sergeant in Germany. He did not want his position or role in the army but felt that he had no choice but to serve. Crista’s dad and family were Mormons but out of fear of death they never revealed their beliefs to officials. At the age of 5, frequent bombings from the allied forces during the day forced Crista to run out of her bunker. She vividly remembers an American pilot flying low and looking at her then firing. At the time she was able to get cover but debris flying from the air caused by the firing left her scathed. As a result from the attack; she received a back injury and partial hearing loss. Soon after the attack, her dad surrendered to allied forces and was executed. After the war ended, Crista entered into adolescence and along with her mom, and sisters left Germany to live in the U.S.
Crista says she had little to no socialization when she lived in Germany. She felt that her socialization process began in her adolescence in the U.S. However she encountered problems at school with students and staff. When she entered High School she dropped out soon after because she was angry. She was angry about the way history books retold stories about the war and how others believed it without question. Crista said, “The books did not paint an accurate picture as to what happened in the war. I know it because I lived in it”. Crista had an unstable home life due to her mother’s inability to keep a job and support her financially. Crista ended up living with the older sister she got along with and began taking dance lessons to alleviate the pain from her back issues. During this time Crista was able to develop friendships with other dancers.
Health challenges Crista has encountered includes spinal injury, a broken hip, and hearing loss. Crista states that her health challenges have been a combination of both environment and age. Her spinal injury has gotten worse and her hip although healed from its break 4 years ago still does not work like it used to. Crista says that her spine, hip, and overall health has deteriorated more since her wife died. As a result of her health issues Crista now gets around using two canes in the house and a walker when she’s out on the street. The last thing Crista anticipates in this stage of her life is death. She says she senses that her end is coming soon.
Crista has not experienced any changes in her living arrangements over the last five years. She says she does not plan on making any either. Crista does admit that she has some problems keeping up with the housekeeping but says she’s fine and does not want anyone’s help. Crista says, “I should be able to do all the things around this house myself, I do not need anybody and I am keeping it that way.”
Crista’s has negative feelings about getting older. She says her deteriorating health has taken her away from accomplishing the things that she wants to accomplish and from the things she enjoys. Crista says she feels sad and depressed a lot of her time.
Crista believes that her life experiences in Germany have really contributed to her wisdom. She believes that her experiences in Germany taught her how to keep on living and survive. She feels that her life experiences with her wife of 50 years really contributed towards her gaining wisdom about love.
Crista’s one piece of advice that she would like to share about aging, “Life is beautiful, but health has major effects on being able to enjoy that beauty”. Crista explains that aging is not bad. Rather, it is the complications that accompany it that make it difficult.
Activity Theory and Crista
Activity theory views older adults as being most satisfied if they are able to remain in their social roles (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). Essentially under this theory, successful aging equals’ active aging and activity is shown through maintaining active roles in society (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). This theory suggests that older adults should be given as many opportunities as possible to be engaged with work, family and community to encounter higher levels of life satisfaction (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014).
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Crista does not fit all the criteria for successful aging under activity theory because her social roles have lessened not from lack of desire but from lack of physical mobility and deaths of family members. Crista’s familial social roles are non –existent due to the deaths of her sisters, mother, and lack of communication with her estranged nephew. Crista’s social ties with work have been cut since retirement. On the other hand, Crista is successfully aging under activity theory profile because she has a part-time role in the Reptile Society and she is active with taking care of her home. Crista feels sad and depressed a lot of the time because she has lost some of her mobility and stamina for doing the things she once loved. Under activity theory it would be assumed that Crista has lost a major source of her identity due to losing her social roles such as work and family (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). Her deteriorating health has prohibited her from reengaging in new work roles. She is not engaged socially with family since she lost her life partner and family. Activity theory explains her joy with staying connected with the Reptile Society and her feelings for being sad and depressed because of her lack of engagement in the roles of work and family.
Disengagement Theory and Crista
Disengagement theory states that normal and natural evolution of life causes older adults to purposefully loosen their social ties (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). This type of natural detachment is not just inevitable but desirable (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). The theory asserts that aging is accompanied by a mutual withdrawal process of the individual and society (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014).
Crista did not purposefully loosen her social ties. Her physical disabilities have altered her ability to stay as socially active as she would like with the Reptile Society. Her personal social ties to family have been cut due to familial death and to assert that she has cut her nephew off due to her age would be an incorrect assertion because there was never a true social connection or relationship she had with him. Under the approach of disengagement theory retirement and isolation from family members are sought out for higher levels of being (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). A lot of the time Crista is sad and depressed. Successful aging under disengagement theory states that Crista should be having a higher level of well-being due to disengagement. However considering her circumstances, she is not experiencing a higher level of well-being. Furthermore, disengagement theory does not explain Crista’s current engagement with community through participating as a part- time member with the Reptile society. Disengagement theory should add that older adults do still desire to be active yet it is their physical limitations and family related deaths that contribute towards the disengaging process. The disengagement process therefore is not sought out by the individual nor does it make them more content it’s a natural evolution that occurs due to life events.
There are triumphs and challenges that accompany aging. Crista’s story shows that throughout her life course, she has found both adversity and happiness and they have shaped her into the independent and head strong lady that she is today. As Crista has entered her later years her health and social ties have influenced and the impacted her feelings of satisfaction with life. Crista fits the criteria set for satisfaction/ dissatisfaction under activity theory. Conversely, disengagement theory does not explain her current level of being. Understanding the different theoretical perspectives mentioned in this article can help one make sense of their distinctive life journey and in some situations, it may be possible that this knowledge can be used to help improve ones’ present-day circumstances.
Hutchinson, E. D. (2010). A life course perspective. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/hutchisonclc4e/study/chapter.htm
Whitbourne, S.K., & Whitbourne, S.B. (2014). Adult development and aging: Biopsychosocial perspectives (5th ed.) Hoboken, NJ Wiley.
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