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Psychosocial Theories of Aging

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

People approach late adulthood and the process of healthy aging in different ways. Explore the three most common psychosocial theories about aging, including the disengagement, activity, and continuity theories. Updated: 10/01/2021

Late Adulthood

Mitchell, Josie, and Maxine all live down the hall from each other in a senior living facility. But their experience in the facility is very different. Mitchell does things the way he's always done them, the way he did them when he was in his own house. He gets up in the morning and reads his paper, drinks orange juice with his cereal, and then settles in to read a book or play a board game with friends.

Maxine is different, though. She's so excited about all the activities at the senior center that she loves to participate in all sorts of things. She takes computer classes several days a week and dancing lessons in the afternoons. Last week she participated in a chess tournament and once a week she goes to a pottery class. Her life is busier now than it's ever been.

Josie, though, is not nearly as active as either Mitchell or Maxine. She spends most of her days reading or watching TV on her own. She doesn't really get out and socialize, instead preferring the quiet of her own quarters. She's not depressed; she just really enjoys the peace and quiet of being alone.

Mitchell, Josie, and Maxine are all in late adulthood, which is the time of life after age 65. During this time, many people find that their lives change as they retire, watch their kids move out on their own, and perhaps move into a senior living facility like Mitchell, Josie, and Maxine. But what's the healthy way to approach late adulthood? How do people age? Let's look at three major psychosocial theories - that is, psychological theories that deal with sociability - that try to explain what healthy aging looks like.

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  • 0:01 Late Adulthood
  • 1:45 Disengagement Theory
  • 3:12 Activity Theory
  • 4:14 Continuity Theory
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Disengagement Theory

When Josie was younger, she was very busy. As she raised her kids, she was president of the PTA, assistant coach for her daughter's soccer team, and on the fundraising board for the local library. Not only that, she frequently held dinner parties for her friends and her husband's work colleagues. Every day was jam-packed! Now, though, she likes being able to withdraw and spend her days in a quiet, lazy fashion. Some days she doesn't even see anyone else because she's just enjoying her time in her room, reading or watching TV alone.

The disengagement theory of aging says that it is normal and healthy for older adults to withdraw from society. As people age, they begin to prepare themselves emotionally for death. The disengagement theory says that one of the ways that this happens is through a gradual withdrawal from society. Essentially, it's in the name of the theory: they are disengaging from society. Of course, withdrawal can also be a symptom of depression and other issues, but proponents of the disengagement theory point out that the withdrawal, as a normal part of aging, happens slowly over years, whereas depressive withdrawal tends to happen more rapidly. Still, not everyone agrees with the idea that withdrawal is healthy. Let's look at two other psychosocial theories of aging and how they contrast with the disengagement theory.

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