From Disengagement to Balance: The Journey to Positive Aging

 

Many of you reading this are not old enough to remember the disengagement theory. When I started out in gerontology in the 80s this was one of three theories of aging I learned about, and the most depressing.

The disengagement theory of aging states that “aging is an inevitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the aging person and others in the social system he belongs to”.[1]The theory claims that it is natural and acceptable for older adults to withdraw from society.[2]. . .

Disengagement theory was formulated by Cumming and Henry in 1961 in the book Growing Old, and it was the first theory of aging that social scientists developed.[5]Thus, this theory has historical significance in gerontology. Since then, it has faced strong criticism since the theory was proposed as innate, universal, and unidirectional.[6](Wikipedia)

Thank goodness there were two other theories that challenged disengagement theory: the activity theory and the continuity theory.

I mention the disengagement theory to show how negative attitudes surrounded the elderly from the inception of geriatrics as a medical specialty and how far we have come in understanding the aging process, which, of course, is not a-one-size-fits-all.

It’s been over 50 years since the disengagement theory first described aging. I am witness to the evolution of a more realistic description of the multifaceted components of growing old. I try to blog about uplifting examples of the latter stages of our lives.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about one of my favorite TV shows, Grace and Frankie,women in their 70s (at least when the show started), who are depicted in a positive light. Both are strong, independent, smart, creative and refuse to wear the stereotypical label of “old woman.” The show’s popularity delights me because I can envision an audience that not only enjoys the antics of the women but perhaps is learning that the inevitable losses of growing older are intertwined with pleasurable gains.

Then last week I re-blogged my friend Lois’ post about turning 77 after her husband’s recent death. Another positive take on aging even in the face of loss and grief. She closes her post with this observation: “I thank God for the countless blessings I experienced during this first birthday week of my solo life; there’s more fun to share . . .”

With this week’s post, I’m including a New York Times article about women in their 70s. Is it just me or have you also noticed that older women are getting more positive exposure?

Mary Pipher writes, “We (women in their 70s) can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.” Mary Pipher, “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s,”New York Times, 13 January. 2019: 10.

Pipher’s book, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” is now out in print. I intended to buy a copy.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “From Disengagement to Balance: The Journey to Positive Aging

  1. Lois Roelofs says:

    Memories. One of the papers I wrote for my prelims for my doctorate in 1990
    was to compare and contrast those three theories of aging. And here I am nearly 30 years later buzzing right along. No time for “disengagement”!

    Like

  2. Peter Stein says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the depressing disengagement theory of aging which I also studied in graduate school. It’s good to have more postive theoretical models to help us (women and men) understand the opportunities and joys of aging.

    Peter

    Like

    • Marianna Crane says:

      Yes, Peter, not only did you study the depressing disengagement theory as I did, you are a true involved-in-life example of an engaged older person that challenges the theory’s accuracy.

      Like

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