Discuss one or more explanations of adjustments to old age (e.g. social disengagement theory) (24 marks)
During the course of the twentieth century we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of older people in most Western societies for a variety of reasons. As a result of this increase there has been great curiosity into how we adjust to the aging process which has led to various psychological explanations. One of which being the Social disengagement theory proposed by Cumming and Henry. The theory refers to the mutual withdrawal of the society from the individual and the individual from society. Some of the reasons are beyond their control, such as deaths of friends and family or children moving away from home. Also, many old people actively choose to disengage by spending more and more time on their own.
Support for this theory comes from Cumming and Henry who studied 50-90 year olds over a 5 year period. They found during this period that society withdraws from the individual, children leave home, and they retire from work and experience the death of partners and friends. At the same time they were likely to take part in fewer social activities, i.e. they start to withdraw from society. They concluded that this is a period mutual disengagement (as the theory describes).
These ideas were further developed by Cumming who explained the three aspects of disengagement. First there is a gradual shrinkage of the life space in older people because they occupy fewer roles meaning they interact with people less. Secondly, society comes to expect less of them. Finally, they come to accept these changes and choose to actively disengage from society as a way of coping with the external pressures such as reduced need by others, and internal pressures such as deteriorating health.
The first two aspects are more generally accepted but the third is more contentious. It has been argued that this process is in fact imposed on elderly people by others and...