Environmental gerontology and the psychology of aging
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Environmental Gerontology and the Psychology of Aging. Hans-Werner Wahl Institute of Psychology, Department of Psychology Aging Research, University of Heidelberg Presentation on Workshop at CASE in Lund April 10-11, 2008. Pre-Warning.

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Environmental Gerontology and the Psychology of Aging

Hans-Werner Wahl

Institute of Psychology, Department of Psychology Aging Research, University of Heidelberg

Presentation on Workshop at CASE in Lund

April 10-11, 2008


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Pre-Warning

I have purposefully planned this lecture as a workshop contribution

That is:

  • I am going a bit global here and there

  • I am raising issues without the aspiration to provide final conceptual or empirical answers

  • I am taking the freedom to provide my view and this is hopefully seen as a stimulation and not as an unbalanced and egotistic perspective


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Outline

Why a consideration of environmental gerontology and the psychology of aging?

Ambition, goals and plan of attack of presentation

Perspective I: Making better use of psychology of aging principles in environmental gerontology

Perspective II: Making better use of environmental gerontology principles in the psychology of aging

Attempt towards conceptual integration

Suggestions for future research

Possible practical implications


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Why a Consideration of Environmental Gerontology and the Psychology of Aging?

Environmental Gerontology:

“The overarching aim of environmental gerontology is to describe, explain, and modify / optimize the relationship between the aging person and his/her socio-physical environment, a task accomplished within an interdisciplinary framework.”

(Wahl & Gitlin, 2007, p. 494)

 P X E

  • Behavior, Cognition

    and Emotion

Psychology of Aging:

“Behavioral processes of aging”; “…how behavior is organized and how it changes over the course of life.”

(Birren & Schaie, 2006, p. XVII); “…ecological view of aging, in which aging is seen as a result of diverse forces interacting.” (Birren, 2006, p. XV-XVI)


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Why a Consideration of Environmental Gerontology and the Psychology of Aging?

  • Society: Living the “new long live” as a major challenge for both environmental gerontology and psychology

  • Academia: Psychology had (has?) a major input on the emergence and unfolding of environmental gerontology

  • However: Environmental gerontology is still not well recognized by the psychology of aging, though “contextual issues” are en vogue in many spheres of the current psychology of aging

  • Examples: Cognitive aging; self-regulation and goal adjustment; selective optimization with compensation


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Environmental Gerontology Psychology of Aging?

(Focus on P X E)

Psychology of Aging

(Focus on Behavior,

Cognition, Emotion, and Development)

!

Ambitions, Goals and Plan of Attack of Presentation

  • To unfold predominantly a conceptual argument that the current environmental gerontology should take more profit from the psychology and aging – and vice versa

  • To consider the dynamics of aging both as a process of person-environment interrelations (see again: “ecological view of aging”; Birren, 2006, p. XV) as well as a developmental phenomenon deserving a life-span view


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Ambitions, Goals and Plan of Attack of Presentation Psychology of Aging?

  • To underline that psychology brings in a life-span development view, able to link person-environmental interrelations with aging as a highly individualized process

  • To underline that what environmental gerontology offers to the understanding of person-environmental interrelations is able to enrich life-span developmental concepts


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Plan of Attack of Presentation Psychology of Aging?

  • Begin with a selection of fundamental principles and concepts of the psychology of aging and developmental science and apply these to person-environment relations

  • Identify in exemplary manner concepts of environmental gerontology with the potential to infuse the psychology of aging and developmental science at large

  • Come up with a conceptual integration in order to delineate some of the synergies between both perspectives

  • Spell out some research and practice suggestions

  • Much is drawn from my collaboration with Frank Oswald!


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Perspective I: Making Better Use of Psychology of Aging Principles

  • Concept of human development – development as loss and gain  implications for the consideration of person-environment interrelations as people age

    [Baltes, 1987; Baltes, Lindenberger & Staudinger, 1998; Greve & Staudinger, 2006; Wahl et al., 2008]

  • Plasticity, reserve capacity, compensation and optimization  Think plasticity and related concepts of human development in person-environment terms

  • Great between-person differences as a result of life-long antecedents  Think heterogeneity of aging in person-environment terms; again: aging as a highly individualized process


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Perspective I: Making Better Use of Psychology of Aging Principles

  • Psychological resilience as among the major resources of development under constraints (such as advanced old age)  Role of person-environment interrelations

  • Multidimensionality and multidirectionality of aging  Should include some of the complexity of person-environment relations inherent in human aging

     Antecedences, processes, and outcomes of aging

     Empirical illustration with data from ENABLE-AGE Study


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A Closer Look at Multidirectionality in Very Old Age Principles

  • Data from the ENABLE-AGE Survey Study

    [Iwarsson, Wahl, Nygren, Oswald et al al., 2007]

  • Aggregation of Swedish and German Data

  • Cross-sectional (across age-groups 80-81 years; 82-83 years; 84-85 years; 86-87 years; 88-89 years) AND

  • Longitudinal (across the available one-year observation period from data collection 1 / 2002-2003)

  • N’s per age group between 94 and 163

  • Well-being related measures

  • Health and function related measures

  • Person-environment related measures


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Health and Function Related Measures Across Age Groups and Time

Functional Limitations (Housing Enabler)

ADL (ADL-Staircase)

IADL (ADL-Staircase)

Subjective Health (1-Item Rat. 1-5)


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Well-being Related Measures Across Age Groups and Time Time

Positive Affect (PANAS)

Negative Affect (PANAS)

General Life Satisfaction (1 Item Rat. 0-10)

Depression (GDS)


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Person-environment Related Measures Across Age Groups and Time

Accessibility (Housing Enabler)

Usability In My Home (Phys. Env. Aspects)

Usability In My Home (Activity Aspects)


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Interpretation and Conclusion Time

  • There is pronounced loss in objective functional resources as well as in the objective behavioral person-environment fit (accessibility) even in a rather short advanced aging window both cross-sectionally and longitudinally

  • Subjective evaluations in terms of perceived health, well-being and the perceived usability of one’s environment seem to reflect such loss only marginally

  • Challenges:

     Theoretically: The classic paradox of a pronounced discrepancy between objective and perceived age-related change should include the p-e sphere

     Practically: P-e related intervention has to cover both dimensions; challenge to avoid early / late intervention


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Perspective I: Making Better Use of Psychology of Aging Principles

Better understanding how well aging people are able to (reactively and proactively) regulate the aging self in context:

  • Goals and preferences in person-environment terms over the life course [Brandtstädter, 2006]

  • The complexities of a psychologicalcontrol as people age in a life-span view (reactivity, proactivity) [Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995; Lawton, 1989]

  • Improvement / optimization of person-environment fit as a multi-level phenomenon (social, physical, cultural /// objective and perceived) [Wahl & Lang, 2006]

  • Dealing with lack of person-environment fit as a natural and unavoidable occurrence of human aging [Baltes, 2006]


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Perspective II: Making Better Use of Environmental Gerontology Principles

To start with a classic:

The Competence-Press Model (CPM) as originally suggested by Lawton and Nahemow (1973)

(reproduced after Lawton, 2000, p. 191)


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A Partial Operationalization of the CPM Gerontology Principles

  • Data from the ENABLE-AGE Survey Study

    [Iwarsson, Wahl, Nygren, Oswald et al al., 2007]

  • Data from Germany, Sweden and Latvia

  • Only cross-sectional data (T1)

  • Competence operationalized as number of functional limitations ( Housing Enabler)

  • Environmental press operationalized as number of environmental barriers in the home ( Housing Enabler)

  • Median split in both measures

  • Positive affect ( PANAS)

  • Negative affect ( PANAS)


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Competence, Environmental Press and Positive Affect Gerontology Principles

Germany

Sweden

Latvia

 Tendency that low competent elders show more loss in positive affect under high environmental press; high competent elders feel better under high environmental press?


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Competence, Environmental Press and Negative Affect Gerontology Principles

Germany

Sweden

Latvia

 Tendency that less competent elders do not necessarily feel worse under high environmental press


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Interpretation and Conclusion Gerontology Principles

  • There is some support that environmental press, competence and positive affect are indeed related

  • Data are so far inconsistent regarding negative affect

  • Challenges:

     Theoretically: Environment reveals more impact on positive affect as people age?

     Practically: Home as a significant condition for the experience of positive affect, not so much as a trigger of negative affect?


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Perspective II: Making Better Use of Environmental Gerontology Principles

Better understanding how well aging people are able to regulate their environment in order to support the self:

  • Regulating environmental control and agency in person-environment terms over the life course [Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995; Wahl & Lang, 2006]

  • Environment as a major resource of aging well based on life-long internalization and familiarization [Rowles, 1983; Wahl & Oswald, in press]

  • Environment as a stimulating context for aging well [Wacker & Wahl, 2007]

  • Environment as a context for staying productive and exerting generativity [Staudinger, 2002]


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Attempts Toward Conceptual Integration Gerontology Principles

  • Attempt 1 toward better understanding and concept integration of person-environment interrelations (with a strong life span developmental focus)

     Model of Wahl & Oswald (most recently spelled out in Dannefer/Phillipson, Eds., in press, International Handbook of the Social Gerontology)

  • Attempt 2 toward better understanding of fundamental human motivations across the adult lifespan (with a strong person-environment focus)

     Model of Wahl & Lang (most recently spelled out in Conn, Ed., 2006, Handbook of Models of Human Aging)


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Attempts Toward Conceptual Integration Gerontology Principles

  • Attempt 3 toward better integration of environmental gerontology (through the lens of occupational therapy) and the psychology of aging

     Work of Wahl & Iwarsson (in Fernandez-Ballesteros, Ed., 2007, Geropsychology. European perspectives for an ageing world)


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Wahl & Oswald (in press) Gerontology Principles


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Wahl & Lang (2006) Gerontology Principles


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Wahl & Iwarsson (2007) Gerontology Principles

Why is collaboration between gero-psychology (GP) and occupational therapy (OT) a promising though still underused pathway for the treatment of p-e relations?

  • Emphasis is put on the physical environment as a still much neglected sphere in human aging research

  • ...but key concepts somewhat differ (e.g., OT: functional limitations, accessibility, activity; GP: psychological adaptation – goals, preferences, cognitions, emotions)

  • Need for a complementary understanding of person-environment transactions

  • Both GP and OT have added much to recent European contributions to environmental gerontology [Scheidt & Windley, 2006]


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Some Research Suggestions Gerontology Principles

  • Go for the long-term perspective, i.e., take a life-span view as strongly as possible, when it comes to the understanding of person-environmental interrelations  clearly see the limitations of a cross-sectional and static view approach regarding the p-e system

  • Always consider the multi-level character of the omnibus constructs of person and environment and person-environment interrelations Don’t interpret too much into a circumscribed and partial view on the p-e-system


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Some Research Suggestions Gerontology Principles

  • Acknowledge the paradox of aging as loss and gain also to be seen in the p-e system

  • Strive to understand how aging people are using the p-e- system in a variety of ways in order to stabilize their self

  • Don’t try to separate the objective from the perceived in understanding the p-e system


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Possible Practical Implications Gerontology Principles

  • Never do a p-e intervention without knowledge on life-span developmental issues related to the target person

  • Never do a p-e intervention without the consideration of multi-level impact in the short and longer run

  • Always keep in mind that aging persons are dealing in a variety of ways with their environments

  • Always keep in mind that environments have multiple meanings for aging persons

  • Never exaggerate the significance of the p-e system, but also never ignore the possibly fundamental role of the p-e system for human development, particularly in very old age



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