Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Continuity Theory of Normal Aging

The Continuity Theory is also known as the Developmental Theory (Neugarten, 1964). In spite of the aging process, personality and basic patterns of behavior are considered to be constant in the individual. Indeed, patterns and activity levels developed over a lifetime will largely determine whether an individual remains engaged and active or becomes disengaged and inactive as they age. For example, an activist at the age of 20 will most likely be an activist at 70; whereas a young inactive person will most likely be relatively inactive in mainstream society as they age. Aging is a complex process. The Continuity Theory encourages young people to consider their current activities as a foundation for their own future aging process.

Continuity Theory Overview
The continuity theory of aging relates that personality, values, morals, preferences, role activity, and basic patterns of behavior are consistent throughout the life span, regardless of the life changes one encounters. This theory builds upon and modifies the activity theory. Unlike the other sociological theories, like disengagement theory and activity theory, the continuity theory offers the backdrop of life perspective to describe normal aging. The latter part of life is simply a continuation of the earlier part of life, a component of the entire life cycle.

Continuity theory presumes that most people learn continuously from their life experiences and intentionally continue to grow and evolve in directions of their own choosing. This is a general theory that attempts to explain why continuity of ideas and lifestyles is central to the process of adult development in midlife and later and why continuity is such a common strategy for coping with changes in middle and later life.

For instance, a garrulous extrovert at 25 years of age will most likely be a social butterfly at 70 years of age; whereas a laconic, withdrawn young person will probably remain reclusive as he ages. In fact, personality traits often become more entrenched with age.

Patterns developed over a lifetime determine behavior, traditions, and beliefs in old age. Past coping strategies recur as older adults adjust to the challenges of aging and facing death. Successful methods used throughout life for adjusting to situational and maturational stressors are repeated.

Aging is a complex process, and the continuity theory explores these complexities to a greater extent than the other sociological theories, and within a holistic framework. Aspects of aging are studied in regards to their relation to other aspects of human life. It encourages young people to consider that their current behaviors are laying the foundation for their own future old age. What one becomes in late life is a product of a lifetime of personal choices.

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Continuity Theory Elements
Continuity Theory involves four main elements: internal structure, external structure, goal setting, and maintaining adaptive capacity.

Internal structure. The ideas, mental skills, and information stored in the mind, are organized into loose structures such as self-concept, personal goals, world-view, life philosophy, moral framework, attitudes, values, beliefs, knowledge, skills, temperament, preferences, and coping strategies. These general structures represent different dimensions that, when combined, form a unique whole that distinguishes one person from another. In making life choices, people are strongly motivated to maintain the inner structures that represent their personality.

External structure. Social roles, activities, relationships, living environments, and geographic locations are also well organized in an individual mind. By middle age, most adults have unique and well-mapped external life structures or lifestyles, which differentiate each person from others. Most people attempt to set priorities and reach the fullest personal satisfaction from their life, perceiving their evolving life structure as important source of social security.

Goal Setting. Continuity theory assumes that adult individual have the particular goals they striving to reach. All social development goals are strongly influenced by both socialization and particular location in the social structure – family ties, gender, social class, organizational environment, but these goals are affected by individual life experience, which might fit the environment, or might be a valuable addition to.

Maintaining Adaptive Capacity. In the process of lifetime development, individuals are elaborating the definite understanding on what gives them the best satisfaction in life, and they tend to refine external life structure to complement their internal characteristics. Aging person, while trying to adapt to the environment and personal changes, are motivated to continue to use the internal and external patterns they have developed all their life.

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Criticisms and weaknesses
The major criticism for the theory is its definition of normal aging. The theory distinguishes normal aging from pathological aging, neglecting the older adults with chronic illness.
The feminist theories also attack the continuity theory for defining normal aging around a male model.
Another weakness of the theory is that it fails to demonstrate how social institutions impact the individuals and the way they age.

Sources and Additional Information:
The Encyclopedia of Aging by Richard Schulz


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