The world is evolving.
Technology is thriving. Health resources are expanding. All of which contribute
to the increasing numbers of elders accounted for in today’s population. Touhy
and Jett (2016) state that “in 2050 the number of persons older than 60
worldwide is expected to more than double from 2010” (p. 2).2 With that being
said, many attempts have been made to describe the aging process. The roles of
an individual change as they grow older. Rather than viewing successful aging
as a goal to remain young through staying active, wealthy, productive, and
social, Dr. Tornstam brought forth a theory in which “people should surrender
their youthful identity in order to achieve true maturity and wisdom” (Messerly,
2017, para. 8). Tornstam conducted a qualitative experiment study that involved
interviewing 50 individuals between the ages of 52 and 97. The idea of
continuing one’s development into the older ages of life caught this groups
attention and they were eager to experience such development in their own life.
This psychosocial theory, otherwise known as the gerotranscendence theory, describes
a positive natural aging process towards sophistication and evolution.
Aging is oftentimes viewed through a negative perspective;
wrinkles become frowned upon, saggy skin becomes unappealing, and there is constant
fear about death. However, the “gerotranscendence theory
proposes that a person’s worldview can stay positive, even as it shifts” (Gerotranscendence,
2017, para. 9). There are three different dimensions associated with the
changes of perception: the cosmic dimension, the social and personal relationships
dimension, and the self-dimension. Actions such as connecting with earlier
generations, acceptance of life’s mysteries, joy over small things, redefinition
of time, acknowledgment of nature, and a decreased fear of death all contribute
to the cosmic dimension. The social and personal relationships dimension
focuses on the decreased interest to remain in control and an increased concern
towards other individuals. As aging occurs, the individual may begin to lose
close friends that can push them to “deepen their relationship with
an inner self and enjoy the silence” (Gerotranscendence, 2017, para. 10) from
their own company. The
social roles become less important and only a few friendships are needed. The self-dimension
is centered around a lessened interest of the individual’s physical looks and
material items, and an expanded interest to understand their own self as a
whole. The gerotranscendent person experiences a redefinition of time and
space, of relationships with others, and of their own self.
Not everyone will fully achieve gerotranscendence as they
age. Tornstam acknowledged some obstacles that may interfere with the
transformation to gerotranscendence in the second half of life. The first one
is job preoccupation, otherwise known as ego differentiation. Tamari (2013) states
that “some people are able to reorient their lives in a
way such that their identity is no longer dependent on their earlier work role”
(para. 10). Those people have other important activities that replace the time
spent working while some find it hard to let go of their career. The second
obstacle is body preoccupation. This is when the individual has trouble letting
go of their changing body conditions, whereas “gerotranscenders care about
their bodies, but transcend identifying with it” (Messerly, 2017, para. 10).
The third obstacle identified by Tornstam is ego preoccupation. Similar to that
of the body, an individual’s character transcends as well and some struggle
with letting go of their previous ego. This obstacle, if overcome, “can induce
an acceptance of death” (Tamari, 2013, para. 12). As one becomes aware of their
changes by letting go of some things in the past, they may find themselves in
the gerotransendence stage of life.
Although there is considerable
indication that gerotranscendence is a part of successful aging, there are some
weaknesses associated with the theory. There is no precise definition for
Tornstam’s aging theory; it is described through observations and individual
backgrounds. In addition, this theory focuses on the older aged individuals.
That develops a problem in the fact that people of all ages are experiencing the
aging process. Another weakness is that gerotranscendence
is considered “from an individual perspective without much consideration of the
social and biological factors that influence successful aging” (Messerly, 2017,
para. 11). An individual may already have a positive view on their life and
what is to come and the question as to how they embrace even more positivity
arises. Even though some limitations occur, gerotranscendence provides explanation
about the changing perspectives throughout the aging process.
There are many theorists that
try to define and describe the aging process of human beings. Change is hard to come by and can oftentimes be considered a
negative trait in life. It is effortless to stay the same. “The goal of
Gerotranscendence theory is to provide caregivers and the elderly with an
explanation of why perspectives change” (Gerotranscendence, 2017, para. 16). In
doing so, individuals will have a better understanding of the world all together.
As older populations continue to advance in today’s society, the gerotransendence
theory will have an increasingly high impact on how aging should be