Adjustment and Age through the Eyes of Portuguese and English Community-Dwelling Older Adults

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INTRODUCTION

The proportional increase of the elderly in the population has emphasized the need for consideration of what it takes to live this phase of life with a sense of quality. Life expectancy for older adults in the UK has reached its highest level on record for both males and females, 78.1 years at birth for males and 82.1 years at birth for females (2008-2010). Within the UK, England has the highest life expectancy at birth, 78.4 years for males and 82.4 years for females. Moreover, the number of English centenarians in 2010 was estimated to be 12,640 (Office for National Statistics, 2011).

Portuguese older than 65 years of age account for 17.1% of the almost 11 million. The expected percentage of old people in Portugal in 2050 is 31% of the population (World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment Group, 2011). Moreover, Portugal has been showing systematically the highest rate of poverty in the EU, not only in the total population but also, and particularly, among the older population. According to estimates from Eurostat, in 1998 the rate of people at risk of poverty (defined as 60% of median equivalised income) among the Portuguese elderly was 34%, the third highest in the EU15. This is only surpassed by the UK with 40% and Greece with 36%. For that same year, the EU15 at risk of poverty rate was 20.5%. In fact, recent figures show that Portuguese elderly are very deprived, moreover, their social and psychological condition is mostly unknown (European Commission, 2003).

The scientific study of the development of individually and socially adaptive behavior constitutes the subject matter of the psychology of adjustment (Cattell, 1950; Havighurst & Albrecht, 1953; Shaffer, 1936; Williams, Tibbitts, & Donahue, 1966). Furthermore, a model that represented the nature of development and aging with the focus on adjustment was developed in more recent years (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Baltes & Carstensen, 1996).

Adjustment to aging (AtA) is a multi-dimensional function of the dynamic interaction of elements such as autonomy, control, self-acceptance, personal growth, positive social network, purpose in life (Bauer & McAdams, 2004; Keyes, Shmotkin & Ryff, 2002; Ryff, 1989; Slangen-Dekort, Midden, Aarts & Wagenberg, 2001; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005) that may vary with time, age, gender, race, culture, illness, financial status and society (Neri, Cachioni & Resende, 2002). Moreover, AtA is a relevant and proximate concept, yet distinct, from subjective well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith, 1999; Kesebir & Diener, 2010; Pavot & Diener, 2004) and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment Group, 1995), previously defined and validated in the gerontological literature. Additionally, the concept of successful aging includes a state of being or a process of continuous adjustment (Lewis, 2011). Growing evidence suggests that AtA should be a relevant key consideration for research and health practitioners to comprehend the implications of old age and longevity (Lohman, 1977; Slangen-Dekort et al., 2001; Staudinger & Kunzmann, 2005).

Being satisfied with one's own aging can reflect age identity and the operation of self-related processes that enhance well-being (Levy, 2003). Furthermore, there is consensus that positive self-perceptions of aging serve to sustain levels of social activity and engagement, enhance self-esteem and boost biophysiological functioning (Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn, Kotter-Gruhn & Smith, 2008; Stephan, Caudroit & Chalabaev, 2011). Distinctively from chronological age, subjective age is a multidimensional construct that indicates how old a person feels and into which age group a person categorizes him or herself (Barak, 2009; Barrett, 2005; Montepare, 2009). Previous research suggests that age contributed to a greater decline in aging satisfaction and an increase in the discrepancy of subjective age (Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn, Kotter-Gruhn & Smith, 2008). …