Aging, Theory Development and Nursing Science

Article excerpt

The primary aim of science is to develop and test theory. Science deals with delimited events or phenomena and their interrelationships. The most accepted view of science is that its practitioners endeavor to make discoveries and advance knowledge for improving the human condition. An esteemed function of science is the establishment of laws, truths, and facts about the natural world. Scientific laws, truths, and facts connect knowledge of known events and enable predictions about unknown phenomena.

Nurses use the process of scientific inquiry in knowledge development. The process begins with a human activity known as an idea. Once subjected to sufficiently rigorous scientific scrutiny, an idea may eventually become a theory. Conceptualization is the first level of scientific inquiry. Conceptualization involves the use of concepts and conceptual schemes. In this issue, the central concept is aging. Authors address several topics, including successful aging, perceived stress of growing older, life expectancies, and post-stroke depression and functional status in elders.

Aging is a universal, gradual, and lifelong process. Factors, such as lifestyle, environment, and biology determine the length and quality of human life. Scientists face problems of an increasingly older population. With prolonged life expectancy in Western societies, there is a need to understand the aging process. Life expectancy changes, but life span remains constant. The maximum human life span is approximately 120 years. Potential to become a centenarian has always existed, but modern times produced more centenarians due to advances in nutrition, sanitation, medicine, and job safety. Using biographical data sources of a Nobel cohort of scientists, Cohen (2002) identified 35 centenarians. Only one lived before the 20th century; the other 34 became centenarians after 1964. Six had medical training. Three Nobel Prize-winning centenarians were pioneers in immunochemistry, sleep physiology, and neuroembryology.

People 85 years and older now make up 10% of older adults. By the year 2050, 56% of the U.S. population will be over 55 years of age, and 25% of these will be 65 and over (Cohen, 2002). Mahlman (2000) predicts that by the year 2050, the nature of music will be changed by computer technology. The production of sounds will determine one's definition of music, and advances in cognitive science will explain how brain waves can recreate musical sounds. Researchers at the University of Miami indicate strong positive relationships between music and general well being, physical strength, and psychological health (Mahlman, 2000). It is hypothesized that music will be the most important art fotm for older people in future decades.

Before the 20th century, men lived longer than women. This pattern reversed due to medical advances associated with reduction of deaths during pregnancy and childbirth. In the U.S., women live about seven years longer than men. Aging Americans are more ethnically diverse. Demographers observe great heterogeneity among older people (Pratt, Laney & Couper, 1994). Demographic differences predict incidence of chronic diseases.

Acute stroke, a medical emergency, constitutes a substantial healthcare burden with frequent complications. …