Transformative Aging: How Mature Adults Respond to Growing Older

By Walker, Charles A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Transformative Aging: How Mature Adults Respond to Growing Older


Walker, Charles A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


Abstract: Transformative aging is the developmental plasticity, or resilience, that enables humans to deal with confusing pain and loss, contend with uncertainty, and create wholeness from the fragmentation that characterizes modern life. The stress of growing older is a catalyst for transformation. In this study, older age and mastery predict self-transcendence. Women exhibit better adjustment to life transitions, such as aging; women are more likely than men to acknowledge their Stressors and compatibly co-exist with them. Mature adults endorse acceptance (or mastery of the self) as a paradoxical tension that enlivens and stabilizes the experience of transformative aging. Assessing mastery of stress and self-transcendence among mature adults provides a baseline for meeting their health-related needs.

Key Words: Mastery of Stress, Self-Transcendence, Human Development

While scientific advances and modern technology during the twentieth century extended the average life span, they also promulgated chronic illnesses among mature adults. Consequently, gerontological research became a national priority. Nurse scientists identify specific research areas that reflect the expanding health care needs of mature adults, including continuity of care, age-sensitive assessment, and long-term services (Cacchione, 2002; Magilvy & Congdon, 2000; Miller, 2002; Santo-Novak, 1997). Current research on aging focuses on lifestyle patterns and disproportionate health care utilization among mature adults (Congdon & Magilvy, 1998; Davis-McFarland, Trickey, Reigert, Shilling, Wager, & West, 1998; Dellasega & Fisher, 2001; Johnson, Reimer, & Schwiebert, 1999; Martin, Harbin, Harrell, Watson, & Panicucci, 2000). As people age, they must confront many challenges. Stressors such as financial difficulties, the need to change living arrangements, and diminished ability to perform self care are ubiquitous events in the lives of mature adults. These events bring about change that is transformative. Transformative aging is the developmental plasticity, or resilience, that enables humans to deal with confusing pain and loss, contend with uncertainty, and create wholeness from the fragmentation that characterizes modern life (Walker, 1995). Some mature adults seek to gain mastery over the Stressors associated with growing older, while others transcendthem. In either situation, nurses need preparation to assist their clients to face the developmental challenges of aging.

PURPOSE

The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the measurement model of a deductive theory of transformative aging (see Figure 1) by exploring the correspondence of two nursing constructs: mastery of stress (Younger, 1991) and self-transcendence (Reed, 1991b). Data from healthy adults, age 55 years and older, were used in the analysis.

Theoretical Framework

In gerontological nursing, as in other applied sciences, the alliance between theory and practice is an uneasy one. Fitzpatrick (1987) believes that gerontological nurses have erred by "theory shopping" in other disciplines (Bengston & Schaie, 1999; LeBourg, 1998; Lynott & Lynott, 1996; McClearn, 1997), rather than relying upon extant nursing models. Contrary to this critique, several theories have been put forth by nurses that illuminate the phenomenon of aging. These include Mastery of stress, self-transcendence and human becoming theories (Parse, 1981, 1992, 1998; Reed, 1991b; Younger, 1991).

Mastery of Stress

According to Younger (1991), mastery is "a human response to difficult or stressful circumstances in which competency, control, and dominion are gained over the experience" (p. 81). There are four dimensions of mastery: Certainty is mastery over a stressful event; change is the mastery of fate; acceptance is mastery of self, and growth is mastery over a life transition, such as aging (Younger, 1991; Younger, Marsh, & Grap, 1995). …

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