Handbook of Health Psychology

By Andrew Baum; Tracey A. Revenson et al. | Go to book overview

28
Health, Behavior, and Aging
Ilene C. Siegler
Lori A. Bastian
Hayden B. Bosworth
Duke University

Health psychology has always been sensitive to age as an important construct because the distributions of diseases by age are not random and are important in determining the psychological impact of different diseases. Epidemiology, on the other hand, studies age as a prominent risk factor for disease. Both are important in understanding the set of associations in health, behavior, and aging.

The psychology of adult development and aging looks at persons aging normally, some with and some without specific diseases, to examine the ways disease influences the aging process. Health psychology studies individuals with specific physical illnesses and seeks to understand how the aging process might modify the impact of that disease (Siegler & Vitaliano, 1998). The psychology of adult development and aging and health psychology are two subdisciplines of psychology that have multidisciplinary partners. The multidisciplinary aspects of studying aging are part of gerontology and limited to studying primarily the elderly, whereas the medical aspects of aging are studied as a postgraduate branch of medicine called geriatrics (Hazzard, Bierman, Blass, Ettinger, & Halter, 1994; Maddox et al., 1995). Behavioral medicine is a multidisciplinary approach to understanding problems in health psychology that interact with the same problems in psychosomatic medicine (Blechman & Brownell, 1998; Matthews, in press).

Handbooks are common in the psychology of adult development and aging. In each of the Handbooks there has been a “health psychology” chapter (Deeg, Kardaun, & Fozard, 1996; Eisdorfer & Wilkie, 1977; M. F. Elias, J. W. Elias, & P. K. Elias, 1990; Siegler & Costa, 1985). As a group, they provide excellent reviews of the relevant literature that need not be repeated here. As part of a set of master lectures on adult development and aging, Siegler (1989) was given the “health psychology” assignment and tried to conceptualize the intersection of health, behavior, and aging as developmental health psychology. This chapter reflects an updating of that initial effort and focuses on emergent findings in the past 10 years and aims to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.

Understanding the issues in health, behavior, and aging first requires discussing what has been a central question in the field: What is normal aging? Second, some important methodological ideas are reviewed from the psychology of adult development that will be useful in health psychology. The chapter then takes up the issue of a life-span developmental versus “phase” theory view of a developmental health psychology. It then considers some new data and thinking about women's and men's health in middle and later life, and reviews the findings from some recent empirical studies that show the excellent results from the synergy of developmental and health psychology.


WHAT IS NORMAL AGING AND HOW IS IT
DIFFERENT FROM DISEASE?

This question drove the initial longitudinal studies of normal aging, such as the Duke Longitudinal Study (Busse et al., 1985). Shock's (see Shock et al., 1984) initial observations were essentially correct, that some, albeit rare, individuals

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