Aging Well through Long-Standing Social Occupation: A Closer Look at Social Participation and Quality of Life in a Sample of Community-Dwelling Older Adults

By Stevens-Ratchford, Regena G. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Aging Well through Long-Standing Social Occupation: A Closer Look at Social Participation and Quality of Life in a Sample of Community-Dwelling Older Adults


Stevens-Ratchford, Regena G., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Background

Social participation is a lifelong process that contributes to both successful aging and quality of life. Social participation can be viewed as engagement in a variety of social occupations or activities that include interaction and shared experiences with others (Cohen 2003; Stevens-Ratchford and Cebulak 2004). Long-standing social participation contributes to aging well by fostering involvement in a variety of living situations and the related activities that create a sense of social connectedness. Social connectedness can be viewed as social participation or activities that include interaction with family, friends, peers, and the public in general. In this discussion social participation, social occupation, social activity, and social engagement are used interchangeably. Social participation creates relationships and social networks that build a system of social support that contribute to health and well-being states including life satisfaction and quality of life (Wilcock 1998; 2006; Christiansen and Baum 1997; Stevens-Ratchford and Cebulak 2004).

In this sense social support is the perceived caring, esteem, and assistance that people receive from others, as well as the individual's provision of these elements of support. This support comes from family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and care providers (Haber 2003). Socially connected support contributes to emotional well-being by encouraging a sense of love, reassurance, and belonging. Social networks and their embedded resources can be a ready reserve of assistance in the form of information, advice, and help with decision making, problem resolution and other life management activities (Haber 2003). Social participation and its associated social connections and routines create opportunities for activities that in turn contribute to health and well-being, cognitive and physical function, and overall life involvement. Such social engagement not only adds meaning to life (Christiansen 1999), it also contributes to quality of life by fostering relationships, community participation, and the leisure enjoyment that is embodied in a high quality of life and an occupation-filled lifestyle that reinforces aging well (Vaillant 2003).

The notions of life involvement and social participation can be related to occupational engagement, which is participation in meaningful activities including social occupations. Occupations in this sense are viewed as meaningful everyday activities and include everything from leisure pursuits to productive activities. These activities allow humans to establish roles, to interact socially, to express creativity, and in general to be involved in living situations that foster well-being and add meaning to life (Christiansen 1999; Christiansen and Baum 1997; Howie, Coulter, and Feldman 2004; Zemke and Clark 1996). Living situations involve a variety life activities including health, home, and financial management as well as celebrations, entertainment, hobbies, recreation, and other leisure and social occupations during which individuals interact and share experiences. Participation in an array of occupations that foster mental and physical function as well as develop social connections and networks of support can create lifestyles that promote health and well-being. Well-being is a complex physical, mental, and social state of overall contentment and satisfaction (Chritiansen and Baum 1997) with oneself and life. Health and well-being are necessary for everyday engagement in occupations. In turn this everyday participation perpetuates health and well-being. Health, well-being, and activity participation can influence and can complement each other and in concert can contribute to overall quality of life and life satisfaction (Davis and Friedrich 2004; Hyde, Wiggins, Higgs, and Blane 2003; Krause 2004; Schalock 2004; Smith, Borshelt, Maier, and Jopp 2002; Stevens- Ratchford 2005). …

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