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Social disengagement and activity theory

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    Theories of aging
    In this essay I am going to explain two theories of ageing such as social disengagement and activity theory. I will also discuss these theories in relation to my chosen individual, Kurt Cobain, and how they have affected their development or would have in the future. I will discuss how social disengagement and activity theory may have affected him in his later life if he had reached that life stage.

    The first theory I am going to explain is the social disengagement theory. This is a theory that says older people will need to withdraw from social contact with others. This is because older people will disengage due to reduced physical health and loss of social opportunities. This will mean that older people will not socialise as much as they used to when they were younger. This may be because they may not be able to move around as much as they use to or their physical health may have reduced and they won’t be able to go out as much.

    A theorist, called Eileen Cumming (1975), argued that older people would experience a reduction in social contact as they grew older and become increasingly ‘individual’ and less concerned with the expectations of others. He argued that it was appropriate and healthy for older people to withdraw from others. He believed it was a natural part of ageing. Although many people today do not agree with this theory, when Cumming’s first came up with the theory in 1961 there was no internet or text messaging.

    Also many older people would not have access to a car so they would not be able to go out and see their friends and family like they can now. Many older people didn’t have phones in their homes either so they were unable to call others and talk to them. This could be a reason why older people lost contact and didn’t go out as much because they were unable to.

    Another theorist, named Bromley, argued that ‘although some individuals fight the process all the way, disengagement of some sort is bound to come, simply because old people have neither the physical nor the mental resources they had when they were younger.’ The theory of disengagement suggests that losing contact with other people is in inevitable consequence of biological decline and that withdrawing from other people is a natural and appropriate response to ageing. However there is little statistical evidence that this is a general rule.

    Another theorist named Zimbardo argued that ‘the disengagement view of social ageing has been largely discredited for a number of reasons’. The majority of older people do remain socially involved with family and friends and many older people become more involved with close family as they become older. It may be that many older people choose to spend their time with people who they feel close to rather than looking to make new friends.

    An issue that may limit social interaction is ill-health. This will limit social interaction because it will mean that you may have poor mobility or problems with hearing or vision. This will make it difficult because you may not be able to get places to see others. Another issue may be geographical mobility. For example if someone moves away then they will be further away from friends and family. This will make it difficult because some older people may not have access to a car so they may not see much of them. Another issue that will limit social interaction is retirement. This will mean that as they no longer work they won’t see their colleagues as much as they did when they were working.

    Social disengagement theory may have affected Kurt Cobain in a number of ways. He suffered from chronic bronchitis and a heart condition which could have been made worse later through life. This could have led to him not being able to go out and socialise with his friends and family. When Kurt was in early adulthood he hardly seen his friends as he suffered depression. As Kurt did not want any help this may have increased throughout his life.

    This may have led to him not socialising and seeing friends and family. As he reached later adulthood he may have suffered from more problems such as not being able to move around as easily. This could mean that he wasn’t able to go out a lot which would mean that he wouldn’t be socialising as much. We can only guess what may happen though as he died at a young age and did not reach later adulthood.

    Another theory of ageing is the activity theory. The activity theory is different from the social disengagement theory because it is saying that older people should still be involved in activities. In 1961 Bromley argued that older people need to disengage, but that they also needed to remain ‘active’ in order to prevent disengagement from going too far. He said that “It is not sufficient merely to provide facilities for elderly people.

    They need to be educated to make use of them and encouraged to abandon apathetic attitudes and fixed habits.’ Bromley argued that it was important to remain mentally active and maintain an interest in life and enjoy the company of others. Too much disengagement would lead to ‘stagnation’ and a loss of mental and physical skills.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Social disengagement and activity theory. (2016, Jun 10). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What are the main ideas of activity disengagement and continuity theory?
    The activity theory is one of three major psychosocial theories which describe how people develop in old age. The other two psychosocial theories are the disengagement theory, with which the activity comes to odds, and the continuity theory which modifies and elaborates upon the activity theory.
    What are the similarities between activity theory and disengagement theory?
    These theories are similar because they both involve the amount of activity that the elderly individual participates in as they age. The theories are also both explained as normal and beneficial. The two are different because of the amount of activity that each portrays.
    What is social activity theory?
    The Activity Theory is a psychosocial theory of aging that attempts to describe the individual and social life conditions that promote a maximum of satisfaction and happiness while the individuals adapt to the multiple challenges of aging.
    What is social disengagement theory?
    Disengagement theory postulates that people gradually disengaged from social life as they grow older, which was originally proposed by social scientist Elaine Cumming and colleagues in 1960, and later in 1961, Cumming and Henry systematize this theory into the book – Growing Old – arguing that aging is an inevitable, ...

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