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Here's the Continuity Theory of Aging Explained With Examples

Continuity Theory of Aging Explained with Examples
When the concept of aging is approached from a psychological and social perspective, three psychosocial theories emerge. Of these, the continuity theory is explained here, along with apt examples.
Komal B. Patil
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
― Betty Friedan
Theories regarding aging are centered on a basic attempt to better understand the physical, social, and psychological effects that occur during the process of aging. Better understanding and knowledge of this process leads to the development of various ways by which the experience of this process can be improved and enhanced. Based on these varied approaches, various psychosocial, physical, and biological theories of aging have been proposed.

Here, we'll focus on the psychosocial aspect of aging, and in particular, on the theory of continuity. Other theories in this aspect are the activity theory and the disengagement theory. The disengagement theory proposes that, as people grow older, they gain a sense of impending death, and this sense causes them to retreat away from society and disengage themselves. This occurs with the aim of allowing the social groups of senior citizens to get accustomed to their inevitable absence. In contrast to this, the activity theory suggests that, engaging in mental and physical tasks increases the happiness and mental satisfaction of older adults, allowing them to accept the idea of their inevitable death more easily. Social engagement also works to increase life longevity.

On the other hand, the third theory, i.e., the continuity theory, suggests that, most aging adults tend to maintain their activities, behavior, personality, and relationships as they did during their earlier years. This theory is explained below.
Continuity Theory of Aging
Retirement fun
❍ This theory was first proposed by Robert Atchley in 1971, through his article 'Retirement and Leisure Participation: Continuity or Crisis?', published in the journal The Gerontologist. He later published another article 'A Continuity Theory of Normal Aging' in the same journal, where he further developed his previously proposed theory.
He expanded it so as to cover a wide range of internal and external constructs related to an individual's aging. This theory was further strengthened and refined by him in his book 'Continuity and Adaptation in Aging: Creating Positive Experiences'.
Women taking a selfie
❍ The basic premise that, as an adult ages and becomes a senior citizen in society, he/she tends to maintain their unique mentality, behavior, and physical and social activities, as they did in the past when they were younger. This theory is considered to be a micro-level theory, as it concerns individuals rather than a broad group. In terms of functionality, it is deemed to have a constructive nature, since it tries to establish a state of equilibrium between the individuals and the society.
Older man playing
❍ The theory provides a fundamental framework to be able to understand how senior citizens employ their inherent abilities, skills, and gained experiences to adapt and adjust to the changes brought on due to aging. It is used to make the transition from a working adult to a retired adult, a smooth one. It allows people to be able to make future decisions based on a stable foundation of their decisions and behavior in the past.
As mentioned earlier, the theory also deals with the internal and external nature of continuity with respect to aging. It claims that along with the social continuity of activities, behavior, and relationships, internal continuity of ideas, experiences, skills, etc., and external continuity of activities, social roles, relationships, lifestyle, etc., are maintained. These maintained aspects are utilized by senior citizens in order to adapt to the new and changing environment, and eventually adopt it.
For example:
  • A young extrovert will tend to remain extroverted in his/her later years, causing them to continue being social and outgoing.
  • An introverted and withdrawn person, similarly, will most likely be a private person in his/her old age as well.
  • Similarly, other traits such as physically active, avid reader, dancing, singing, etc., will also be maintained in individuals, despite their progressing age.
However, this theory faces considerable criticism, since it neglects the physical and biological effects of aging, such as physical deterioration, loss of stamina, and development of illnesses and disorders. It also does not account for the difference in financial resources as a consequence of aging and social status. Besides, it doesn't take race, ethnicity, lifestyle, and gender into consideration.