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Article

Joseph E. Gaugler, Colleen M. Peterson, Lauren L. Mitchell, Jessica Finlay, and Eric Jutkowitz

Mixed methods research consists of collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data within a singular study. The “methods” of mixed methods research vary, but the ultimate goal is to provide greater understanding and explanation via the integration of qualitative and quantitative data. Mixed methods studies have the potential to advance our understanding of complex phenomena over time in adult development and aging (e.g., depression following the death of a spouse), but the utility of this approach depends on its application. The authors systematically searched the literature (CINHAL, Embase, Ovid/Medline, PubMed, PsychInfo, and ProQuest) to identify longitudinal mixed methods studies focused on aging. They identified 6,351 articles published between 1994 and 2017, of which 174 met the inclusion criteria. The majority of mixed methods studies reported on the evaluation of interventions or educational programs. Non-interventional studies tended to report on experiences related to the progression of various health conditions, the needs and experiences of caregivers, and the lived experiences of older adults. About half (n = 81) of the mixed methods studies followed a sequential explanatory design where a qualitative component followed quantitative evaluation, and most of these studies achieved “integration” by comparing qualitative and quantitative data in Results sections. There was considerable heterogeneity across studies in terms of overall design (randomized trials, program evaluations, cohort studies, and case studies). As a whole, the literature suffered from key limitations, including a lack of reporting on sample selection methodology and mixed methods design characteristics. To maximize the value of mixed methods in adult development in aging research, investigators should conform to recommended guidelines (e.g., depict participant study flow and use recommended notation) and consider more sophisticated mixed methods applications to advance the state of the art.

Article

Jill Suitor, Megan Gilligan, Marissa Rurka, Yifei Hou, and Gulcin Con

Theories of social gerontology have progressed from a focus on individuals’ later-life decline to theories that emphasize the intra- and interindividual variability of later-life experiences and the ways in which such heterogeneity is conditioned by social structural, cultural, and interpersonal factors that often begin in childhood and continue to shape individuals and members of their social networks across the life course. Consistent with theories across the sciences, theories of social gerontology predict and explain real-world experiences. In the case of social gerontology, the goals of theory address a wide array of phenomena, ranging from individuals’ attitudes and motivations, social networks and social support, the actions and functions of formal organizations, the embodiment of cultural norms and stereotypes, social determinants of health, and sources of inequality throughout the life course.. As the field of social gerontology has developed, theories in the field have shown increasing complexity, particularly regarding the roles of early life course experiences, social structural positions, and interpersonal relations in explaining variations in well-being, longevity, and the quality of life across the lifespan. As part of this increased complexity, social gerontology has become increasingly cross-disciplinary, spanning disciplines such as sociology, psychology, biology, anthropology, public health, medicine, and engineering, with a strong emphasis on how each discipline can contribute to developing principles that transcend individual fields. These integrative theories of social gerontology are crucial to developing comprehensive approaches to improving the health and well-being of individuals throughout the life course. Theories of social gerontology help us comprehensively understand the aging process by emphasizing individual characteristics, social relationships, and the larger cultural contexts in which individuals’ lives are embedded.

Article

Joseph A. Mikels and Nathaniel A. Young

The adult life span is characterized as a time of divergent trajectories. It is a time of compounding losses (such as physical, sensory, and cognitive declines) and is also a time of surprising growth (such as improvements in well-being and emotion regulation). These divergent trajectories present theorists with the paradox of aging: in the face of accumulating losses, how is it that as people age, they generally feel good and experience greater well-being? Theorists have grappled with this paradox and have focused on how motivational, cognitive, control, and social factors impact emotional development across the adult life span. These foundational theories have paved the way to a deeper understanding of adult life-span development, but they do not draw as deeply from theories in affective science. Some of the latest perspectives on emotion and aging offer integrative views, such as how older adults may experience different discrete emotion (i.e., anger versus sadness) from an evolutionary functional perspective. Other perspectives consider how an array of appraisal processes may change across adulthood (such as shifts in evaluations of self-control versus other-control for younger versus older adults). These newer approaches dig deeper into mechanistic explanations and underscore the need for greater theoretical integration. Later life is clearly a time of increased well-being, but the field is only on the cusp of understanding the mysteries of emotional experience in later life.