Citation
Self perception of old age

Material Information

Title:
Self perception of old age
Creator:
Frye, Rebecca A
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
49 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Older people -- Self-rating of -- United States ( lcsh )
Old age ( lcsh )
Old age ( fast )
Older people -- Self-rating of ( fast )
United States ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 48-49).
General Note:
Department of Sociology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Rebecca A. Frye.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
49665012 ( OCLC )
ocm49665012
Classification:
LD1190.L66 2001m .F79 ( lcc )

Downloads

This item has the following downloads:


Full Text
SELF PERCEPTIONS OF OLD AGE
by
Rebecca A. Fiye
B.A., Lindenwood University, 1997
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Sociology
2001


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Rebecca A. Fiye
has been approved
by
II-/3-0/
Date


Frye, Rebecca A. (M.A., Sociology)
Self Perceptions of Old Age
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
ABSTRACT
An interview schedule containing questions about demographic, family
background, work history/retirement, health daily/weekly routines, and perceptions of
old age was developed and used during the course of a field study. In all, twenty-two
individuals over the age of 60 years were interviewed in order to explore how they
described old age and whether they classified themselves as old. When describing
old age, 77% of respondents suggested that an individual must possess a number of
characteristics, such as evidence of physical and mental decline, a limited outlook on
life, and changes in physical appearance, in order to be considered old. Further, 27%
of respondents suggested that someone who is old, is older then themselves. When
asked whether they saw themselves as being old, 55% of respondents said no, 27%
said yes, and 18% suggested that they were old in some respect (i.e.
chronologically, or physically), but that they wouldnt necessarily consider
themselves old because they didnt possess eveiy characteristic needed when
describing someone as old.
Such findings are important when considering that by the year 2035 it is
projected that approximately 70 million people will be 65 years of age or older. The
doubling of this population over the next 35 years will force us, the United States, to
begin looking at this population differently, not only in how they will help to shape
and reshape various social institutions, but also in how we, younger generations, view
and define what is considered old. No longer can we apply definitions and
assumptions made decades ago to this vastly changing and most diverse population.
Based on the findings found as a result of this field study, it is suggested that
future research explore further how definitions and self perceptions of old age are
developed, reinforced, and impact who we are later in life. In addition, how do
variables/factors such as health, family background, family roles, and work
history/retirement affect our self-perceptions of old age.
in


This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
Candan Duran-.
/
IV


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank my advisor, Candan Duran-Aydintug for her guidance, and
John, Dad, Joan, and Michele for their patience and understanding during the past
year. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Michael Stein for his input and
encouragement throughout this process.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION 1
Study Purpose.... 4
2. LITERATURE REVIEW . 6
Demographic Trends .... 6
Universals of Aging .... 7
Describing Aging and Old Age 7
Stereotypes of Aging and the Aged . 9
Theoretical Perspectives Applied to Self 10
Perceptions of Old Age
Studies Investigating Perceptions and 13
Definitions of Aging
3. METHODS 16
Introduction ..... 16
Sampling Process 17
Sample Characteristics 18
Interview Schedule 19
Interview Process 19
Data Analysis ..... 21
vi


4. FINDINGS. ...
Introduction
Research Questions . . . .
Describing an Old Person .
Older is Old- Changing Perceptions .
Benefits and Downsides to Growing Older .
Me, old?
Any Age..., Any Age at All? .
5. DISCUSSION
Strengths and Limitations
Discussion of the Findings
Future Research
APPENDIX . .
A. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
REFERENCES . .
23
23
25
25
27
30
32
33
36
36
36
39
40
41
48
Vll


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
In the winter of 1999 I traveled to the mid-western United States to spend the
Christmas holiday with family and friends. The first leg of my journey took me to
Dubuque, Iowa where I spent much of my visit talking with my then 78 year old
grandmother. At that time I was beginning to explore possible topics for my masters
thesis. While I knew I was interested in the older population in the United States and
the aging baby boomers, I had yet to decide on a specific topic.
During one of our afternoon talks, my grandmother shared with me a number
of articles she had either cut out of the local newspaper, or had been given by friends
and family. While sifting through the many items, I came across the following Ann
Landers column (in association with Creators Syndicate, Inc.) which peaked my
interest.
Strange Old Lady Wont Leave
Dear Readers: My cousin, Ruth Davidson in Phoenix, sent
this to me, and I have no idea who wrote it. Every senior
citizen (and some junior citizens) will see himself or herself
and laugh a little. I laughed a lot. Enjoy! Senior
Sentiments.
A very weird thing has happened. A strange old
lady has moved into my house. I have no idea who she is,
where she came from, or how she got in. I certainly did not
1


invite her. All I know is that one day, she wasnt there, and
the next day, she was.
She is a clever old lady, and manages to keep out of
sight for the most part, but whenever I pass a mirror, I catch
a glimpse of her. And whenever I look in the mirror to
check my appearance, there she is, hogging the whole
thing, completely obliterating my gorgeous face and body.
This is very rude. I have tried screaming at her, but she just
screams back.
If she insists on hanging around, the least she could
do is offer to pay part of the rent, but no. Every once in a
while, I find a dollar bill stuck in a coat pocket, or some
loose change under a sofa cushion, but it is not nearly
enough.
I dont want to jump to conclusions, but I think she
is stealing money from me. I go to the ATM and withdraw
$100, and a few days later, its all gone. I certainly dont
spend money THAT fast, so I can only conclude the old
lady is pilfering from me.
Youd think she would spend some of that money to
buy wrinkle cream. Lord knows she needs it. And money
isnt the only thing I think she is stealing. Food seems to
disappear at an alarming rate- especially the good stuff like
ice cream, cookies and candy. I cant seem to keep that
stuff in the house anymore. She must have a real sweet
tooth, but shed better watch it, because she is really
packing on the pounds. I suspect she realizes this, and to
make herself feel better, she is tampering with my scale to
make me think I am putting on weight, too.
She has found other imaginative ways to annoy me.
She gets into my mail, newspapers and magazines before I
do, and blurs the print so I cant read it. And she has done
something really sinister to the volume controls on my TV,
radio and telephone. Now, all I hear are mumbles and
whispers.
She has done other things- like make my stairs
steeper, my vacuum cleaner heavier and all my knobs and
faucets harder to turn. She even made my bed higher so
that getting into and out of it is a real challenge. Lately,
she has been fooling with my groceries before I put them
away, applying glue to the lids, making it almost
2


impossible for me to open the jars. Is this any way to repay
my hospitality?
She has taken the fun out of shopping for clothes.
When I try something on, she stands in front of the dressing
room mirror and monopolizes it. She looks totally
ridiculous in some of those outfits, plus, she keeps me from
seeing how great they look on me.
Just when I thought she couldnt get any meaner,
she proved me wrong. She came along when I went to get
my picture taken for my drivers license, and just as the
camera shutter clicked, she jumped in front of me! No one
is going to believe that the picture of that old lady is me.
After spending a week with family in Dubuque, I headed to St. Louis,
Missouri for the second leg of my journey. While in St. Louis I stayed with a friend
and his parents, who, like my grandmother, were also in their mid 70s. A few days
before returning home, I noticed that my friends parents had several photocopies of
the same exact Ann Landers column that my grandmother had shared with me the
week before. My friends parents said that they enjoyed the column so much that
they had made copies to share with their friends. Thus not only had my grandmother
and her friends, living in Dubuque, related to the column, but so too had my friends
parents and those with whom they shared the column. I saw such circumstances (two
groups of individuals ages 60 plus years living in different cities and sharing with me
the same newspaper column of which they found great relevancy and humor) as more
than just mere coincidence. As such, I began to think that others in their age group
might also find some truth to the Ann Landers column. With that in mind, I decided
to conduct a qualitative study in order to explore further how individuals age 60 years
3


and older view aging and old age, as well as whether they view themselves as being
old.
Study Purpose
By the year 2035, it is projected that approximately 70 million people in the
United States will be 65 years of age or older (Dychtwald, 1999). The doubling of
this population over the next 35 years will force us, the United States, to begin
looking at the older population differently. In the coming decades this emerging
group will inevitably impact various social institutions, as well as force all
generations to redefine how they view and perceive old age. This transition is likely
to be difficult because it lies in great contrast to those beliefs and stereotypes
currently held by our very youth oriented society. It is likely that we will no longer
be able to apply definitions and assumptions made decades ago about the older
population, to this vastly changing and most diverse population, especially as it shifts
with the emerging baby boomers. As such, it is important that we begin to investigate
whether older individuals, especially those age 60 years and older, view themselves
as being old, or if like the writer of the Ann Landers column, they too feel intruded
upon by some strange old lad/, or some strange old man.
As they reach their 60s and beyond, such insights into individuals self
perceptions of old age are likely to prove beneficial in easing the transition our
society will be forced to make in the coming years. With this in mind, the purpose of
4


this study is to (1) explore how individuals age 60 years and older describe old age,
and (2) whether they see themselves as being old.
5


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Demographic Trends
According to Dychtwald (1999), the 1,000 years prior to the 20th century saw
a world wide rise in human life expectancy from 25 to 47 years. Since the turn of the
last century, life expectancy has continued to rise in the United States, and other
Western and industrial countries, to todays incredible average of approximately 76
years. In 1790, when the United States conducted its first census, less than 2
percent, or approximately 3 million, of the United States population were age 65 and
older. However, by the end of the 20 century, that number already had reached 33
million people. Such a rise was seen as a result of many factors including advances
in sanitation, public health, food science, pharmacy, surgery, medicine, and wellness-
oriented lifestyles. As the baby boomers age, it is anticipated that the United States
65 years and older population will reach approximately 70 million by the year 2035.
This prediction is important to note because such increases in this segment of the
United States population will likely impact American society at various micro and
macro levels including individual interactions and perceptions, social institutions, and
social policies.
6


Universals of Aging
It has been suggested by Babbie (1998) that when conducting qualitative
research, the field researcher is especially attuned to the discovery of universals (p.
297). While it is not the scope of this study to explore the universals of aging, it is
helpful to briefly mention such universals (applied across cultural and social
spectrums) in order to establish a broad- world wide- picture of the aging
population. As cited in Sokolovsky (1993), when identifying a category titled old,
Glascocks and Feinmans 1981 findings suggest that changes in social and economic
roles, chronology, and changes in physical characteristics are universal in describing
an individual as old. Achenbaum (1998) adds to these universals by also suggesting
that in general, old age is normally considered the stage of life that exists before
death. Achenbaum further suggests that older people make up the most diverse age
group, and that within this diverse age group, older individuals have varying physical,
behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics. Because this age group is so diverse,
it is likely that self-perceptions and images of old age vary greatly as well.
Describing Aging and Old Age
As can be expected, when describing aging and old age there are as many
descriptions as there are individuals providing those descriptions. For the most part,
personal experiences and observations provide insight into how individuals describe
and view themselves with regard to aging and old age. For example, research has
found that adults engage in an ongoing search for the meaning of their lives, and
7


change their interpretations of experiences as necessary to find a consistent pattern
(Roberts, 1992, p. 92). In addition, Achenbaum (1998) suggests that it isnt until we
are advanced in years that we begin to understand what old age means, and that until
that time, old age remains a mystery to be figured out and experienced sometime in
the future. This same sentiment is shared by Robak, Griffin, Lacomb & Quint (2000)
who found that the older we get the more we know about aging... with age, our
attitudes about aging become less negative rather than more positive (p. 1182).
Research on aging and the aged has suggested that a number of characteristics
or factors be considered when classifying or describing someone as being old. As
such, not only is chronological age being taken into consideration when describing
and/or defining old age, but also biological, functional, personal, and cognitive ages
(Staats, 1996). With this in mind, the numbers of years we live, or the physiological
changes we experience, are not the only predictors of old age. Instead it has been
suggested that functional age, which includes physical, psychological and social
factors in order to determine old age, be taken into considered as well (Horn & Meer,
1987).
Professionals in the fields of gerontology and sociology have also begun to
make distinctions between young old, middle old, and old old when describing
someone as being old. For instance, Pipher (1999) suggests that the difference
between young old and old old is the loss of health, or the emergence of poor health.
As such, someone who is 80 years old may be considered young old because he/she is
8


in good health, while someone 60 years of age might be seen as old old because of
poor health. In addition to using health statuses in order to distinguish the young old,
middle old, and old old from one another, many other researchers use age groupings
to do so. An example of such age groupings include those used by Seccombe & Ishii-
Kuntz (1991). For purposes of their study, the young old were classified as between
the ages of 65 and 74, the middle old were those ages 75-84, and the oldest old were
seen as those individuals ages 85 years and older. Regardless of how one might
describe aging and/or old age, it is likely that those descriptions are the result of many
things such as personal experiences, observations, and stereotypes.
Stereotypes of Aging and the Aged
While the purpose of my study is not to investigate stereotypes of aging and
the aged, per se, how we describe and perceive old age is often influenced not only by
our own experiences and observations, but also by stereotypes set forth by society.
As can be imagined, a number of stereotypes, both positive and negative, exist in the
United States regarding aging and the aged (elderly). Such stereotypes describing the
elderly or older individuals in our society include, but are not limited to, conservative,
depressed, determined, health conscious, independent, timid, tired, and trustworthy
(Hummert, Garstka, Shaner & Strahm, 1994). While positive stereotypes can have a
beneficial impact on the population being stereotyped, negative stereotypes can lead
to continued misunderstandings about a given population, and thus possibly impact
how we perceive and/or view the elderly and old age. Negative stereotypes may also
9


result in ageism. As cited in Novak (1997), Robert Butler describs ageism as a
process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are
old (p. 3). As with any type of discrimination, those experiencing ageism may begin
to view themselves differently and negatively, thus feeding further into
misconceptions of, and influence how they view themselves with regard to, old age.
One explanation as to why stereotypes may not always reflect current
experiences and understanding is that of cultural lag. The notion of cultural lag, as
set forth by Crews (1993), takes place when sociocultural definitions of aging fall
behind current life expectancy trends, changing demographic patterns, and
improvements in healthcare. While our capabilities and level of activity have
surpassed expectations held in the past about aging and the elderly, how we perceive
and/or stereotype our expectations of old age may fail to meet what is actually taking
place, thus resulting in cultural lag. As such, what was once thought to encapsulate
old age beginning at 60 or 65 years, now may not apply until people reach their 80s
or 90s. Despite the obvious cultural lag that exists in the United States regarding
how individuals age 65 and older are perceived, increases in the number of healthy
and vigorous older people in the United States have helped to overcome many of the
negative stereotypes of this population (Horn & Meer, 1987).
Theoretical Perspectives Applied to Self Perceptions of Old Age
While the purpose of this study was to explore the given topic, rather than to
develop and test hypotheses based on theory, it is still important to acknowledge the
10


role symbolic interactionism has in how one may describe and/or perceive themselves
when asked about aging and old age. As such, in the pursuit of exploring the aging
process and its meaning for the individual and those around him/her, symbolic
interactionism has been used as a basis for which to begin such investigations. As
cited in Miller (1987), J.F. Gubrium suggests that the type of aging processes which
an individual will experience can be significantly affected by his/her interaction with
the environment and persons encountered during life (p. 142). This makes sense
when one considers that the focus of symbolic interaction is placed on meanings that
emerge as a result of everyday interaction. Thus, when trying to explain why
someone may or may not see him/herself as being old (i.e. the meaning of such a
description and whether he/she gives such meaning to him/herself), two theoretical
notions from the symbolic interactionism standpoint come to mind: Charles Cooleys
looking glass self, and Sharon Kaufmans idea of the ageless self.
Cooleys (1964) looking glass self suggests that our perceived selves, how
we see and/or feel about ourselves, is dependent on how we imagine others view us.
Just as images and stereotypes pop into our heads as we see people walking down the
street, Cooley says it is these very thoughts that shape how we think others may
perceive us. Such interactions may then provide us with a point of reference from
which to find meaning for the experience. For example, the media in the United
States often portray individuals with gray hair and wrinkles as being old and
dependent on others to receive aid in their daily living activities. Because of these
11


portrayals, many individuals possessing such characteristics (i.e. gray hair and
wrinkles) may think others see them as being dependent and not self-sufficient.
Because being dependent on others later in life often conjures negative thoughts for
many individuals in the United States, their perceived self-image and how they think
others view them is likely to be negative. However, if they think that others associate
gray hair and wrinkles with wisdom, experience, and deference, and they again
possess such characteristics, then their self-perceived image may be affected
positively. During the course of everyday interaction, whether we think others view
us positively or negatively, according to Cooley, is likely to impact our self-image, as
well as the meaning we place on old age and our relation to it. In the end, such
thoughts/meanings are likely to affect whether or not we classify or see ourselves as
old.
While Cooleys looking glass self can be applied to anyone at any stage in
his/her life, Kaufmans (1993) idea of the ageless self emerged while she was
exploring the meaning of aging as described by elderly individuals. While
interviewing individuals over the age of 70, Kaufman found that,
they do not relate to aging or chronological age as a
category of experience or meaning. To the contrary,
when old people talk about themselves, they express a
sense of self that is ageless- an identity that maintains
continuity despite the physical and social changes that
come with old age (p. 14).
12


The idea of an ageless self in which ones identity is separate from such things as
wrinkles, aches and pains, and social security, can be applied to individuals such as
the author of the Ann Launders column. Such individuals, if they do not look in the
mirror or get caught up in changes in their physical appearance and abilities, may not
perceive or view themselves as old because their identity, that which gives meaning
and purpose to their lives, is not necessarily dependent on physical appearance or
social aspects of life. Even when confronted with various social cues of old age,
he/she may not view him/herself as old because such cues fail to influence his/her
self-identity. Thus, when it comes to identifying and describing old age, how one
defines his/her self image (Cooley) and/or identity (Kaufman) is likely to shape how
he/she defines, or gives meaning to, old age, as well as whether he/she views
him/herself as being old.
Studies Investigating Perceptions and Definitions of Aging
When it comes to investigating how individuals over the age 60 years
describe/define old age and whether they view themselves as being old, research is
varied and limited. However, there are some studies, which have begun to explore
such topics. One such study conducted by Keller, Leventhall & Larson (1989)
explored how 32 individuals between the ages of 50 and 75 years perceived growing
old, including the changes they anticipated as they aged. Results found that when
describing the meaning of aging, participants responses could be grouped as seeing
aging as a natural and gradual process, a period of life evaluation, a period of
13


increased freedom, associated with physical health difficulties or concerns regarding
same, and a period of loss. When noting signs of aging, responses were divided into
social, physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. In general, these changes were
negative in nature, regardless of whether the individual was commenting on changes
in him/herself, or others.
Another study conducted by Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz (1991) set out to
investigate how perceptions of aging and the problems the aged face differ among
several elderly age cohorts (p. 528). Using data collected by Harris and Associates
in 1981, Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz grouped responses provided by individuals aged 55
and older into four categories, those who were middle-aged (ages 55-64), young old
(ages 65-74), middle old (ages 75-84) and the oldest old (85 years and older). What
they found was that as individuals in these groups aged, the aging boundary was
extended. For example someone who is young old might think that someone aged
75-84 years is old. However someone middle old might think 85 years or older is old.
Thus regardless of age, as one grows older it is likely that what he/she once
considered old is no longer true for them, and old age is now even older.
Findings such as those presented by Keller, Leventhall & Larson, and
Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz have relevancy for the purpose of my study because they
suggest or indicate patterns that may emerge when exploring whether individuals
ages 60 years and older classify themselves as being old. By investigating the
universals of aging, various ways in which aging and old age are described, the
14


stereotypes of aging and the aged, and theories such as the looking glass self and
the ageless self, further insight and understanding is gained with respect to how
individuals ages 60 years and older may describe old age.
15


CHAPTER 3
METHODS
Introduction
In order to explore how individuals age 60 and older describe old age and
whether they classify themselves as being old, I decided to conduct a field study. In
order to begin this process, I wrote and submitted a proposal to the Human Research
Committee at the University of Colorado at Denver for ethical consideration. On or
about June 1, 2000 the Research Committee granted me final approval for my
research project, and at that time I began recruitment for my study.
Potential respondents were asked to participate in a face-to-face interview in
which many open-ended, along with closed-ended questions for clarification, were
asked. Those individuals interested in participating in this qualitative study were
responsible for contacting me to schedule an interview. If the possible participant
met the minimum age requirement of 60 years, and wished to participate in the study,
an interview was scheduled at a time and place that was convenient for him/her.
Interviews lasted between 35 and 240 minutes, with an average length of 84 minutes,
and data were collected over a nine-month period from June 2000 through February
2001. All participants lived in a midsize metropolitan area located in the western
United States.
16


Sampling Process
Participants were recruited for this qualitative study in one of four possible
ways: through contacts, a senior newsletter ad, fliers, and snowballing/word of
mouth. Contacts were individuals who either worked with the designated population,
or who had frequent contact with individuals age 60 and older. Contacts were sought
out at a number of senior centers in the metropolitan area. Appointments were
scheduled with possible contacts who were interested in hearing more about the
study. In all, two directors of senior centers, one community specialist working at a
senior housing location, and one senior center worker volunteered to be contacts. I
asked contacts to share information about the study with anyone in the study
population who might be interested. It was then up to those interested in participating
to contact me for any additional information regarding the study.
In addition to using contacts, I also placed an ad in a local monthly senior
newsletter. The ad provided a brief description of the study, as well as a telephone
number to call in order to reach me for further information and for scheduling an
interview. Fliers containing pertinent information regarding the study were also
distributed by not only myself, but also by contacts and study participants.
Participants were encouraged to ask family members, friends, and acquaintances, who
met the minimum age requirement, whether they also would be interested in
participating. In all, five (23%) participants found out about the study through
contacts, five (23%) participants found information about the study in the senior
17


newsletter ad, four (18%) participants saw a flier, and eight (36%) participants were
introduced to the study by word of mouth.
Sample Characteristics
Of the 22 study participants, seventy-three percent (16) were female and
twenty-seven percent (6) were male. The majority of the sample (90%) were
Caucasian, with the remainder of the sample being either African American (5%) or
Native American (5%). The age of participants ranged from sixty to ninety years
with thirty-six percent (8) being between 60-69 years, forty-one percent (9) between
70-79 years, eighteen percent (4) between 80-89 years, and five percent (1) of the
sample being 90 years of age.
When asked to describe their overall health as either excellent, good, fair, or
poor, twenty-three percent (5) of participants indicated that their health was excellent,
fifty-eight percent (13) said their health was good, fourteen percent (3) indicated their
health was fair, and five percent (1) described their health as being poor. With regard
to their current marital status, forty-one percent (9) of participants were married,
eighteen percent (4) were divorced, thirty-six percent (8) were widowed, and five
percent (1) were single and had never been married. Furthermore, twenty-three
percent (5) of participants had Bachelors Degrees, thirty-one percent (7) had earned
Masters Degrees, and five percent (1) had completed their Doctorate Degree.
When asked about average yearly income for their household, nine percent (2)
of participants said their income ranged between $10,000 and $19,999, thirty-one
18


percent (7) reported incomes between $20,000 and $29,999, seventeen percent (4)
earned $30,000 to $39,999, approximately fifteen percent (3) earned between $60,000
and $89,000, and approximately another fifteen percent (3) said their average yearly
household income was $100,000 or greater. About fifteen percent (3) of the study
participants declined to answer the question regarding average yearly household
income. Finally, when asked whether or not they considered themselves religious
and/or spiritual, seventy-three percent (16) of participants said yes.
Interview Schedule
For purposes of data collection, I designed an interview schedule consisting of
six sections and containing 83 initial questions (Appendix A). I asked questions
regarding demographic information, family background, work histoiy/retirement,
health, daily/weekly routines, and self perceptions of age/aging. During the
interview, each question was read to the study participants. Participants were allowed
as much or as little time necessary to answer any and all questions. In addition to the
specific questions being asked, I used many probes and side questions to gain
additional information and insight.
Interview Process
In an attempt to build rapport, I spent a period of 5-10 minutes prior to the
start of each interview providing the participant with additional information about the
study and its purpose, as well as background information about myself. Once this
initial introduction was completed, the participant reviewed the study consent form by
19


following along as I read the form aloud. After all questions were answered and the
consent form was signed, we spent time reviewing the interview schedule. When
reviewing the interview schedule, I would outline each section contained within the
instrument, and provide a brief description of the questions to be asked. After
reviewing each section, each participant was asked if there were any questions he/she
would like to be omitted from the interview. If the participant indicated that there
were questions he/she preferred not to answer, I marked such questions and did not
ask them once the interview began. The purpose of going through this exercise was
to reduce the possibility of discomfort or anxiety for each participant during the
actual interview by identifying sensitive topics that he/she may not be comfortable
discussing. Such questions might have included those discussing family members,
the type of relationship they had with each, or circumstances surrounding deaths (if
applicable). With the exception of three participants who wished not to disclose their
household yearly income, none of the other participants wished to exclude or omit
questions from the interview schedule. Once the instrument was reviewed and I
answered any questions posed by the participant, the interview began.
For purposes of accurate data recording and collection, I asked each
participant for permission to tape-record his/her interview. All participants consented
by checking the appropriate box on the study consent form and signing same. In
addition to tape-recording, I also took notes during each interview. After the
interview was completed (i.e. all questions on the interview schedule had been
20


asked), I spent a few more minutes talking with the participant. This time spent
talking allowed me an opportunity to bring closure to the interview by providing the
participant an opportunity to ask additional questions, or to share additional
information not covered during the interview. This period oftentimes involved the
participant showing me family pictures, awards, and hobby materials. Then I thanked
each participant for his/her involvement in the study and the meeting ended. After its
completion, I transcribed each tape-recorded interview verbatim through the use of a
transcription machine and by utilizing the notes I took during the interview for
reference and clarification.
Data Analysis
While my interview schedule asked a number of questions regarding many
different aspects of participants lives, for purposes of this study, I was only
interested in exploring responses to those questions that provided general
demographic information, as well as those found in the perceptions section of the
interview schedule. Using what Boyatzis (1998) calls thematic analysis, a process
for encoding qualitative information (p.4), I organized responses to questions from
the perceptions section of my interview schedule into various categories. As
responses were sifted through, themes began to emerge within each category.
Themes, according to Boyatzis are patterns found in the information that at
minimum describes and organizes the possible observations and at maximum
interprets aspects of the phenomenon (p. 4). This type of analysis was used because
21


the purpose of the study was to primarily explore how individuals age 60 and older
describe old age and whether they view themselves as being old. With this in mind,
Boyatzis suggests that during the prediscovery, fuzzy stage of formulation of a
research agenda, thematic analysis enables the researcher to access a wide variety of
phenomenological information as an inductive beginning to the inquire (p. 5). What
follows are the patterns that emerged as a result of my study.
22


CHAPTER 4
FINDINGS
Introduction
Upon hearing about this study on aging, one participant wrote the following
poem before our scheduled interview and told me to use it as you like. Because the
poem describes what growing old means to him and encapsulates many of the
sentiments shared by other respondents in the study, it is presented here as the
introduction to this findings chapter.
What Does it Mean To Grow Old?
Aging is a natural process in humans and in all of nature.
Its a matter of time. Contrary to what
The ancients used to say- even the stones grow old.
Youth
When youre young, you can feel yourself growing stronger,
When youre old, you can feel yourself aging older, longer
Mind and body and spirit which once grew bigger, stronger, bolder
Now age tired and weaker and older.
The future, which to youth, looks sunny and bright
To the old -(future)- means darkness and blight.
When young, one grows strong.
When old, one grows wrong.
The Old
To the old, hearing, sight, memory fade away;
Aches, pains, dizziness and weakness grow each day.
23


Transition
Some get there gradually and enjoy the trip.
Some go massively or with a broken hip.
Some grow old gracefully; some with a shove.
Some meet age gradually and yearn not for heaven above.
Some are on the top of the world one day,
Til bones break, teeth crack and all fall away.
At the Home
What does it mean to grow old?
Over the hill, Ive been told.
Eyes turn to glasses and ears to aids;
Strides turn to shuffles-stumbles need canes;
Muscles turn flab and joints to pains.
From walkers to wheelchairs
To bedridden bones,
Broken bodies know malnutrition
Eyes without seeing-ears without hearing
Minds without memory, knowledge or recognition.
Eventually
Eventually, as the poet said, we face death.
Once again, as babies, crying gasping for breath.
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.*
Bring us to the end of our earthly being.
At the End
Bodies to coffin and grave
Or urns full of powder or dust
Death to growing old and aging!
-( With nothing to save )-
As to all living things it must.
*The Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, William
Shakespeare
24


Research Questions
As outlined previously, the purpose of this study is to explore (1) how
individuals age 60 years and older describe old age, and (2) whether they see
themselves as being old. In order to explore descriptions of old age, analysis was
conducted on responses to questions such as If you were to describe someone as
being old, how would you do so?, What, if any, are the benefits, of growing
older?, What, if anything, are the downsides to growing older?, and What do you
like best, and least, about your current age?. With regard to self perceptions of old
age, the question, Do you see yourself as being old? was asked.
Describing an Old Person
Nine categories emerged from responses given by respondents when asked to
describe someone as being old. While some respondents indicated that individuals
need only to satisfy one characteristic (or category) in order to be classified as old, the
majority (77%) of respondents suggested a number of characteristics should be
present in order to consider someone old. Examples of responses in which a number
of characteristics were suggested when describing someone as old are as follows,
Well, there are various ways of looking at it (old age).
The rule of thumb from various persons is youre old if
youre over 60. Youre old if youve got gray hair. I
know that youre as old as you let yourself be. And you
can make yourself old, you can make yourself get old,
or you can be not old mentally at all. But sooner or
later, the machine (body) wears down. And some
people are fortunate that they dont have any physical
problems that slow them up and theyre still charging at
25


96. And as... each person is unique. And a great deal
of problem with age is deformity, and an inability to do
something, usually something beyond your control....
(13-F80)
I would say they had reached a certain number of years
and maybe., had physically changed. Might have
physical problems... health problems, and had atteemed
(sic) a certain number of years, of course, in age. If
theyre old, I think maybe their attitudes would have
changed as well. Attitudes... have gained a lot of
experience and maybe isome wisdom along the way.
(21- F65)
They (old people) are old in years... in their 80s, but I
think the greatest thing about being old is to be picky,
picky and have a closed mind, and finding fault with
everybody, and just gossipy and no patience, no
tolerance... (12-F85)
Of the nine categories that emerged when respondents described an old
person, the highest percentage of respondents reported physical decline (45%) as
being necessary in order to classify someone as being old. Responses found in this
category included references to a decline in physical strength, quickness, agility,
eyesight, and hearing, the use of aiding devises, and an increase in physical
disabilities and frailty. In addition to physical decline, respondents also suggested
that mental decline (36%), a limited outlook or narrow mindedness about life (32%),
changes in physical appearance (27%), chronological age (27%), physical inactivity
(23%), dependency on others for daily living activities (18%), and a decline in health
(18%), such as poor health, illness, and the use of medications, were also indications
26


that someone was old. The ninth, other, category included responses (18%) such as
wisdom and uncertainty.
Again, as the responses indicate, there is no one answer to the question, If
you were to describe someone as being old, how would you do so? Rather, there are
a number of characteristics that are often taken into consideration. These
characteristics may be specific to the individual being described as old, and/or the
individual giving the description. In total, fifty five percent (12) of respondents said
that personal experiences (i.e. those experienced by themselves or that of a family
member) have contributed to their definition of old, while approximately twenty three
percent (5) said that it was personal observations (i.e. that of friends and/or strangers)
that have helped to mold their definitions of those individuals whom they consider to
be old. The remaining five participants (approximately 23%) said that their
definitions were influenced by a combination of experiences, observations, and
society. This was true for one respondent who stated, Observation and what you do
yourself. You dont know much about being old until you get there (13- F80).
Older is Old- Changing Perceptions
It can be expected that as we age, our experiences, observations and those we
meet will have an impact on how we view the world around us. Thus it is not
surprising that the experiences we have as we age might influence how we perceive
old age. As such, just as when we were children and viewed those who were older
than us as being old, so too, might we do this when what we once thought was old is
27


our current age and old now refers to those we never even considered. This was the
case for a number of respondents (6) who replied,
Someone in their 80s and 90s (is old). (20-F60)
.. .people older than me are old ... and all of my sixty
year old friends, they arent old either. They have to be
70 or 80 to be old. (11-F64)
.. .when I was 50 I used to think 65 was old. Now Im
past 65 and Im thinking 75 might be old. When I get
to be, good Lord willing, 75, Ill think 85 was old. (14-
F66)
Well, theres a joke, anybody old is ten years older than
you are. (16-F83)
... I suspect that in a few years I will probably be in the
similar condition of people who are in their 70s, and
thats roughly the age that I would give to old age,
probably starting in your latter 60s and 70s.
Definitely 80s and 90s is old age. (22-M64)
In addition to the those respondents who indicated that someone old was
someone older then themselves, a number of respondents (6) indicated that they
thought that others, whether they be family members, friends, or strangers, viewed
them (the respondent) as being old because he/she (the respondent) was
chronologically older than that particular family member, friend or stranger. An
additional 9% (2) of respondents referenced periods in their own life when they
viewed others as being old, but based on how they feel now, would not necessarily
consider that same person old today. In the words of some respondents,
28


I think they (respondents children) always saw me as
being old because older is old. You know, its kind of a
strange phenomenon. (11-F64)
The other part of the family would say, shes (the
participant) the oldest, because Im older than they are.
(7-F79)
Yeah (family members see me as old). Theyre always
younger than what I am. (8-M76)
Yeah, Im sure (my friends think Im old)...because
most of my friends are either 40s or just starting 50.
So I consider them very young. (15-F72)
Probably (they see me as being old), depending on the
age of the stranger. If she was 25 years old, she would
think I was old. (18-F70)
I remember walking one day with my grandfather. At
that time he was probably in his early 60s. And wed
walk in the neighborhood, and wed pass a house or
something. I forgot the circumstances, where my
grandfather, whom I thought was an old man, was
white haired- prematurely, I think, but he was white
haired and he looked old, and he was wrinkled, so on
and so forth. He looked older than I am now. But he
looked old. He was the typical old, as far as that is
concerned. Anyway, he referred to on of the neighbors
as an old man. And I thought, Gee, thats strange. He
did it in such a way to almost suggest that he wasnt
old... (that) my view of him was somehow wrong. (10-
M76)
I think probably when I was a teenager and in college, I
viewed it (old age) differently because my grandmother
wasnt really old..., but I viewed her as old. (21-F69)
29


Benefits and Downsides to Growing Older
Four categories emerged indicating the benefits of growing old as reported by
respondents. As with describing old age, many respondents indicated that there are a
number of benefits to growing older. Forty five percent (10) of respondents made
reference to personal experiences (i.e. increased knowledge and wisdom) as being
benefits, while 41% (9) described increased freedom as being something to look
forward to with age. This category included responses such as fewer responsibilities,
enjoyment of life, leisure time, travel, doing things you want to do and financial
freedoms. As one respondent said,
Oh, all the senior discounts you get... and time if
youre not working. You have time.. .freedom. You
dont have to get up eveiy morning (20-F60).
The third category, self awareness, included responses such as being more
open minded, less judgmental, and having gained religious understanding. Twenty
seven percent (6) of respondents reported some aspect of self awareness as a benefit
of growing older. The last category, social benefits, included responses from fourteen
percent (3) of the respondents and referred to senior discounts and being treated with
deference as benefits to look forward as one gets old. Just as with benefits of
growing old, when asked about what they like best about their current ages, fifty
percent (11) of respondents said it was their increased freedom (i.e. fewer
responsibilities, enjoyment of life, leisure time, travel, doing things they wanted to
do, and financial freedoms) that they enjoy the most. Eighteen percent (4) of
30


respondents stated that it was their relationships with family and friends that made
their current age enjoyable. Other responses included still being alive (3), grateful
that they were not older than their current age (1), no regrets (1), good health (1),
physically able to care for themselves (2), good memoiy (1), can say what they want
(1), and the senior discounts (1).
When discussing the downsides to growing older, eight categories emerged.
The most frequent aspect of aging seen as a downside was that of physical decline
(64%). Again, this category included responses referencing a decline in physical
strength, quickness, agility, eye sight, and hearing, the use of aiding devises,
increased disabilities, frail/feebleness, aches, pains, and being easily tired. Forty one
percent (9) of respondents said poor health and/or illness were also downsides to
growing old. The remaining categories included increasing dependence on others (2),
decrease in physical attractiveness (1), memory loss (1), losing family and friends to
death (1), having less years left of life than that which they have already lived (2), and
the fear of the unknown (1). When asked what they liked least about their current
age, respondents answers were similar to that of the downsides to growing older. In
all, fifty-five percent (12) of respondents said that they disliked the health and
physical decline that they were experiencing with their current age. Other dislikes
included mental decline (1), limited time left (3), increasing inability to care for ones
self (2), not younger/getting older (2), changes in physical appearance (2), regrets (1),
31


less involved with extra curricular activities (1), and having to care for other family
members (1).
Me. old?
Just as professionals in the fields of gerontology and sociology have begun to
take into consideration a number of components/variables when defining and
describing aging and old age, so, too, have the respondents in this study. When
talking about old age, one respondent said,
I dont really go by the chronological. I do in a way
because this is my... the perception that you have is
that when you reach 65 you (retire)... and thats
mandatory, because of social security. And the
government says when youre 65 youre old. But, ah...
but I dont... I see people who are 80, their shell may
be old, but as far as their attitudes and their
interpretation of life, theyre not old, and yet their
experience is worth... and their wisdom has really
accumulated along with their years. (21-F69)
No longer can one rely purely on yes/no responses to questions such as Do
you consider yourself as being old? When asked whether they considered
themselves to be old, 55% (12) of respondents suggested that no, they were not old.
An additional 9% (2) said they were old chronologically, but not physically or
mentally, and another 9% (2) said they were old physically, but not mentally. Twenty
seven percent (6) of participants said yes, they considered themselves to be old.
Following are examples of distinctions made by respondents, thus illustrating the
variety of responses given when asked whether they saw themselves as old:
32


Yeah sure, Im old, but Im old physically. And Im
more set in my way. You get older as you leam more,
and experience more. So youre old. What do you see?
You see a crotchedly (sic) old white haired woman with
a cane who says Oh, I remember Johnny, arent you
Johnny? That kind of thing. Thats the way its
pictured. Dementia, or something like that. I think it
varies with the individual, again. We have people,
golly, the poor souls dont know where the hell they
are. Now, thats an old person. Thats an ancient
person. Thats a person whos headed down and out.
But theyre younger than I am, some of them. (13- F80)
Well, I dont move around like I used to. And I am
fatter than I used to be, so physically I am getting old.
Mentally, I hope not (14-F66).
I think Im what they call young old- (chronologically
if you look at numbers, Im older than others, but when
I look at my capabilities and what Im doing with my
life, I wouldnt classify myself as old) (16-F83).
Well, yes because Im nearing my 70th birthday. Thats
got to be getting... thats got to be old in years. But I
hope Im not rigid yet, or fossilized. And I hope I can
adapt to change. That seems to be crucial. (21-F69)
Any Age.... Any Age at All?
In general, our society, the United States, is considered to be a youth oriented
society (Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz, 1991; Friedan, 1993). This is evident when you
wait in the check out stand and see the numerous magazine articles giving tips on
how to combat wrinkles and sagging, turn on the television and see ads for products
developed to slow down the so called aging process, or when you receive a birthday
card that suggests that now youre over the hill. With many cultural pressures to
33


remain young and vital, it might be anticipated that most individuals ages 60 and
older would want to be younger than their current age. However, when presenting
respondents with the question, If you could be any age, what age would you be?,
eight respondents (36%) said theyd prefer to be their current age. Of those who
would remain their current age, a number of them (3) indicated that its because
theyre happy that theyd remain their current age.
I guess I just have to say Im happy where Im at right
now. (9-F60)
.. .Im really happy. I wouldnt want to be real young
again or anything... I just would be the age that I am
and be happy with it. (15-F72)
I think I would be this age. Im happy. Ive learned
enough that I know I can be happy. (20-F60)
Of the 12 participants (55%) who said theyd prefer to be younger than their
current age, 33% (4) said theyd like to be between ages 50 and 59 years, 25% (3)
said theyd like to be 30-39 years of age, 17% (2) opted to be between 40-49 years,
and another 17% (2) said theyd prefer ages 20-29 years. Eight percent (1) of those
who wanted to be younger said he/she would like to be between 60-69 years of age.
Reasons varied as to why younger was preferred, but as the percentages indicate
above, and the following responses indicate below, younger doesnt necessarily mean
much younger.
Maybe between 40 and 50... Well, I guess because at
40 I really went back to school to be retooled and thats
why I earned my masters degree. (11-F64)
34


Well, I thought age 50 was nice... at 50 youre quite
active yet, and you do things and you know more
people and the realities of all these people that you
know, well passing away and seeing them fail hasnt hit
you yet. (12-F85)
I think that the mid years, the 50s would probably be
the years that you become (reach) your peak maturity...
the losses of those persons close to you havent started
yet.... I think you still have physical strength and your
mind is still going at possibly the best time because
youve still got so much more ahead of you. (13-F80)
Id say 55 because I was still pretty spry when I was 55
and yet I was mature. (14-F66)
55 for good health. Wait.. .55 Im not retired yet. It
would have to be 60. 55 or 60. (18-F70)
Well, I would certainly not go way back. Some things I
certainly would not want to live through again. And on
the whole, I feel Ive been very fortunate, so I dont
want to do any of it over again. I guess my 60s... (16-
F83)
35


CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
Strengths and Limitations
As can be expected with any qualitative study, there are both strengths and
weaknesses to consider. While the sample size of the study was small (22
participants), thus making it difficult to generalize to the entire population of
individuals over the age of 60 years, the information collected from this sample was
in depth and provided a great deal of insight from which to base future research. A
field study such as this allowed those interviewed an opportunity to share their
experiences of growing older and aging in a manner that was non-threatening, and of
which provided a voice through which their experiences could be heard and shared.
Discussion of the Findings
While the Ann Landers column that prompted this study suggested that older
individuals may not see themselves as being old, I anticipated that a majority of
participants would indicate that they saw themselves as being old. Such an
assumption was based on cultural stereotypes that have bombarded me each and
every day for much of my life. However, when asked whether they considered
themselves old, 55% of participants in my study said no, and only 27% said yes.
36


Further, twenty three percent (5) of respondents indicated specifically that they dont
feel old. Examples of such responses include,
No I dont (see myself as old). I know I am (old),
but I dont really feel that way.
I still giggle and do silly things, and have fun in
life... and feel like Im 20 or 30.
If I dont look in the mirror for awhile, you know, I
really dont feel old.
These findings coincide with what Kaufman (1993) describes as the ageless self.
Regardless of ones chronological age and the physical changes that have taken place,
one may not see him/herself as being old because it is not the chronological or
physical changes that define and/or give meaning for him/her. With regard to
Cooleys looking glass self, a number of individuals indicated that they thought
family members (10), friends (6), and strangers (11) viewed them as being old.
While information wasnt collected specifically to determine why it is they thought
such individuals viewed them as being old, eight respondents suggested that such
people viewed them as being old because of their chronological age, or because they
were simply older than those family members, friends, and strangers.
Staying with the symbolic interactionism paradigm (i.e. finding meanings in
everyday interactions), J.F. Gubriums assertion that the aging process an individual
experiences may be significantly affected by his/her interaction with various people
and environments during the course of everyday life (Miller, 1987) proved true in my
37


study. In all, 55% of respondents indicated that personal experiences have
contributed to their overall definitions and perceptions of old age. In addition,
another 23% said that personal observations impacted their definitions.
When asked to describe old age, 27% of respondents indicated that someone
old is chronologically older than themselves. An example of such a response was
made by a 70 year old female who said ... when I was 50 I thought 70 was ancient.
And now, I think 50 is just a young kid and 90 is ancient. I mean, it all changes.
These findings paralleled those of Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz (1991) who suggest that
as we age, the aging boundary (that which indicates when we are old) is extended.
In addition, just as Staats (1996), Horn & Meer (1987) and Pipher (1999) indicated
that chronological age alone does not determines old age, 77% of respondents in my
study suggested a number of characteristics be present in order to classify someone as
being old.
Such findings are important to note because in the coming decades the number
of individuals over the age of 65 years is going to rapidly increase. As this
population grows, our culture and the social institutions which make up its peripheral
and interior, will be forced to change, thus forcing younger generations to redefine
old age, the capabilities one has during this period in his/her life, and overall life
satisfaction. As a result, long standing stereotypes of the aging and/or aged will
forever be impacted, thus influencing ones expectations and possible self perceptions
of old age.
38


Future Research
Based on the findings found as a result of this field study, it is suggested that
future research explore further how definitions and self perceptions of old age are
developed, reinforced, and impact who we are later in life. In addition, investigating
how variables/factors such as health, family background, family roles, and work
history/retirement affect our self-perceptions of old age might also prove beneficial.
39


APPENDIX
40


APPENDIX A
INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
Cover Sheet Information
Respondent Identification Number
Date of Interview
Location of interview
Description of interview location
Interview start time Interview end time
Number and length of each interruption
Total interview time in minutes
Demographics
1. How did you hear about this study?
2. Sex of Respondent: Male Female
3. What is your date of birth?
4. What is your marital status? (length of current relationship or widowhood & prev.
marr.)!
Single, never married
Separated
Divorced
First marriage
Remarried (2nd, 3rd, etc.)
Widowed (cause of death)
Other
41


5. What is your race/ ethnicity? (.African Amer., White, Hispanic, Asian, Amer. Ind.,
etc)
6. Do you consider yourself religious and/or spiritual? (affiliation, involvement,
frequency church attendance, religious practices, beliefs)
7. What is the highest level of education you have completed?
less than high school some high school
high school graduate or equivalent some college
associates degree trade school or apprenticeship program
bachelors degree masters degree
doctorate
8. From what sources do you receive your monthly income (i.e. social security,
disability, pension, savings, investments, children, place of employment, etc.)
9. In which of the following ranges does your current yearly income fall?
$0- $9,999
$ 10,000- $ 19,999 exact yearly income $___________________
$20,000- $29,999
$30,000- $39,999
$40,000- $49,999
$50,000 and higher
10. What type of residence do you live in? (i.e. single family home, apartment,
retirement community, nursing home, etc.)
11. How long have you lived there?
12. Do you live alone or with others?(wAo, why, for how long)
Family Background
13. Where were you bom?
14. Where were you primarily raised?
42


15. How would you describe the town/city you were primarily raised in? (rural,
urban, big, small, etc.)
16. How many brothers and sisters do you have- this would also include any half,
adoptive, and/or step brothers and sisters (indicate current level of closeness &
relationship with each).
17. Are all of your brothers and sisters still alive? (if not, when were their deaths-
cause?) Was this an expected death?
18. Are your parents still alive? (include biological, adoptive, step- indicate level of
closeness- current ages or age at death) Was this an expected death?
19. Who did you live with while you were growing up? (times when others came to
live with respondent or respondent went to live with others- when and how long)
20. Were your grandparents alive while you were growing up? (type of relationship
with grandparent/ indicate maternal or paternal side)
21. Overall, how would you describe the economic status of your family while you
were growing up? Did this change during your childhood?
22. How did you spend the majority of your time when you were growing up (i.e.
activities, hobbies, taking care of siblings, etc.)?
23. How would you describe your current spouse/partner? (i.e. is he/she supportive,
active, caring, outgoing, introverted, involved in activities, etc.)
24. How would you describe your relationship with him/her? (i.e. what types of
activities do you do together, do you get along, are you mutually supportive of
one another, etc.)
25. Do you have any children- this would include biological, adoptive, and step
children? (genders, ages)
26. Are all of your children still living? (if no, at what age did child pass away and
cause)
27. What type of relationship do/did you have with children?
43


28. Do you have any grandchildren- this would include biological, step, and
adoptive? (genders, ages- who are their parents?)
29. Type of relationship with grandchildren?(/eve/ of closeness with each and types of
activities they do together- if not really close, why not)
Work History/ Retirement
30. Have you ever worked outside you home? (include businesses mn fi~om home)
31. What are some of the types of jobs/ occupations youve had during your lifetime?
(length of time at each job/ occupation, level of enjoyment, which if any were
identity markers, etc.)
32. Which, if any, of these positions are you currently working? (how many hours/
week and why)
33. Which, if any, of these positions are you currently retired from? (where and age
of retirement)
34. Was it your choice to retire from this position(s)? (if no, why retire)
35. What were/ are your expectations of retirement?
36. Have your expectations for retirement been met? (if no, in what ways have they
not been met)
37. Are you currently volunteering? (where, hours, for how long)
38. Do you belong to any organizations? (where, what, hours, positions)
39. Do you have any hobbies? (what, when, etc.)
Health
40. How would you describe your current physical health (excellent, good, fair,
poor)?
41. Do you currently have any physical health problems? (describe)
42. Are you on any medications? (what and how long)
44


43. At any time during your life, have you had any physical or mental health
problems other than those you currently suffer from? (what, when)
44. As youve gotten older, what types of physical changes have you noticed about
yourself? (anticipated or not? why, why not)
45. As youve gotten older, have you noticed any changes in your ability to remember
things? (in what way, when- anticipated or not)
46. As youve gotten older, what types of changes, if any, have occurred in your
physical or mental health that have affected your ability to perform daily activities
such as bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning? (adjustments made)
47. Have you installed any devices in your home to aid you in your daily activities
(i.e. additional railings, special toilet stools, bathtub benches, ramps, etc)?
(what, when)
48. Do you use a cane, walker, or motorized scooter to help you get around? Do you
use these items outside your home?
49. Have you noticed changes in the way family members treat you or react to you as
a result of your using these items? How about in the way friends and strangers
treat you?
Dailv/Weeklv Routines
50. How would you describe a typical day for you?
51. Approximately how many hours each day do you spend watching television?
(times, favorite programs, favorite channels) *( How do you feel about the way
older individuals are portrayed on television- is it often an accurate depiction?)
52. Has the amount of television you watch increased or decreased over the past year?
(if yes, why)
53. Approximately how many hours each day do you spend reading? (type of reading
material- newspaper, magazine, books, etc.)
54. Has the amount of reading you do increased or decreased over the past year? (if
yes, why)
45


55. Do you own or have access to a computer? (length of ownership or access, and
types of things it is used for) Did anyone help you set up your computer or gain
access to a computer?
56. Do you use the internet or an email service? (what used for, who email)
57. How often do you do things with family members? (Other than spouse-who,
what, when)
58. How often do you do things with friends? (who, what, when)
59. Do you drive a car? (have you ever a driven car- why not drive now-at what age
stopped/start driving- How much time do you think you spend driving a car each
week?)
60. What type of services, if any, do you receive that aid you in daily activities? (i.e.
meals on wheels, housecleaning, home care, etc.- can also include helpfi'om
family, friends, neighbors, etc.)
61. What type of exercise, if any, do you currently get? (i.e. walk, run, swim bike ride,
etc)
62. How often do you engage in this type of exercise?
63. Why do you exercise?
64. Would you say youve always been a physically active person?
65. Are there other types of exercise or physical activities you used to participate in,
but no longer do? (what, when- why no longer)
Perception Questions
66. If you were to describe someone as being old, how would you do so?
67. What types of things do you think have contributed to your definition of old?
(i.e. personal or life experiences, mass media, etc.)
68. Have you always viewed growing old as you do now? (if not, when and why did
this view change- childhood, early adulthood, middle age, etc)
46


69. Do you know any one you would consider as being old? (who, why- type of
relationship)
70. Do you see yourself as being old? (if yes, why and at what age became old-
circumstance or event that caused classification of old)
71. Do you think family members view you as being old? (who, why, when)
Has your relationship with this person changed since his/her view of you as being
old began? (changes in interactions with him/her) Has respondents behavior
around this person changed as a result of how the person now views respondent?
72. Do you think friends view you as being old? (who, why, when)
73. Has your relationship with this person changed since his/her view of you as being
old began? (changes in interactions with him/her) Has respondents behavior
around this person changed as a result of how the person now views respondent?
74. Do you think strangers view you as being old? (who, why, when)
75. Do you recall any instances when youve been treated differently because of your
age? (who, why, when)
76. Overall, has growing older (aging) been what you thought it would be? (why or
why not)
77. Based your own experiences, how would you describe aging and/or growing older
to someone younger than yourself?
78. What, if any, are the benefits of growing older?
79. What, if any, are the downsides to growing older?
80. What do you like best about being your current age?
81. What do you like least about being your current age?
82. What, if anything, are you looking forward to most in the coming years?
83. If you could be any age, what age would you be and why?
47


REFERENCES
Achenbaum, W.A. (1998, Spring). Perceptions of aging in America. National
Forum. 78(2), 30(4).
Babbie, E. (1998). The practice of social research. 8th ed. Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Boyatzis, R.E. (1998). Thematic analysis and code development: Transforming
qualitative information. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Crews, D. E. (1993, Spring/Summer). Cultural lags in social perceptions of the aged.
(Changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations. 17(2). 29(5).
Cooley. C.H. (1964). Human nature & the social order. New York: Schocken
Books.
Dychtwald, K. (1999). Age power: How the 21st century will be ruled by the new
old. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Friedan, B. (1993). The fountain of age. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Horn, J.C. & Meer, J. (1987, May). The vintage years: The growing number of
healthy, vigorous older people has helped overcome some stereotypes about
aging. Psychology Today. 21. 76(10).
Hummert, M.L, Garstka, T.A., Shaner, J.L. & Strahm, S. (1994, Sept.). Stereotypes
of the elderly held by young, middle-aged, and elderly adults. Journals of
Gerontology. 49(5), 240-249.
Kaufman, Sharon R. (1993, Spring/Summer) Reflections onthe ageless self.
(Changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations. 17(2), 13(4).
Keller, M.L., & Leventhal, E., & Larson, B. (1989, July/August) Aging: the lived
experience. International Journal of Aging & Human Development. 29(1),
67-82.
48


Miller, L. (1987). The professional construction of aging. Journal of Gerontological
Social Work. 10(3/4), 141-153.
Novak, M. (1997). Issues in aging: An introduction to gerontology. New York:
Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Pipher, M. (1999). Another country: Navigating the emotional terrain of our elders.
New York: Riverhead Books.
Robak, R.W., & Griffin, P.W., & Lacomb, M., & Quint, W. (2000, June)
Perceptions of aging and their relation with age, death, depression, and sex.
Perceptual and Motor Skills. 90131. 1179-1183.
Roberts, P. (1992, March) I think of Ronald Reagan: future selves in the present.
International Journal of Aging & Human Development. 34(2). 91-107.
Seccombe, K. and Ishii-Kuntz, M. (1991, August) Perceptions of problems
associated with aging: comparisons among four older age cohorts. The
Gerontologist. 31(4), 527-533.
Sokolovsky, J. (1993, Spring/Summer). Images of aging: a cross-cultural
perspective, (changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations
17(2), 51(4).
Staats, S. (1996). Youthful and older biases as special cases of a self-age
optimization bias. International Journal of Aging and Human Development.
43(4), 267-276.
49


Full Text

PAGE 1

SELF PERCEPTIONS OF OLD AGE by Rebecca A. Frye B.A., Lindenwood University, 1997 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Sociology 2001

PAGE 2

This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by Rebecca A. Frye has been approved by Anderson /l-!3-o; Date

PAGE 3

Frye, Rebecca A. (M.A., Sociology) Self Perceptions of Old Age Thesis directed by Associate Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug ABSTRACT An interview schedule containing questions about demographic, family background, work history/retirement, health daily/weekly routines, and perceptions of old age was developed and used during the course of a field study. In all, twenty-two individuals over the age of 60 years were interviewed in order to explore how they described old age and whether they classified themselves as old. When describing old age, 77%, of respondents suggested that an individual must possess a number of characteristics, such as evidence of physical and mental decline, a limited outlook on life, and changes in physical appearance, in order to be considered old. Further, 27% of respondents suggested that someone who is old, is older then themselves. When asked whether they saw themselves as being old, 55% of respondents said "no", 27% said "yes", and 18% suggested that they were old in some respect (i.e. chronologically, or physically), but that they wouldn't necessarily consider themselves old because they didn't possess every characteristic needed when describing someone as old. Such fmdings are important when considering that by the year 2035 it is projected that approximately 70 million people will be 65 years of age or older. The doubling of this population over the next 35 years will force us, the United States, to begin looking at this population differently, not only in how they will help to shape and reshape various social institutions, but also in how we, younger generations, view and define what is considered old. No longer can we apply definitions and assumptions made decades ago to this vastly changing and most diverse population. Based on the fmdings found as a result of this field study, it is suggested that future research explore further how definitions and self perceptions of old age are developed, reinforced, and impact who we are later in life. In addition, how do variables/factors such as health, family background, family roles, and work history/retirement affect our self-perceptions of old age. iii

PAGE 4

This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication. Candan Duran-Ayntug I iv

PAGE 5

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would like to thank my advisor, Candan Duran-Aydintug for her guidance, and John, Dad, Joan, and Michele for their patience and understanding during the past year. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Michael Stein for his input and encouragement throughout this process.

PAGE 6

CONTENTS CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Study Purpose. 2. LITERATURE REVIEW Demographic Trends Universals of Aging Describing Aging and Old Age Stereotypes of Aging and the Aged Theoretical Perspectives Applied to Self Perceptions of Old Age Studies Investigating Perceptions and Definitions of Aging 3. METHODS Introduction Sampling Process Sample Characteristics Interview Schedule Inte1view Process Data Analysis VI 1 4 6 6 7 7 9 10 13 16 16 17 18 19 19 21

PAGE 7

4. FINDINGS. Introduction Research Questions Describing an "Old" Person Older is OldChanging Perceptions Benefits and Downsides to Growing Older Me, old? Any Age ... Any Age at All?. 5. DISCUSSION APPENDIX Strengths and Limitations Discussion of the Findings Future Research A. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE REFERENCES Vll 23 23 25 25 27 30 32 33 36 36 36 39 40 41 48

PAGE 8

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In the winter of 1999 I traveled to the mid-western United States to spend the Christmas holiday with family and friends. The first leg of my journey took me to Dubuque, Iowa where I spent much of my visit talking with my then 78 year old grandmother. At that time I was beginning to explore possible topics for my master's thesis. While I knew I was interested in the older population in the United States and the aging baby boomers, I had yet to decide on a specific topic. During one of our afternoon talks, my grandmother shared with me a nmnber of articles she had either cut out of the local newspaper, or had been given by friends and family. While sifting through the many items, I came across the following Ann Landers' column (in association with Creators Syndicate, Inc.) which peaked my interest. Strange Old Lady Won't Leave Dear Readers: My cousin, Ruth Davidson in Phoenix, sent this to me, and I have no idea who wrote it. Every senior citizen (and some junior citizens) will see himself or herself and laugh a little. I laughed a lot. Enjoy! Senior Sentiments. A very weird thing has happened. A strange old lady has moved into my house. I have no idea who she is, where she came from, or how she got in. I certainly did not 1

PAGE 9

invite her. All I know is that one day, she wasn't there, and the next day, she was. She is a clever old lady, and manages to keep out of sight for the most part, but whenever I pass a mirror, I catch a glimpse of her. And whenever I look in the mirror to check my appearance, there she is, hogging the whole thing, completely obliterating my gorgeous face and body. This is very rude. I have tried screaming at her, but she just screams back. If she insists on hanging around, the least she could do is offer to pay part of the rent, but no. Every once in a while, I find a dollar bill stuck in a coat pocket, or some loose change under a sofa cushion, but it is not nearly enough. I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I think she is stealing money from me. I go to the ATM and withdraw $100, and a few days later, it's all gone. I certainly don't spend money THAT fast, so I can only conclude the old lady is pilfering from me. You'd think she would spend some of that money to buy wrinkle cream. Lord knows she needs it. And money isn't the only thing I think she is stealing. Food seems to disappear at an alarming rateespecially the good stuff like ice cream, cookies and candy. I can't seem to keep that stuff in the house anymore. She must have a real sweet tooth, but she'd better watch it, because she is really packing on the pounds. I suspect she realizes this, and to make herself feel better, she is tampering with my scale to make me think I am putting on weight, too. She has found other imaginative ways to annoy me. She gets into my mail, newspapers and magazines before I do, and blurs the print so I can't read it. And she has done something really sinister to the volume controls on my TV, radio and telephone. Now, all I hear are mumbles and whispers. She has done other thingslike make my stairs steeper, my vacuum cleaner heavier and all my knobs and faucets harder to turn. She even made my bed higher so that getting into and out of it is a real challenge. Lately, she has been fooling with my groceries before I put them away, applying glue to the lids, making it almost 2

PAGE 10

impossible for me to open the jars. Is this any way to repay my hospitality? She has taken the fun out of shopping for clothes. When I try something on, she stands in front of the dressing room mirror and monopolizes it. She looks totally ridiculous in some of those outfits, plus, she keeps me from seeing how great they look on me. Just when I thought she couldn't get any meaner, she proved me wrong. She came along when I went to get my picture taken for my driver's license, and just as the camera shutter clicked, she jumped in front ofme! No one is going to believe that the picture of that old lady is me. After spending a week with family in Dubuque, I headed to St. Louis, Missouri for the second leg of my journey. While in St. Louis I stayed with a friend and his parents, who, like my grandmother, were also in their mid 70's. A few days before returning home, I noticed that my friend's parents had several photocopies of the same exact Ann Landers' colwnn that my grandmother had shared with me the week before. My friend's parents said that they enjoyed the column so much that they had made copies to share with their friends. Thus not only had my grandmother and her friends, living in Dubuque, related to the colwnn, but so too had my friend's parents and those with whom they shared the colwnn. I saw such circumstances (two groups of individuals ages 60 plus years living in different cities and sharing with me the same newspaper column of which they found great relevancy and humor) as more than just mere coincidence. As such, I began to think that others in their age group might also find some truth to the Ann Landers' colwnn. With that in mind, I decided to conduct a qualitative study in order to explore further how individuals age 60 years 3

PAGE 11

and older view aging and old age, as well as whether they view themselves as being old. Study Pumose By the year 2035, it is projected that approximately 70 million people in the United States will be 65 years of age or older (Dychtwald, 1999). The doubling of this population over the next 35 years will force us, the United States, to begin looking at the older population differently. In the coming decades this emerging group will inevitably impact various social institutions, as well as force all generations to redefine how they view and perceive old age. This transition is likely to be difficult because it lies in great contrast to those beliefs and stereotypes currently held by our very youth oriented society. It is likely that we will no longer be able to apply definitions and assumptions made decades ago about the older population, to this vastly changing and most diverse population, especially as it shifts with the emerging baby boomers. As such, it is important that we begin to investigate whether older individuals, especially those age 60 years and older, view themselves as being old, or if like the writer of the Ann Landers' column, they too feel intruded upon by some "strange old lady", or some "strange old man." As they reach their 60's and beyond, such insights into individuals' self perceptions of old age are likely to prove beneficial in easing the transition our society will be forced to make in the coming years. With this in mind, the purpose of 4

PAGE 12

this study is to (1) explore how individuals age 60 years and older describe old age, and (2) whether they see themselves as being old. 5

PAGE 13

CHAPTER2 LITERATURE REVIEW Demographic Trends According to Dychtwald (1999), the 1,000 years prior to the 20th century saw a world wide rise in human life expectancy from 25 to 47 years. Since the tum of the last century, life expectancy has continued to 1ise in the United States, and other Western and industrial countries, to today's incredible average of approximately 76 years. In 1790, when the United States conducted it's first census, less than 2 percent, or approximately 3 million, of the United States population were age 65 and older. However, by the end of the 20th century, that number already had reached 33 million people. Such a rise was seen as a result of many factors including advances in sanitation, public health, food science, pharmacy, surgery, medicine, and wellness oriented lifestyles. As the baby boomers age, it is anticipated that the United States' 65 years and older population will reach approximately 70 million by the year 2035. This prediction is important to note because such increases in this segment of the United States' population will likely impact American society at various micro and macro levels including individual interactions and perceptions, social institutions, and social policies. 6

PAGE 14

Universals of Aging It has been suggested by Babbie (1998) that when conducting qualitative research, "the field researcher is especially attuned to the discovery of universals (p. 297)." While it is not the scope of this study to explore the universals of aging, it is helpful to briefly mention such universals (applied across cultural and social spectrums) in order to establish a broadworld wide'picture' of the aging population. As cited in Sokolovsky (1993), when identifying a category titled 'old', Glascock's and Feinman's 1981 findings suggest that changes in social and economic roles, chronology, and changes in physical characteristics are universal in describing an individual as 'old'. Achenbaurn (1998) adds to these universals by also suggesting that in general, old age is normally considered the stage of life that exists before death. Achenbaum further suggests that older people make up the most diverse age group, and that within this diverse age group, older individuals have varying physical, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics. Because this age group is so diverse, it is likely that self-perceptions and images of old age vary greatly as well. Describing Aging and Old Age As can be expected, when describing aging and old age there are as many descriptions as there are individuals providing those descriptions. For the most part, personal experiences and observations provide insight into how individuals describe and view themselves with regard to aging and old age. For example, research has found that "adults engage in an ongoing search for the meaning of their lives, and 7

PAGE 15

change their intetpretations of experiences as necessary to fmd a consistent pattern (Roberts, 1992, p. 92)." In addition, Achenbaum (1998) suggests that it isn't until we are advanced in years that we begin to understand what old age means, and that until that time, old age remains a mystery to be figured out and experienced sometime in the future. This same sentiment is shared by Robak, Griffin, Lacomb & Quint (2000) who found that "the older we get the more we know about aging ... with age, our attitudes about aging become less negative rather than more positive (p. 1182)." Research on aging and the aged has suggested that a number of characteristics or factors be considered when classifying or describing someone as being old. As such, not only is chronological age being taken into consideration when describing and/or defining old age, but also biological, functional, personal, and cognitive ages (Staats, 1996). With tllis in mind, the numbers of years we live, or the physiological changes we experience, are not the only predictors of old age. Instead it has been suggested that functional age, which includes physical, psychological and social factors in order to determine old age, be taken into considered as well (Hom & Meer, 1987). Professionals in the fields of gerontology and sociology have also begun to make distinctions between young old, middle old, and old old when describing someone as being old. For instance, Pipher (1999) suggests that the difference between young old and old old is the loss ofhealth, or the emergence of poor health. As such, someone who is 80 years old may be considered young old because he/she is 8

PAGE 16

in good health, while someone 60 years of age might be seen as old old because of poor health. In addition to using health statuses in order to distinguish the young old, middle old, and old old from one another, many other researchers use age groupings to do so. An example of such age groupings include those used by Seccombe & Ishii Kuntz (1991). For purposes of their study, the young old were classified as between the ages of 65 and 74, the middle old were those ages 75-84, and the oldest old were seen as those individuals ages 85 years and older. Regardless of how one might describe aging and/or old age, it is likely that those descriptions are the result of many things such as personal experiences, observations, and stereotypes. Stereotypes of Aging and the Aged While the purpose of my study is not to investigate stereotypes of aging and the aged, per se, how we describe and perceive old age is often influenced not only by our own experiences and observations, but also by stereotypes set forth by society. As can be imagined, a number of stereotypes, both positive and negative, exist in the United States regarding aging and the aged (elderly). Such stereotypes describing the elderly or older individuals in our society include, but are not limited to, conservative, depressed, determined, health conscious, independent, timid, tired, and trustworthy (Hummert, Garstka, Shaner & Strahm, 1994). While positive stereotypes can have a beneficial impact on the population being stereotyped, negative stereotypes can lead to continued misunderstandings about a given population, and thus possibly impact how we perceive and/or view the elderly and old age. Negative stereotypes may also 9

PAGE 17

result in ageism. As cited in Novak (1997), Robert Butler describs ageism as "a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old (p. 3)." As with any type of discrimination, those experiencing ageism may begin to view themselves differently and negatively, thus feeding further into misconceptions of, and influence how they view themselves with regard to, old age. One explanation as to why stereotypes may not alwf!,ys reflect current experiences and understanding is that of cultural lag. The notion of cultural lag, as set forth by Crews (1993), takes place when sociocultural definitions of aging fall behind current life expectancy trends, changing demographic patterns, and improvements in healthcare. While our capabilities and level of activity have surpassed expectations held in the past about aging and the elderly, how we perceive and/or stereotype our expectations of old age may fail to meet what is actually taking place, thus resulting in cultural lag. As such, what was once thought to encapsulate old age beginning at 60 or 65 years, now may not apply until people reach their 80's or 90's. Despite the obvious cultural lag that exists in the United States regarding how individuals age 65 and older are perceived, increases in the number of healthy and vigorous older people in the United States have helped to overcome many of the negative stereotypes of this population (Horn & Meer, 1987). Theoretical Perspectives Applied to Self Perceptions of Old Age While the purpose of this study was to explore the given topic, rather than to develop and test hypotheses based on theory, it is still important to acknowledge the 10

PAGE 18

role symbolic interactionism has in how one may desctibe and/or perceive themselves when asked about aging and old age. As such, in the pursuit of exploring the aging process and its meaning for the individual and those around him/her, symbolic interactionism has been used as a basis for which to begin such investigations. As cited in Miller (1987), J.F. Gubrium suggests that "the type of aging processes which an individual will experience can be significantly affected by his/her interaction with the environment and persons encountered during life (p. 142)." This makes sense when one considers that the focus of symbolic interaction is placed on meanings that emerge as a result of everyday interaction. Thus, when trying to explain why someone may or may not see him/herself as being old (i.e. the meaning of such a description and whether he/she gives such meaning to him/herself), two theoretical notions from the symbolic interactionism standpoint come to mind: Charles Cooley's "looking glass self', and Sharon Kaufman's idea of the "ageless self'. Cooley's (1964) "looking glass self' suggests that our perceived selves, how we see and/or feel about ourselves, is dependent on how we imagine others view us. Just as images and stereotypes pop into our heads as we see people walking down the street, Cooley says it is these very thoughts that shape how we think others may perceive us. Such interactions may then provide us with a point of reference from which to find meaning for the experience. For example, the media in the United States often portray individuals with gray hair and wrinkles as being old and dependent on others to receive aid in their daily living activities. Because of these 11

PAGE 19

portrayals, many individuals possessing such characteristics (i.e. gray hair and wrinkles) may think others see them as being dependent and not self-sufficient. Because being dependent on others later in life often conjures negative thoughts for many individuals in the United States, their perceived self-image and how they think others view them is likely to be negative. However, if they think that others associate gray hair and wrinkles with wisdom, experience, and deference, and they again possess such characteristics, then their self-perceived image may be affected positively. During the course of everyday interaction, whether we think others view us positively or negatively, according to Cooley, is likely to impact our self-image, as well as the meaning we place on old age and our relation to it. In the end, such thoughts/meanings are likely to affect whether or not we classify or see ourselves as old. While Cooley's "looking glass self' can be applied to anyone at any stage in his/her life, Kaufman's (1993) idea of the "ageless self' emerged while she was exploring the meaning of aging as described by elderly individuals. While interviewing individuals over the age of 70, Kaufman found that, they do not relate to aging or chronological age as a category of experience or meaning. To the contrary, when old people talk about themselves, they express a sense of self that is agelessan identity that maintains continuity despite the physical and social changes that come with old age (p. 14). 12

PAGE 20

The idea of an "ageless self' in which one's identity is separate from such things as wrinkles, aches and pains, and social security, can be applied to individuals such as the author of the Ann Launders' column. Such individuals, if they do not look in the mirror or get caught up in changes in their physical appearance and abilities, may not perceive or view themselves as old because their identity, that which gives meaning and purpose to their lives, is not necessarily dependent on physical appearance or social aspects of life. Even when confronted with various social cues of old age, he/she may not view him/herself as old because such cues fail to influence his/her self-identity. Thus, when it comes to identifying and describing old age, how one defmes his/her self image (Cooley) and/or identity (Kaufman) is likely to shape how he/she defines, or gives meaning to, old age, as well as whether he/she views him/herself as being old. Studies Investigating Perceptions and Definitions of Aging When it comes to investigating how individuals over the age 60 years describe/defme old age and whether they view themselves as being old, research is varied and limited. However, there are some studies, which have begun to explore such topics. One such study conducted by Keller, Leventhall & Larson (1989) explored how 32 individuals between the ages of 50 and 75 years perceived growing old, including the changes they anticipated as they aged. Results found that when describing the meaning of aging, participants' responses could be grouped as seeing aging as a natural and gradual process, a period of life evaluation, a period of 13

PAGE 21

increased freedom, associated with physical health difficulties or concerns regarding same, and a period of loss. When noting signs of aging, responses were divided into social, physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. In general, these changes were negative in nature, regardless of whether the individual was commenting on changes in him/herself, or others. Another study conducted by Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz (1991) set out to "investigate how perceptions of aging and the problems the aged face differ among several elderly age cohorts (p. 528)." Using data collected by Harris and Associates in 1981, Seccombe & Ishii-Knntz grouped responses provided by individuals aged 55 and older into four categories, those who were middle-aged (ages 55-64), yonng old (ages 65-74), middle old (ages 75-84) and the oldest old (85 years and older). What they found was that as individuals in these groups aged, the "aging boundary'' was extended. For example someone who is yonng old might think that someone aged 75-84 years is old. However someone middle old might think 85 years or older is old. Thus regardless of age, as one grows older it is likely that what he/she once considered old is no longer true for them, and old age is now even older. Findings such as those presented by Keller, Leventhall & Larson, and Seccombe & Ishii-Knntz have relevancy for the purpose of my study because they suggest or indicate patterns that may emerge when exploring whether individuals ages 60 years and older classify themselves as being old. By investigating the universals of aging, various ways in which aging and old age are described, the 14

PAGE 22

stereotypes of aging and the aged, and theories such as the "looking glass self' and the "ageless self', further insight and understanding is gained with respect to how individuals ages 60 years and older may describe old age. 15

PAGE 23

CHAPTER3 METHODS Introduction In order to explore how individuals age 60 and older describe old age and whether they classify themselves as being old, I decided to conduct a field study. In order to begin this process, I wrote and submitted a proposal to the Human Research Committee at the University of Colorado at Denver for ethical consideration. On or about June 1, 2000 the Research Committee granted me final approval for my research project, and at that time I began recruitment for my study. Potential respondents were asked to participate in a face-toface interview in which many open-ended, along with closed-ended questions for clarification, were asked. Those individuals interested in participating in this qualitative study were responsible for contacting me to schedule an interview. If the possible participant met the minimum age requirement of 60 years, and wished to participate in the study, an interview was scheduled at a time and place that was convenient for him/her. Interviews lasted between 35 and 240 minutes, with an average length of 84 minutes, and data were collected over a nine-month period from June 2000 through February 2001. All participants lived in a midsize metropolitan area located in the western United States. 16

PAGE 24

Sampling Process Participants were recruited for this qualitative study in one of four possible ways: through contacts, a senior newsletter ad, fliers, and snowballing/word of mouth. Contacts were individuals who either worked with the designated population, or who had frequent contact with individuals age 60 and older. Contacts were sought out at a number of senior centers in the metropolitan area. Appointments were scheduled with possible contacts who were interested in hearing more about the study. In all, two directors of senior centers, one community specialist working at a senior housing location, and one senior center worker volunteered to be contacts. I asked contacts to share information about the study with anyone in the study population who might be interested. It was then up to those interested in participating to contact me for any additional information regarding the study. In addition to using contacts, I also placed an ad in a local monthly senior newsletter. The ad provided a brief description of the study, as well as a telephone number to call in order to reach me for further information and for scheduling an interview. Fliers containing pertinent information regarding the study were also distributed by not only myself, but also by contacts and study participants. Participants were encouraged to ask family members, friends, and acquaintances, who met the minimum age requirement, whether they also would be interested in participating. In all, five (23%) participants found out about the study through contacts, five (23%) participants found information about the study in the senior 17

PAGE 25

newsletter ad, four (18%) participants saw a flier, and eight (36%) participants were introduced to the study by word of mouth. Sample Characteristics Of the 22 study participants, seventy-three percent (16) were female and twenty-seven percent (6) were male. The majority of the sample (90%) were Caucasian, with the remainder of the sample being either African American (5%) or Native American (5%). The age of participants ranged from sixty to ninety years with thirty-six percent (8) being between 60-69 years, forty-one percent (9) between 70-79 years, eighteen percent (4) between 80-89 years, and five percent (1) of the sample being 90 years of age. When asked to describe their overall health as either excellent, good, fair, or poor, twenty-three percent (5) of participants indicated that their health was excellent, fifty-eight percent (13) said their health was good, fourteen percent (3) indicated their health was fair, and five percent (1) described their health as being poor. With regard to their current marital status, forty-one percent (9) of participants were married, eighteen percent (4) were divorced, thirty-six percent (8) were widowed, and five percent (1) were single and had never been married. Furthermore, twenty-three percent ( 5) of participants had Bachelors Degrees, thirty-one percent (7) had earned Masters Degrees, and five percent (1) had completed their Doctorate Degree. When asked about average yearly income for their household, nine percent (2) of participants said their income ranged between $10,000 and $19,999, thirty-one 18

PAGE 26

percent (7) reported incomes between $20,000 and $29,999, seventeen percent (4) earned $30,000 to $39,999, approximately fifteen percent (3) earned between $60,000 and $89,000, and approximately another fifteen percent (3) said their average yearly household income was $100,000 or greater. About fifteen percent (3) of the study participants declined to answer the question regarding average yearly household income. Finally, when asked whether or not they considered themselves religious and/or spiritual, seventy-three percent (16) of participants said yes. Interview Schedule For purposes of data collection, I designed an interview schedule consisting of six sections and containing 83 initial questions (Appendix A). I asked questions regarding demographic information, family background, work history/retirement, health, daily/weekly routines, and self perceptions of age/aging. During the interview, each question was read to the study participants. Participants were allowed as much or as little time necessary to answer any and all questions. In addition to the specific questions being asked, I used many probes and side questions to gain additional information and insight. Interview Process In an attempt to build rapport, I spent a period of 5-10 minutes prior to the start of each interview providing the participant with additional information about the study and its purpose, as well as background information about myself. Once this initial introduction was completed, the participant reviewed the study consent fmm by 19

PAGE 27

following along as I read the form aloud. After all questions were answered and the consent form was signed, we spent time reviewing the interview schedule. When reviewing the interview schedule, I would outline each section contained within the instrument, and provide a brief description of the questions to be asked. After reviewing each section, each participant was asked if there were any questions he/she would like to be omitted from the interview. If the participant indicated that there were questions he/she preferred not to answer, I marked such questions and did not ask them once the interview began. The purpose of going through this exercise was to reduce the possibility of discomfort or anxiety for each participant during the actual interview by identifying sensitive topics that he/she may not be comfortable discussing. Such questions might have included those discussing family members, the type of relationship they had with each, or circumstances surrounding deaths (if applicable). With the exception of three participants who wished not to disclose their household yearly income, none of the other participants wished to exclude or omit questions from the interview schedule. Once the instrument was reviewed and I answered any questions posed by the participant, the interview began. For purposes of accurate data recording and collection, I asked each participant for permission to tape-record his/her interview. All participants consented by checking the appropriate box on the study consent form and signing same. In addition to tape-recording, I also took notes during each interview. After the interview was completed (i.e. all questions on the interview schedule had been 20

PAGE 28

asked), I spent a few more minutes talking with the participant. This time spent talking allowed me an opportunity to bring closure to the interview by providing the participant an opportunity to ask additional questions, or to share additional information not covered during the interview. This period oftentimes involved the participant showing me family pictures, awards, and hobby materials. Then I thanked each participant for his/her involvement in the study and the meeting ended. After its completion, I transcribed each tape-recorded interview verbatim through the use of a transcription machine and by utilizing the notes I took during the interview for reference and clarification. Data Analysis While my interview schedule asked a number of questions regarding many different aspects of participants' lives, for purposes of this study, I was only interested in exploring responses to those questions that provided general demographic information, as well as those found in the perceptions section of the interview schedule. Using what Boyatzis (1998) calls thematic analysis," a process for encoding qualitative information (p.4)'', I organized responses to questions from the perceptions section of my interview schedule into various categmies. As responses were sifted through, themes began to emerge within each category. Themes, according to Boyatzis are "patterns found in the information that at minimum describes and organizes the possible observations and at maximum interprets aspects of the phenomenon (p. 4)." This type of analysis was used because 21

PAGE 29

the purpose of the study was to primarily explore how individuals age 60 and older describe old age and whether they view themselves as being old. With this in mind, Boyatzis suggests that "during the prediscovery, 'fuzzy' stage of formulation of a research agenda, thematic analysis enables the researcher to access a wide variety of phenomenological information as an inductive beginning to the inquire (p. 5)." What follows are the patterns that emerged as a result of my study. 22

PAGE 30

CHAPTER4 FINDINGS Introduction Upon hearing about this study on aging, one participant wrote the following poem before our scheduled interview and told me to ''use it as you like." Because the poem describes what "growing old" means to him and encapsulates many of the sentiments shared by other respondents in the study, it is presented here as the introduction to this findings chapter. What Does it Mean "To Grow Old"? Aging is a natural process in humans and in all of nature. It's a matter of time. Contrary to what The ancients used to say"even the stones grow old". Youth When you're young, you can feel yourself growing stronger, When you're old, you can feel yourself aging older, longer Mind and body and spirit which once grew bigger, stronger, bolder Now "age" tired and weaker and older. The future, which to youth, looks sunny and bright To the old -(future)means darkness and blight. When young, one grows strong. When old, one grows wrong. The Old To the old, hearing, sight, memory fade away; Aches, pains, dizziness and weakness grow each day. 23

PAGE 31

Transition Some get there gradually and enjoy the trip. Some go massively or with a broken hip. Some grow old gracefully; some with a shove. Some meet age gradually and yearn not for heaven above. Some are on the top of the world one day, Til bones break, teeth crack and all fall away. At the "Home" What does it mean to grow old? "Over the hill,,, Pve been told. Eyes turn to glasses and ears to aids; Strides turn to shuffles-stumbles need canes; Muscles turn flab and joints to pains. From walkers to wheelchairs To bedridden bones, Broken bodies know malnutrition Eyes without seeing-ears without hearing Minds without memory, knowledge or recognition. Eventually Eventually, as the poet said, we face death. Once again, as babies, crying gasping for breath. "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.,,* Bring us to the end of our earthly being. At the End Bodies to coffm and grave Or urns full of powder or dust Death to "growing old and aging,,! -( With nothing to save )As to all living things it must. *,,The Seven Ages ofMan,,, from As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, William Shakespeare 24

PAGE 32

Research Questions As outlined previously, the purpose of this study is to explore (1) how individuals age 60 years and older describe old age, and (2) whether they see themselves as being old. In order to explore descriptions of old age, analysis was conducted on responses to questions such as "If you were to describe someone as being old, how would you do so?'', "What, if any, are the benefits, of growing older?", "What, if anything, are the downsides to growing older?", and "What do you like best, and least, about your current age?". With regard to self perceptions of old age, the question, "Do you see yourself as being old?" was asked. Describing an "Old" Person Nine categories emerged from responses given by respondents when asked to describe someone as being old. While some respondents indicated that individuals need only to satisfy one characteristic (or category) in order to be classified as old, the majority (77%) of respondents suggested a number of characteristics should be present in order to consider someone old. Examples of responses in which a number of characteristics were suggested when describing someone as old are as follows, Well, there are various ways oflooking at it (old age). The rule of thumb from various persons is you're old if you're over 60. You're old if you've got gray hair. I know that you're as old as you let yourself be. And you can make yourself old, you can make yourself get old, or you can be not old mentally at all. But sooner or later, the machine (body) wears down. And some people are fortunate that they don't have any physical problems that slow them up and they're still charging at 25

PAGE 33

96. And as ... each person is unique. And a great deal of problem with age is deformity, and an inability to do something, usually something beyond your control.. .. (13-F80) I would say they had reached a certain number of years and maybe .. had physically changed. Might have physical problems ... health problems, and had atteemed (sic) a certain number of years, of course, in age. If they're old, I think maybe their attitudes would have changed as well. Attitudes ... have gained a lot of experience and maybe some wisdom along the way. (21F65) They (old people) are old in years ... in their 80's, but I think the greatest thing about being old is to be 'picky, picky' and have a closed mind, and finding fault with everybody, and just gossipy and no patience, no tolerance ... (12-F85) Of the nine categories that emerged when respondents described an old person, the highest percentage of respondents reported physical decline (45%) as being necessary in order to classify someone as being old. Responses found in this category included references to a decline in physical strength, quickness, agility, eyesight, and hearing, the use of aiding devises, and an increase in physical disabilities and frailty. In addition to physical decline, respondents also suggested that mental decline (36%), a limited outlook or narrow mindedness about life (32%), changes in physical appearance (27%), chronological age (27%), physical inactivity (23%), dependency on others for daily living activities (18%), and a decline in health (18%), such as poor health, illness, and the use of medications, were also indications 26

PAGE 34

that someone was old. The ninth, "other'', category included responses (18%) such as wisdom and uncertainty. Again, as the responses indicate, there is no one answer to the question, If you were to describe someone as being old, how would you do so?" Rather, there are a number of characteristics that are often taken into consideration. These characteristics may be specific to the individual being described as old, and/or the individual giving the description. In total, fifty five percent (12) of respondents said that personal experiences (i.e. those experienced by themselves or that of a family member) have contributed to their definition of old, while approximately twenty three percent (5) said that it was personal observations (i.e. that of friends and/or strangers) that have helped to mold their definitions of those individuals whom they consider to be old. The remaining five participants (approximately 23%) said that their definitions were influenced by a combination of experiences, observations, and society. This was true for one respondent who stated, "Observation and what you do yourself. You don't know much about being old until you get there (13F80)." Older is OldChanging Perceptions It can be expected that as we age, our experiences, observations and those we meet will have an impact on how we view the world around us. Thus it is not surprising that the experiences we have as we age might influence how we perceive old age. As such, just as when we were children and viewed those who were older than us as being old, so too, might we do this when what we once thought was old is 27

PAGE 35

our current age and old now refers to those we never even considered. This was the case for a number of respondents ( 6) who replied, Someone in their 80's and 90's (is old). (20-F60) ... people older than me are old ... and all of my sixty year old friends, they aren't old either. They have to be 70 or 80 to be old. (11-F64) ... when I was 50 I used to think 65 was old. Now I'm past 65 and I'm thinking 75 might be old. When I get to be, good Lord willing, 75, I'll think 85 was old. (14F66) Well, there's a joke, anybody old is ten years older than you are. (16-F83) ... I suspect that in a few years I will probably be in the similar condition of people who are in their 70's, and that's roughly the age that I would give to old age, probably starting in your latter 60's and 70's. Definitely 80's and 90's is old age. (22-M64) In addition to the those respondents who indicated that someone old was someone older then themselves, a number of respondents ( 6) indicated that they thought that others, whether they be family members, friends, or strangers, viewed them (the respondent) as being old because he/she (the respondent) was chronologically older than that particular family member, friend or stranger. An additional 9% (2) of respondents referenced periods in their own life when they viewed others as being old, but based on how they feel now, would not necessarily consider that same person old today. In the words of some respondents, 28

PAGE 36

I think they (respondents' children) always saw me as being old because older is old. You know, it's kind of a strange phenomenon. (11-F64) The other part of the family would say, 'she's (the participant) the oldest,' because I'm older than they are. (7-F79) Yeah (family members see me as old). They're always younger than what I am. (8-M76) Yeah, I'm sure (my friends think I'm old) ... because most of my friends are either 40's or just starting 50. So I consider them very young. (15-F72) Probably (they see me as being old), depending on the age of the stranger. If she was 25 years old, she would think I was old. (18-F70) I remember walking one day with my grandfather. At that time he was probably in his early 60's. And we'd walk in the neighborhood, and we'd pass a house or something. I forgot the circumstances, where my grandfather, whom I thought was an old man, was white hairedprematurely, I think, but he was white haired and he looked old, and he was wrinkled, so on and so forth. He looked older than I am now. But he looked old. He was the typical old, as far as that is concerned. Anyway, he referred to on of the neighbors as an old man. And I thought, 'Gee, that's strange.' He did it in such a way to almost suggest that he wasn't old ... (that) my view of him was somehow wrong. (10M76) I think probably when I was a teenager and in college, I viewed it (old age) differently because my grandmother wasn't really old ... but I viewed her as old. (21-F69) 29

PAGE 37

Benefits and Downsides to Growing Older Four categories emerged indicating the benefits of growing old as reported by respondents. As with describing old age, many respondents indicated that there are a number ofbenefits to growing older. Forty five percent (10) of respondents made reference to personal experiences (i.e. increased knowledge and wisdom) as being benefits, while 41% (9) described increased freedom as being something to look forward to with age. This category included responses such as fewer responsibilities, enjoyment of life, leisure time, travel, doing things you want to do and financial freedoms. As one respondent said, Oh, all the senior discounts you get ... and time if you're not working. You have time ... freedom. You don't have to get up every morning (20-F60). The third category, self awareness, included responses such as being more open minded, less judgmental, and having gained religious understanding. Twenty seven percent ( 6) of respondents reported some aspect of self awareness as a benefit of growing older. The last category, social benefits, included responses from fourteen percent (3) of the respondents and referred to senior discounts and being treated with deference as benefits to look forward as one gets old. Just as with benefits of growing old, when asked about what they like best about their cunent ages, fifty percent ( 11) of respondents said it was their increased freedom (i.e. fewer responsibilities, enjoyment of life, leisure time, travel, doing things they wanted to do, and fmancial freedoms) that they enjoy the most. Eighteen percent (4) of 30

PAGE 38

respondents stated that it was their relationships with family and friends that made their current age enjoyable. Other responses included still being alive (3); grateful that they were not older than their current age (1), no regrets (1), good health (1), physically able to care for themselves (2), good memory (1), can say what they want (1), and the senior discounts (1). When discussing the downsides to growing older, eight categories emerged. The most frequent aspect of aging seen as a downside was that of physical decline (64%). Again, this category included responses referencing a decline in physical strength, quickness, agility, eye sight, and hearing, the use of aiding devises, increased disabilities, frail/feebleness, aches, pains, and being easily tired. Forty one percent (9) of respondents said poor health and/or illness were also downsides to growing old. The remaining categories included increasing dependence on others (2), decrease in physical attractiveness (1), memory loss (1), losing family and friends to death (1 ), having less years left oflife than that which they have already lived (2), and the fear of the unknown (1 ). When asked what they liked least about their cmTent age, respondents' answers were similar to that of the downsides to growing older. In all, fifty-five percent (12) of respondents said that they disliked the health and physical decline that they were experiencing with their current age. Other dislikes included mental decline (1), limited time left (3), increasing inability to care for one's self (2), not younger/getting older (2), changes in physical appearance (2), regrets (1 ), 31

PAGE 39

less involved with extra cuni.cular activities (1 ), and having to care for other family members (1). Me, old? Just as professionals in the fields of gerontology and sociology have begun to take into consideration a number of components/variables when defining and describing aging and old age, so, too, have the respondents in this study. When talking about old age, one respondent said, I don't really go by the chronological. I do in a way because this is my ... the perception that you have is that when you reach 65 you (retire) ... and that's mandatory, because of social secwi.ty. And the government says when you're 65 you're old. But, ah ... but I don't ... I see people who are 80, their shell may be old, but as far as their attitudes and their interpretation of life, they're not old, and yet their experience is worth ... and their wisdom has really accumulated along with their years. (21-F69) No longer can one rely purely on yes/no responses to questions such as "Do you consider yourself as being old?" When asked whether they considered themselves to be old, 55% (12) of respondents suggested that no, they were not old. An additional 9% (2) said they were old chronologically, but not physically or mentally, and another 9% (2) said they were old physically, but not mentally. Twenty seven percent (6) of participants said ''yes", they considered themselves to be old. Following are examples of distinctions made by respondents, thus illustrating the variety of responses given when asked whether they saw themselves as old: 32

PAGE 40

Yeah sure, I'm old, but I'm old physically. And I'm more set in my way. You get older as you learn more, and experience more. So you're old. What do you see? You see a crotchedly (sic) old white haired woman with a cane who says 'Oh, I remember Johnny, aren't you Johnny?' That kind of thing. That's the way it's pictured. Dementia, or something like that. I think it varies with the individual, again. We have people, golly, the poor souls don't know where the hell they are. Now, that's an old person. That's an ancient person. That's a person who's headed down and out. But they're younger than I am, some of them. (13F80) Well, I don't move around like I used to. And I am fatter than I used to be, so physically I am getting old. Mentally, I hope not (14-F66)." I think I'm what they call young old(chronologically if you look at numbers, I'm older than others, but when I look at my capabilities and what I'm doing with my life, I wouldn't classify myself as old) (16-F83). Well, yes because I'm nearing my 701h birthday. That's got to be getting ... that's got to be old in years. But I hope I'm not dgid yet, or fossilized. And I hope I can adapt to change. That seems to be crucial. (21-F69) Any Age ... Any Age at All? In general, our society, the United States, is considered to be a youth oriented society (Seccombe & Ishii-Kuntz, 1991; Friedan, 1993). This is evident when you wait in the check out stand and see the numerous magazine articles giving tips 01;1 how to combat wrinkles and sagging, tum on the television and see ads for products developed to slow down the so called aging process, or when you receive a birthday card that suggests that now you're over the hill. With many cultural pressures to 33

PAGE 41

remain young and vital, it might be anticipated that most individuals ages 60 and older would want to be younger than their current age. However, when presenting respondents with the question, 'If you could be any age, what age would you be?', eight respondents (36%) said they'd prefer to be their current age. Of those who would remain their current age, a number of them (3) indicated that its because they're happy that they'd remain their current age. I guess I just have to say I'm happy where I'm at right now. (9-F60) .. .I'm really happy. I wouldn't want to be real young again or anything ... I just would be the age that I am and be happy with it. (15-F72) I think I would be this age. I'm happy. I've learned enough that I know I can be happy. (20-F60) Of the 12 participants (55%) who said they'd prefer to be younger than their current age, 33% (4) said they'd like to be between ages 50 and 59 years, 25% (3) said they'd like to be 30-39 years of age, 17% (2) opted to be between 40-49 years, and another 17% (2) said they'd prefer ages 20-29 years .. Eight percent (1) of those who wanted to be younger said he/she would like to be between 60-69 years of age. Reasons varied as to why younger was preferred, but as the percentages indicate above, and the following responses indicate below, younger doesn't necessarily mean much younger. Maybe between 40 and 50 ... Well, I guess because at 40 I really went back to school to be retooled and that's why I earned my master's degree. (11-F64) 34

PAGE 42

Well, I thought age 50 was nice ... at 50 you're quite active yet, and you do things and you know more people and the realities of all these people that you know, well passing away and seeing them fail hasn't hit you yet. (12-F85) I think that the mid years, the 50's would probably be the years that you become (reach) your peak maturity ... the losses of those persons close to you haven't started yet .... I think you still have physical strength and your mind is still going at possibly the best time because you've still got so much more ahead of you. (13-F80) I'd say 55 because I was still pretty spry when I was 55 and yet I was mature. (14-F66) 55 for good health. Wait ... 55 I'm not retired yet. It would have to be 60. 55 or 60. (18-F70) Well, I would certainly not go way back. Some things I certainly would not want to live through again. And on the whole, I feel I've been very fortunate, so I don't want to do any of it over again. I guess my 60's ... (16F83) 35

PAGE 43

CHAPTERS DISCUSSION Strengths and Limitations As can be expected with any qualitative study, there are both strengths and weaknesses to consider. While the sample size of the study was small (22 participants), thus making it difficult to generalize to the entire population of individuals over the age of 60 years, the information collected from this sample was in depth and provided a great deal of insight from which to base future research. A field study such as this allowed those interviewed an opportunity to share their experiences of growing older and aging in a manner that was non-threatening, and of which provided a ''voice" through which their experiences could be heard and shared. Discussion of the Findings While the Ann Landers' column that prompted this study suggested that older individuals may not see themselves as being old, I anticipated that a majority of participants would indicate that they saw themselves as being old. Such an assumption was based on cultural stereotypes that have bombarded me each and every day for much of my life. However, when asked whether they considered themselves old, 55% of participants in my study said "no", and only 27% said "yes". 36

PAGE 44

Further, twenty three percent (5) of respondents indicated specifically that they don't feel old. Examples of such responses include, No I don't (see myself as old). I know I am (old), but I don't really feel that way. I still giggle and do silly things, and have fun in life ... and feel1ike I'm 20 or 30. If I don't look in the mirror for awhile, you know, I really don't feel old. These fmdings coincide with what Kaufman (1993) descdbes as the "ageless self." Regardless of one's chronological age and the physical changes that have taken place, one may not see him/herself as being old because it is not the chronological or physical changes that defme and/or give meaning for him/her. With regard to Cooley's "looking glass self', a number of individuals indicated that they thought family members (10), friends (6), and strangers (11) viewed them as being old. While infom1ation wasn't collected specifically to detetmine why it is they thought such individuals viewed them as being old, eight respondents suggested that such people viewed them as being old because of their chronological age, or because they were simply older than those family members, friends, arid strangers. Staying with the symbolic interactionism paradigm (i.e. fmding meanings in everyday interactions), J.F. Gubrium's assertion that the aging process an individual experiences may be significantly affected by his/her interaction with various people and environments during the course of everyday life (Miller, 1987) proved true in my 37

PAGE 45

study. In all, 55% of respondents indicated that personal experiences have contributed to their overall definitions and perceptions of old age. In addition, another 23% said that personal observations impacted their definitions. When asked to describe old age, 27% of respondents indicated that someone old is chronologically older than themselves. An example of such a response was made by a 70 year old female who said ... when I was 50 I thought 70 was ancient. And now, I think 50 is just a young kid and 90 is ancient. I mean, it all changes." These findings paralleled those ofSeccombe & Ishii-Kuntz (1991) who suggest that as we age, the "aging boundary" (that which indicates when we are old) is extended. In addition, just as Staats (1996), Hom & Meer (1987) and Pipher (1999) indicated that chronological age alone does not determines old age, 77% of respondents in my study suggested a number of characteristics be present in order to classify someone as being old. Such fmdings are important to note because in the coming decades the number of individuals over the age of 65 years is going to rapidly increase. As this population grows, our culture and the social institutions which make up its peripheral and interior, will be forced to change, thus forcing younger generations to redefine old age, the capabilities one has during this period in his/her life, and overall life satisfaction. As a result, long standing stereotypes of the aging and/or aged will forever be impacted, thus influencing one's expectations and possible self perceptions of old age. 38

PAGE 46

Future Research Based on the findings fonnd as a result of this field study, it is suggested that future research explore further how definitions and self perceptions of old age are developed, reinforced, and impact who we are later in life. In addition, investigating how variables/factors such as health, family backgronnd, family roles, and work history/retirement affect our self-perceptions of old age might also prove beneficial. 39

PAGE 47

APPENDIX 40

PAGE 48

APPENDIX A INTERVIEW SCHEDULE Cover Sheet Information Respondent Identification Number Date of IntetView Location of intetView Description of intetView location IntetView start time IntetView end time Number and length of each interruption Total intetView time in minutes Demographics 1. How did you hear about this study? 2. Sex ofRespondent: Male Female 3. What is your date of birth? 4. What is yowmarital status? (length of current relationship or widowhood & prev. marr.)? Single, never married Separated Divorced First maniage Remarried (2nd, 3rd, etc.) Widowed (cause of death) Other 41

PAGE 49

5. What is your race/ ethnicity? (African Amer., White, Hispanic, Asian, Amer. Ind., etc) 6. Do you consider yourself religious and/or spiritual? (affiliation, involvement, jiequency church attendance, religious practices, beliefS) 7. What is the highest level of education you have completed? less than high school some high school high school graduate or equivalent some college associates degree trade school or apprenticeship program bachelor's degree master's degree doctorate 8. From what sources do you receive your monthly income (i.e. social security, disability, pension, savings; investments, children, place of employment, etc.) 9. In which of the following ranges does your current yearly income fall? $0-$9,999 $10,000$19,999 $20,000$29,999 $30,000$39,999 $40,000$49,999 $50,000 and higher exact yearly income$ ______ 10. What type of residence do you live in? (i.e. single family home, apartment, retirement community, nursing home, etc.) 11. How long have you lived there? 12. Do you live alone or with others?( who, why, for how long) Family Background 13. Where were you born? 14. Where were you primarily raised? 42

PAGE 50

15. How would you describe the town/city you were primarily raised in? (rural, urban, big, small, etc.) 16. How many brothers and sisters do you havethis would also include any half, adoptive, and/or step brothers and sisters (indicate current level of closeness & relationship with each). 17. Are all of your brothers and sisters still alive? (if not, when were their deaths cause?) Was this an expected death? 18. Are your parents still alive? (include biological, adoptive, stepindicate level of closenesscurrent ages or age at death) Was this an expected death? 19. Who did you live with while you were growing up? (times when others came to live with respondent or respondent went to live with otherswhen and how long) 20. Were your grandparents alive while you were growing up? (type of relationship with grandparent/ indicate maternal or paternal side) 21. Overall, how would you describe the economic status of your family while you were growing up? Did this change during your childhood? 22. How did you spend the majority of your time when you were growing up (i.e. activities, hobbies, taking care of siblings, etc.)? 23. How would you describe your currerit spouse/partner? (i.e. is he/she supportive, active, caring, outgoing, introverted, involved in activities, etc.) 24. How would you describe your relationship with him/her? (i.e. what types of activities do you do together, do you get along, are you mutually supportive of one etc.) 25. Do you have any childrenthis would include biological, adoptive, and step children? (genders, ages) 26. Are all of your children still living? (if no, at what age did child pass away and cause) 27. What type of relationship do/did you have with children? 43

PAGE 51

28. Do you have any grandchildrenthis would include biological, step, and adoptive? (genders, ageswho are their parents?) 29. Type ofrelationship with grandchildren?(level of closeness with each and types of activities they do together-if not really close, why not) Work History/ Retirement 30. Have you ever worked outside you home? (include businesses run from home) 31. What are some of the types of jobs/ occupations you've had during your lifetime? (length of time at each job/ occupation, level of enjoyment, which if any were identity markers, etc.) 32. Which, if any, of these positions are you currently working? (how many hours/ week and why) 33. Which, if any, ofthese positions are you currently retired from? (where and age of retirement) 34. Was it your choice to retire from this position(s)? (if no, why retire) 35. What were/ are your expectations of retirement? 36. Have your expectations for retirement been met? (if no, in what ways have they not been met) 37. Are you currently volunteering? (where, hours, for how long) 38. Do you belong to any organizations? (where, what, hours, positions) 39. Do you have any hobbies? (what, when, etc.) Health 40. How would you describe your current physical health (excellent, good, fair, po011? 41. Do you currently have any physical health problems? (describe) 42. Are you on any medications? (what and how long) 44

PAGE 52

43. At any time during your life, have you had any physical or mental health problems other than those you currently suffer from? (what, when) 44. As you've gotten older, what types of physical changes have you noticed about yourself? (anticipated or not? why, why not) 45. As you've gotten older, have you noticed any changes in your ability to remember things? (in whatway, whenanticipated or not) 46. As you've gotten older, what types of changes, if any, have occurred in your physical or mental health that have affected your ability to perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning? (adjustments made) 47. Have you installed any devices in your home to aid you in your daily activities (i.e. additional railings, special toilet stools, bathtub benches, ramps, etc)? (what, when) 48. Do you use a cane, walker, or motorized scooter to help you get around? Do you use these items outside your home? 49. Have you noticed changes in the way family members treat you or react to you as a result of your using these items? How about in the way friends and strangers treat you? Daily/Weekly Routines 50. How would you describe a typical day for you? 51. Approximately how many hours each day do you spend watching television? (times, favorite programs, favorite channels) *(How do you feel about the way older individuals are portrayed on televisionis it often an accurate depiction?) 52. Has the amount of television you watch increased or decreased over the past year? (if yes, why) 53. Approximately how many hours each day do you spend reading? (type of reading materialnewspaper, magazine, books, etc.) 54. Has the amount of reading you do increased or decreased over the past year? (if yes, why) 45

PAGE 53

55. Do you own or have access to a computer? (length of ownership or access, and types of things it is used Did anyone help you set up your computer or gain access to a computer? 56. Do you use the internet or an email service? (what used for, who email) 57. How often do you do things with family members? (Other than spouse-who, what, when) 58. How often do you do things with friends? (who, what, when) 59. Do you drive a car? (have you ever a driven carwhy not drive now-at what age stopped/start drivingHow much time do you think you spend driving a car each week?) 60. What type of services, if any, do you receive that aid you in daily activities? (i.e. meals on wheels, housecleaning, home care, etc.can also include help from family, friends, neighbors, etc.) 61. What type of exercise, if any, do you currently get? (i.e. walk, run, swim bike ride, etc) 62. How often do you engage in this type of exercise? 63. Why do you exercjse? 64. Would you say you've always been a physically active person? 65. Are there other types of exercise or physical activities you used to participate in, but no longer do? (what, whenwhy no longer) Perception Questions 66. If you were to describe someone as being "old", how would you do so? 67. What types of things do you think have contributed to your definition of"old ? (i.e. personal or life experiences, mass media, etc.) 68. Have you always viewed growing old as you do now? (if not, when and why did this view changechildhood, early adulthood, middle age, etc) 46

PAGE 54

69. Do you know any one you would consider as being "old"? (who, whytype of relationship) 70. Do you see yourself as being "old"? (if yes, why and at what age became old circumstance or event that caused classification of old) 71. Do you think family members view you as being "old"? (who, why, when) Has your relationship with this person changed since his/her view of you as being "old" began? (changes in interactions with him/her) Has respondent's behavior around this person changed as a result of how the person now views respondent? 72. Do you think friends view you as being "old"? (who, why, when) 73. Has your relationship with this person changed since his/her view of you as being "old" began? (changes in interactions with him/her) Has respondent's behavior around this person changed as a result of how the person now views respondent? 74. Do you think strangers view you as being "old"? (who, why, when) 75. Do you recall any instances when you've been treated differently because of your age? (who, why, when) 76. Overall, has growing older (aging) been what you thought it would be? (why or why not) 77. Based your own experiences, how would you describe aging and/or growing older to someone younger than yourself? 78. What, if any, are the benefits of growing older? 79. What, if any, are the downsides to growing older? 80. What do you like best about being your current age? 81. What do you like least about being your current age? 82. What, if anything, are you looking forward to most in the coming years? 83. If you could be any age, what age would you be and why? 47

PAGE 55

REFERENCES Achenbaum, W.A. (1998, Spring). Perceptions of aging in America. National Forum, 78(2), 30(4). Babbie, E. (1998). The practice of social research, 81hed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Boyatzis, R.E. (1998). Thematic analysis and code development: Transfonning qualitative information. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Crews, D. E. (1993, Spring/Summer). Cultural lags in social perceptions of the aged. (Changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations. 17(2), 29(5). Cooley, C.H. (1964). Hwnan nature & the social order. New York: Schocken Books. Dychtwald, K. (1999). Age power: How the 2151 century will be ruled by the new old. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. Friedan, B. (1993). The fountain of age. New York: Simon & Schuster. Hom, J.C. & Meer, J. (1987, May). The vintage years: The growing nwnber of healthy, vigorous older people has helped overcome some stereotypes about aging. Psychology Today. 21, 76(10). Hummert, M.L, Garstka, T.A., Shaner, J.L. & Strahm, S. (1994, Sept.). Stereotypes of the elderly held by young, middle-aged, and elderly adults. Journals of Gerontology. 49(5), 240-249. Kaufman, Sharon R. (1993, Spring/Summer) Reflections on 'the ageless self.' (Changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations, 17(2), 13( 4). Keller, M.L., & Leventhal, E., & Larson, B. (1989, July/August) Aging: the lived expenence. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 29(1), 67-82. 48

PAGE 56

Miller, L. (1987). The professional construction of aging. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 10(3/4), 141-153. Novak, M. (1997). Issues in aging: An introduction to gerontology. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. Pipher, M. (1999). Another country: Navigating the emotional terrain of our elders. New York: Riverhead Books. Robak, R.W., & Griffin, P.W., & Lacomb, M., & Quint, W. (2000, June) Perceptions of aging and their relation with age, death, depression, and sex. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90(3), 1179-1183. Roberts, P. (1992, March) I think of Ronald Reagan: future selves in the present. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 34(2), 91-107. Seccombe, K. and Ishii-Kuntz, M. (1991, August) Perceptions of problems associated with aging: comparisons among four older age cohorts. The Gerontologist, Jl(4), 527-533. Sokolovsky, J. (1993, Spring/Summer). Images of aging: a cross-cultural perspective. (changing perceptions of aging and the aged). Generations 17(2), 51(4). Staats, S. (1996). Youthful and older biases as special cases of a self-age optimization bias. International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 43(4), 267-276. 49