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The experiences of maturing and ageing constitute a rather unexplored field within Gerontology. The ‘inner’ aspects of ageing have been left relatively untouched by researchers, largely out of methodological considerations. The ‘outer’ aspect of ageing, or ageing defined as behaviour, has been considered more fruitful due to its consistency with criteria for science created by logical positivism. Psychogerontologists in particular have been mesmerized by this research paradigm. However, this trend has also, for some time now, been criticized for underestimating the perceptions of the reality upon which we form our reasons for action (Runyan 1982; Carr 1986). Further, there are exceptions to this main stream of research. For example, the German psychogerontologist Thomae created a theory of ageing in 1970 based on the perceptual, evaluative and meaning – giving processes within the individual (Thomae 1970). In a series of studies (The BOLSA studies), he has been able to lend support to most of his theoretical claims (see Kruse and Schmitz-Schertzer 1995). Also the Canadian gerontologists Reker and Wong (1988) belong to the group of pioneers advocating the importance of personal meaning in successful ageing.
The increasing use of biographical materials in research and intervention in the field of ageing gives rise to significant ethical issues. In this inquiry, four of these issues are explicated. First, the notion of informed consent is explored in relation to selected contexts of research and intervention in ageing and biography. Second, the issues of autonomy and competence are considered from the point of view of identifying contexts where biography is a prerequisite for ethically responsive action. The third ethical issue concerns respecting the groundrules of various biographical approaches. Finally, the notions of authenticity and truth in lifestories are explored in an attempt to clarify the limitations and expectations of ageing and biography. The discussion of these ethical issues proceeds on the basis of an argument that indicates the fundamental importance of biographical ageing or the stories we are.
The present investigation was based on the analysis of twenty respondents, ten men and ten women, all retired. The written texts were obtained from the archives of one of the authors who gathered autobiographies using a guided method of assigned topics of life. The main objective for this analysis was to find those central life goals and dominant activities around which the projects of life were formed. Sorting of life projects was done according to the constant comparison method described by Glaser and Strauss in their Grounded Theory model. Five types of life projects were identified in the narratives: living is achieving, living is being social, living is loving, living is family life, living is struggling. Considerable gender differences appeared in the findings with women showing a broader participation and interpretation of life where family life, community work and job careers were important. The men tended to be more monothematic focusing either on a personal achievement or a career development in a more social context. The rhetoric in the discourse of life themes was quite different between the sexes reflecting the sex role scripts of the cohort studied. Only in some of the types was the class dimension clearly visible where the type living is achieving and to a certain extent even living is being social reflected upper middle class and upper class occupations while living is loving reflected middle class occupations. The positive narrative tone and the telling of well-managed life projects and success stories in most of the accounts were considered as American features in comparison to some Finnish life stories that contained more of the telling of hardships. The most gender bound accounts such as the masculine living is achieving and the feminine living is loving life projects showed the greatest resemblances between these two western cultures revealing comparable master scripts.
This contribution, which is mainly theoretical, focuses on the paradox that, to a considerable extent, the body has been absent from social gerontology, despite the fact that in our culture, ageing is presented both in terms of surface and body and is experienced via the body. This paradox is brought into the open and clarified using as a starting point the ontological dualism of the Platonic-Christian tradition in which body and soul are seen as hierarchical opposites. The article shows how this dualism penetrates society and science and is carried on into the construction of gerontological concepts and theories, e.g. the ‘ageless self’ concept. The article also illustrates what consequences this dualism has for the everyday understanding of ageing based on biographical interviews with elderly Finnish people.
A narrative understanding of clients is needed to supplement traditionally developed research for making clinical judgments about which approaches should be used in working with older adults. Narrative biographical knowledge of clients integrates the historical events and happenings of their lives with the social and cultural contexts through which they attribute meaning to their distresses and symptoms. Applications based on narrative knowledge differ from those based on the conventional model. The conventional model draws on general knowledge of what interventions are likely to be effective in treating particular diagnoses. Narrative understanding is concerned in knowing the configuration of past events and present tasks that compose individual lives. Expert practitioners make use of a narrative understanding of their clients in judging their intervention activities. Development of a narrative understanding of present clients can be assisted by consulting narratives of clients with whom a practitioner has previously worked. Narratives are remembered as stories, retaining the patterns and details of the individual clients’ lives. Through experience, practitioners develop a collection of remembered narratives of the clients they have assisted. A practitioner's experiential collection of narratively known clients can be supplemented with narrative biographies and case studies of clients treated by other practitioners. When working with a new client, practitioners can draw on these narratively retained past understandings by comparing the similarities and differences of their present client to a remembered past client. The process of comparison with past narratively understood clients helps the practitioner compose a new narrative that expressly captures the individual life of the present client. This narrative understanding of the client provides an integrated view of the influence of general social and biological contexts with the unique values, aims, and history of the client.
Communication between elderly people and their health care providers is becoming more important due to the chronic nature of geriatric health problems and their impact on quality of life. At the core of the challenge of improving this dialogue are factors related to essential human values and the clash between two different cultures – one scientific and the other personal. Only by gaining an understanding of this clinical decisionmaking interaction can new approaches to bridge the communication gap be developed. The purpose of this paper is fourfold: (1) to summarise the fundamentally different bases for communication between health care provider and patient, (2) to discuss the shortcomings of various methods (such as advance directives) to embody patients’ wishes about their care, (3) to review new models of geriatric care that have implications for this communication process, and (4) to develop a framework – based on biographical methods and the concept of empowerment – that suggests some potential solutions to these communication problems. Such methods reflect new approaches to developing life stories and themes suggestive of ways to retain the personal life voice of the individual in the development of a clinical partnership with the health care provider.
Income in retirement does not normally feature in national headlines, but scandals such as the misuse of the company pension fund by Robert Maxwell, and the financial advice given to join personal pension schemes have done just that. The ‘demographic time bomb’ has become a media cliché. In this first of two reviews of the incomes and financial circumstances of older people we examine the influence of these headlines and clichés on present and future incomes. To set the scene, the current levels and sources of income for older people are outlined and compared with those of the younger population. The following section describes the trends and changes in pensioners’ incomes and what has influenced these trends. The next sets out the main issues in providing a secure income in old age, and finally the current policy debate is reviewed and some questions are identified for re-examination in two years’ time.