Maintenance of Individual Identity in Older Adulthood

Maintenance of Individual Identity in Older Adulthood: Responses to Successful Aging in America

Staci Rosenthal

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Abstract

With social, political, and economic conditions in the United States emphasizing individual productivity and self maintenance, there is a new concern for how American elders take care of themselves. In contemporary American culture, optimal models of the aging process—often labeled “Successful Aging” or “Healthy Aging”—emphasize independence, the importance of evading disease and disability, the maintenance of physical and mental facilities, and sustained engagement in social relationships. In this article I argue that my financially-comfortable, well educated older American informants from Boston and West Palm beach communities respond to notions of Successful Aging by creating and constructing identities as “successful aging persons” that acknowledge a need to accept and adapt to change in later life. My informants creatively and resourcefully strove to create health, activity, and productivity in their own lives; in this way, they remained deeply invested in the American ideals of independence and autonomy. At the same time, many informants emphasized the need to not simply retain health, activity, and a youthful independence, but also to resourcefully adapt to the very real changes of age. In other words, the experiences offered by my informants tended to reflect ways they have appropriated culturally inflected notions of success into their own aging routines. Successful Aging for them became about passing through later life’s stages with poise, intelligence, resourcefulness, and self-sufficiency. Data collection began in the Spring of 2012 when I conducted preliminary interviews and gathered observation notes in a Jewish retirement community in Wellington, Florida; collection continued in Boston through the Spring of 2013. Individual phone interviews, home visits, group discussions, and participation in and observance of older-adult education classes all contributed to the collection of this research data.

Keywords: Aging, gerontology, identity, personhood, Successful Aging

Download PDF – Rosenthal 2013

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