Spirituality and Aging

Helen Lavretsky


Aging Health. 2010;6(6):749-769. 

In This Article

Psychological & Gerontological Theories of Resurgence of Spirituality with Aging

Psychological and gerontological theories try to explain the increase in spiritual activities in later life from a broad range of perspectives. For example, the socioemotional selectivity theory proposes a greater emphasis upon emotion-related goals as individuals become aware of the brevity of life.[19] Jung proposed that increasing spiritual goals, and pursuits with an increase in introspection, are a natural part of the maturational process from mid to later life.[20] The disengagement theory assumes societal benefit from older adults' withdrawal from roles and activities that is universal and inevitable prior to death. It leads to the mutually satisfying exchange in the society: the youth begins to expand in the population, while the retiring older adults are released.[21] The Duke Longitudinal Study of Aging found that religious attitudes and satisfaction remain the same with aging, but the correlation with happiness, feelings of usefulness and personal adjustment increase.[22] Contrary to the disengagement theory, the activity theory emphasizes increased activities (e.g., volunteering), and measures success of aging by the number of active roles.[23,24] Atchley developed the 'continuity theory', which assumes that individuals develop preferences as a part of their personality and, as they grow old, they continue in their spiritual tradition.[25] Atchley also tried to use a nonreligious approach to describe spirituality as 'deep inner silence', 'insight', 'compassion', 'connection with the ground of being', 'transcendence of personal self', 'wonder', 'transformation', and a 'concept that sensitizes us to a region of human experience and tells us generally what to look for in that region'. He also considered the role spiritual beliefs and practices play in coping with the problems of later life, especially with regard to the experience of time, dying and death, before concluding with his own reflections and some implications of his work.[25] A related concept of gerotranscendence, introduced by Tornstam, defined a transition from a materialistic and rationalistic perspective to a more cosmic and transcendent view of life that accompanies the process of aging.[18,26–30] The Cosmic Transcendence subscale of the Tornstam's Gerotranscendence Scale has proven to be the most consistent, and is related to having a sense of meaning of life and the degree of religious involvement.[31,32]


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