Social Gerontology

Discuss the continuity theory in the context of an individual’s ageing
process in the physical, social and psychological dimensions…….




It is a psychosocial theory of ageing which is based on the work of Atchley. The theory makes a basic assumption that though ageing is a changing process, those undergoing it react and respond to ageing based on their past life experiences. The decisions they made when they were a little younger and the day to day experiences they encountered strongly influence how they adapt when ageing knocks at their door. The theory also asserts that they are “predisposed and motivated towards inner psychological continuity as well as outward continuity of social behaviour and circumstances.” (Atchley183)This theory allows room for change. Their current and future decisions and behaviours are based on their past actions. This is because peoples’ personality, values, beliefs and reasoning remain the same through out life as a constant identifier of the inner self.

It has many applications with regard to social, physical and psychological aspects of life. A nurse taking care of the old in seniors’ home will cope better if she understands the past of those she is entrusted with. She will give better services if he knows what decisions they made in the past as they are likely to follow the same path in coping with the normal ageing process. It can be applied across many cultural divides and is not limited to one country like Singapore. It also takes into account the external circumstances prevailing in the life of those ageing such as their habitat.

The theory does not apply when it comes to diseases of old age. It makes a strong distinction between normal and pathological ageing, a distinction which makes it hard to apply in today’s life, for it has been established that the prevalence and the incidence of diseases increase with age. It is thus hard to isolate diseases from ageing.


The basic idea behind this theory is that the activities that people partake in have a major role to play as far as life satisfaction is concerned. The roles people play and the things that people do help in defining themselves. As human beings grow old there is a tendency to leave professional jobs, membership of prestigious clubs and tasks which they used to value during their hay days. This in itself challenges their identity and the view they had of themselves. To cope they engage in activities that substitute the abandoned roles. This helps them to regain their inner self, and ultimately their whole self. (The Encyclopedia of The Aging & The Elderly)These activities may be faith based, pleasurable activities or volunteering with charitable organizations.

Bearing in mind that Singapore is one of those countries where more than 7% of the population is elderly, the government found it necessary to put in place policies that acknowledge and help the elderly in adapting. Though some policies are based on this theory, their applicability is key to ensuring an active society. One such policy as highlighted in the IMC Report on the ageing policy is increasing work opportunities for the elderly. The objective is to keep them occupied with jobs they enjoy doing and hence promote activity. The policy seeks to review the current working terms to enable the elderly to work part time and with a comforting flexibility.

Programmes such as the People’s Association’s Wellness Programme, which was launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports currently has 42 divisions. The programme, based on the activity theory aims at keeping those above 50 years physically, mentally and socially active. (PA Wellness Programme)

The policies also establish senior activity centers’, which are more than 40. The numbers are on the rise. In these centers’ the health of the elderly is well taken of, but what is most relevant is the provision of recreational and fun activities in a bid to keep the elderly active. (Focus Singapore)

Council for Third Age (C3A), which was recently established, has the mandate of keeping the elderly active through exercise, fitness, diet, nutrition, mind and soul relaxation activities. All these programs are designed based on the policies developed on the activity theory. (Council for Third Age)

There is a Seniors’ for Physical Activity Committee which promotes three forms of exercise namely Briskwalking, Tai Chi and Qigong to foster active participation by seniors. (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) Generally speaking it is in order to say that the old are likely to achieve life satisfaction if they are contributing positively to the society. These individuals are better adapted to the process of aging, a fact that Chi Chung Chang, the Acting Minister, Community Development, Youth and Sports, Singapore acknowledges. (PA Wellness Programme)

But how safe is it to establish national policies based on a theoretical foundation? First and foremost, theories may or may not apply to reality. Using the Activity Theory to come up with national policies on matters of the elderly may seem a good idea as evidenced by the recent advances in Geriontology in Singapore, but it has a few cons that would make me think twice about investing in it.

One major drawback of the Activity theory is that it does not give an account of how the social economic status, personality and lifestyle issues contribute to life satisfaction. The social economic status openly determines what and where you derive your satisfaction from. A poor senior citizen might want to be active, but lacks the means he considers ideal to achieve his objective. A person with obsessive and compulsive personality disorder is unlikely to get satisfaction because the obsessions and compulsions interfere with the quality of life. The social background of a being is critical to adapting, especially when confronted by a catastrophe like the death of a partner in old age. How contented you are is largely dependent on these factors, a fact that the theory fails to recognize.

A few scholars have argued that enough theoretical formulation and related concepts to the theory are still missing, an allegation which makes it dangerous to have policies founded on such a theory.  This urges us to carry out further research to determine whether the advances hold water. We need to be clear on what exactly the theory will translate to if it is to be used to formulate policies. As it is, there is not enough reason to support the theory. There is no guarantee that policies built on this theory will make a difference for the elderly and Geriontology in general. (Bruce511)


Though policies in Singapore have been developed on the basis of The Activity theory with promising results, a lot of research still needs to be conducted to ascertain whether this idea is concrete enough.

Works Cited

“Activity Theory.” The Encyclopedia of the Ageing and the Elderly. 2005. Web. 2 Feb. 2012.

Bruce W. Lemon, Vern L Bengston, James A. Peterson. An Explanation of the Activity Theory of Aging; Oxford. 1972. Print.

“Committee of Supply 2011 Debates: MOS (PMO) Speech on Ageing Issues.” Ministry of           Community development, Youth and Sports. 2011. Web. 2 Feb. 2012.

“Health and Wellness. Council for Third Age. 2012.” Web. 2 Feb. 2012.

Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein. Ageing and every day life;Malden, Massacheuts, 2000.             Print.

“PA Wellness Programme On Track To Meet Target.”  Singapore News. 2011. Web. 2 Feb.          2012.

“Senior Citizens Care Services Singapore.” Focus Singapore. 2012. Web. 2 Feb. 2012.



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