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Positive Psychology to Understand the Elderly Population Essay


Introduction

Positive psychology is a relatively young branch of psychology that is aimed at examining and promoting the positive aspects of human existence, such as happiness, well-being, quality of life, and so on. The current paper is aimed at investigating the improvements in understanding the population of elderly individuals as provided by positive psychology, as well as the potential and contributions of the latter to enhancing their lives.

After discussing the manner in which positive psychology changed the understanding of advanced age, its effectiveness is assessed by reviewing a number of studies on the topic. Finally, several instances of implementing the findings of positive psychology in policy and practice are considered.

Contributions of Positive Psychology to Understanding the Elderly Population

When speaking about contributions that have been made to the pool of knowledge pertaining to the psychological aspects of the life of individuals of advanced age, it should be noted that the utilization of the methods and means of positive psychology allowed for viewing certain peculiarities of the life of such individuals from a new viewpoint, and has, apparently, been successful at developing measures which positively impact the quality of life of these persons.

For instance, de Lima Argimon, Esteves, Cerutti, Mosquera, and Stobäus (2015) point out that such a phase of a person’s life as the late adulthood is commonly feared by a large proportion of individuals, and that, not surprisingly, a wide array of negative beliefs very often affect the way of thinking of people who are of advanced age; this often tends to have an adverse impact on the overall quality of life of these elderly persons.

In addition, older people often suffer from a loss and/or decline of a large number of physical functions and capabilities, which contributes to negative outcomes related to their psychological health and well-being (Sutipan, Intarakamhang, & Macaskill, 2017). Therefore, it is paramount to create and implement methods that would allow for understanding the psychology of the elderly and improving the psychological well-being of individuals of advanced age.

It is stated that at the current times when explaining the psychology of people of advanced age, researchers concentrate on the disease model, that is, they view the elderly age via the prism of the numerous diseases and health problems that the elderly individuals often suffer from (Becker, João, de Jesus, Bonança, & Martins, 2016; Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012; DuBois et al., 2016). On the contrary, the proponents of the use of positive psychology offer to view the process of aging in the light of this discipline, that is, to focus on the features of aging which are related to the positive aspects of people’s lives rather than to simply “repairing” the problems which often tend to emerge at this age (Becker et al., 2016).

Therefore, positive psychology provides a conceptual apparatus that permits for articulating the peculiarities of thinking about the old age and for describing the manner in which it affects the thoughts of elderly individuals, therefore permitting discussing this problem and creating methods which would be aimed at improving the overall quality of life of individuals of an advanced age via changing the way in which they (and other people) think about aging, and/or the contents of their thoughts (de Lima Argimon et al., 2015).

Therefore, while the old models of aging tend to focus on such issues as the physical decline, the need for care, the inability to provide for oneself, and so on, positive psychology promotes such concepts as positive aging or active aging.

The notion of positive aging is an umbrella term that denotes the efforts aimed at creating a society which possess a positive view of the elderly age and of the process of aging, and which supports individuals of all ages in order to permit them fully realize their potential, create certain solidarity between various age groups, promote the engagement of individuals of advanced age in various aspects of life (e.g., economic, cultural, social, and so on), and strive for achieving the goals of self-actualization, independence, equality and dignity by all people regardless of their age (Becker et al., 2016; de Lima Argimon et al., 2015; Sutipan et al., 2017).

As for the notion of active aging, it refers to the process of progressing to an advanced age while maintaining one’s social, economic, cultural, and civic engagement in the society, which is done with the purpose of preserving one’s physical, mental and social health and well-being (World Health Organization [WHO], 2017). Generally speaking, it is stated that the methods of positive psychology, in particular, the concepts of positive aging and active aging, have been successful at improving the level of happiness of individuals of advanced age (Becker et al., 2016; de Lima Argimon et al., 2015; Sutipan et al., 2017).

In addition, positive thinking has also been reported to be related to better physical health outcomes in a variety of areas; for instance, it is stated to be associated with better cardiac outcomes, which demonstrates that the application of positive psychology for helping improve health outcomes might be beneficial, and is worthy of studying further (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012; DuBois et al., 2016).

The Effectiveness of Application of Positive Psychology Strategies for the Elderly Population

Although some studies aimed at investigating the impact of interventions for the elderly population based on the concepts and findings of positive psychology have been conducted, the number of these studies is not large (Proyer, Gander, Wellenzohn, & Ruch, 2014). Some of such studies include the one carried out by Proyer et al. (2014). In their article, Proyer et al. (2014) report the results of the implementation of a self-administered online intervention based on the developments in the area of positive psychology on 163 females aged 50 through 79.

The authors utilized such research instruments as the Authentic Happiness Inventory (AHI) and the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) for assessing the level of happiness of the participants and the presence of depressive symptoms in them, respectively (Proyer et al., 2014). It is stated that the AHI was reported as highly reliable in some previous studies and that Cronbach’s alpha in the given study was.93 at pre-test (Proyer et al., 2014, p. 999). As for CES-D, it is also reported to be highly reliable, having obtained the Cronbach’s alpha score of.94 at pre-test (Proyer et al., 2014, p. 1000). The validity of both scales is inferred from their use in the previous studies (Proyer et al., 2014, pp. 999-1000).

The happiness and depression levels were measured five times (pre- and post-intervention, as well as after one, three, and six months after the intervention). The self-administered online interventions that were provided for participants included such interventions as

  1. “three good things,”
  2. “the gratitude visit,”
  3. “three funny things,”
  4. “using signature strengths in a new way”; in addition, a placebo intervention –
  5. “early memories” – was offered with the purpose of experimental control (Proyer et al., 2014, p. 1000).

The authors state that 3 out of 4 interventions (namely, interventions a, b, and d) allowed for enhancing the level of happiness of the participants significantly, whereas 2 interventions (c and d) resulted in a decrease of depressive symptoms at the point of post-measure (Proyer et al., 2014).

As has been noted above, the authors report rather high levels of reliability of the research instruments used for measuring the depression and happiness levels in the participants, and state that their validity was demonstrated in preceding studies (Proyer et al., 2014, pp. 999-1000). It should also be observed that the authors measured the levels of happiness and depression of the respondents five times, allowing for assessing whether the intervention had long-term effects (Proyer et al., 2014).

However, it should be stressed that it was difficult to control for potential confounders which could have impacted the levels of happiness of the participants of the study, therefore distorting the results; nevertheless, this possibility is probably partially mitigated by the relatively large size of the sample (N=163) combined with the fact that the respondents might have been affected by different (i.e., non-homogeneous) confounding circumstances (Proyer et al., 2014).

In addition, the use of experimental design allows for concluding that the intervention had a causal effect on the levels of happiness and depression in the participants that were observed in the study. Thus, on the whole, it is possible to conclude that the article by Proyer et al. (2014) provides rather strong evidence of the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions for improving happiness levels and dealing with depression among the elderly (aged 50-79) female individuals.

Similarly, the study by Ramírez, Ortega, Chamorro, and Colmenero (2014) investigated the impact of an intervention based on positive psychology on the quality of life of individuals aged 60 years and more. The authors used a sample comprised of 46 respondents aged 60 through 93 years and measured such items as depression, state and trait anxiety levels, specific memories, and general memory, as well as the life satisfaction and the levels of subjective happiness (Ramírez et al., 2014).

It is reported that the participants from the experimental group were able to achieve lower levels of depression and state anxiety, as well as enhanced life satisfaction, subjective happiness, and specific memories when compared to the control group (Ramírez et al., 2014).

The authors report high levels of reliability of the instruments used in the study (the lowest Cronbach’s alpha level reported is.84, which is a rather high level of reliability); although the validity of the instruments is not directly discussed, it is mentioned in several sources used by Ramírez et al. (2014). Thus, on the whole, the study by Ramírez et al. (2014) also can be used as quite strong evidence that supports the effectiveness of interventions based on the findings of positive psychology.

In addition, it is possible to provide the results of a study that utilized the method of a literature review in order to assess the effectiveness of interventions based on the findings of positive psychology for the population of individuals of advanced age.

More specifically, the article by Becker et al. (2016) reports the results of a systematic literature review, for which 12 studies were selected and assessed according to several criteria, such as the source of information, the setting in which the research was carried out, the sample size, the mean and standard deviation of the age of the respondents, the inclusion criteria, and the instruments used in the study.

It is stated that the literature review demonstrated that interventions based on positive psychology were instrumental in increasing the level of happiness and well-being of the respondents, and helped reduce the symptoms of depression in these elderly individuals (Becker et al., 2016). The authors conclude that the use of positive psychology may be a promising approach to increasing the level of happiness of older people and reducing the depressive symptoms in them (Becker et al., 2016).

On the whole, it should be noted that the authors provide a thorough, high-quality literature review, and the articles which were scrutinized provide evidence that positive psychology can be effectual when used to increase happiness and reduce depression in persons of advanced age. It should also be pointed out that Sutipan et al. (2017) provide similar conclusions, also supporting the statement about the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions in promoting happy lives among elderly people.

Some Existing Implementations of Positive Psychology in Policy and Practice

Generally speaking, the findings of positive psychology have been implemented in practice around the world. In particular, the World Health Organization (WHO) is known to have developed and implemented a number of policies aimed at promoting active and positive aging among persons who live in different places of the world (WHO, n.d.). For instance, the document entitled Active Ageing: A Policy Framework provides a basis for formulating policies that should allow for enhancing the quality of life of the population of individuals of advanced age in a wide range of countries (WHO, n.d.).

This document defines the notion of active aging, discusses the challenges of various nature which are faced by elderly individuals, and suggests a number of approaches that might help these people address the difficulties related to aging and enjoy a greater quality of life as a result (WHO, n.d.). Another document on the website of WHO details the measures which are to be taken in an Australian city so as to improve the quality of life of the elderly individuals who live there; some findings of positive psychology can also be found to be utilized in the plan (“Positive Ageing Plan,” n.d.).

Thus, on the whole, positive psychology has been used in practice by various governmental and international organizations so as to provide recommendations and develop and implement measures aimed at increasing the quality of life of older people. It can be hoped that these efforts have been effectual in improving the outcomes for persons of advanced age.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it should be noted that positive psychology allowed for perceiving the advanced age from a new point of view, as a natural stage of a person’s life, rather than simply looking at it via the prism of the diseases and health issues that the elderly individuals usually experience. Studies illustrate that interventions based on positive psychology may be rather effective in enhancing the level of happiness of older people, and reducing the magnitude of adverse psychological states they often have, such as depression or anxiety.

Some policies based on the findings of positive psychology have been developed and implemented so as to improve the lives of persons of advanced age and address their problems throughout the world. Therefore, it can be concluded that positive psychology has had a positive impact on improving the lives of elderly people, and can be used further for the same purpose.

References

Becker, N. B., João, K. A. D. R., de Jesus, S. N., Bonança, J., & Martins, R. (2016). Perspectives from positive psychology in older adults: Brief literature review. Journal of Spatial and Organizational Dynamics, 4(1), 21-29.

Boehm, J. K., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The heart’s content: The association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin, 138(4), 655-691.

De Lima Argimon, I. I., Esteves, C. S., Cerutti, F., Mosquera, J. J. M., & Stobäus, C. D. (2015). How to get better aging, bet on positive psychology. Psychology, 6(14), 1855-1860.

DuBois, C. M., Beach, S. R., Kashdan, T. B., Nyer, M. B., Park, E. R., Celano, C. M., & Huffman, J. C. (2012). Positive psychological attributes and cardiac outcomes: Associations, mechanisms, and interventions. Psychosomatics, 53(4), 303-318.

. (n.d.). Web.

Proyer, R. T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S., & Ruch, W. (2014). Positive psychology interventions in people aged 50-79 years: Long-term effects of placebo-controlled online interventions on well-being and depression. Aging & Mental Health, 18(8), 997-1005.

Ramírez, E., Ortega, A. R., Chamorro, A., & Colmenero, J. M. (2014). A program of positive intervention in the elderly: Memories, gratitude and forgiveness. Aging & Mental Health, 18(4), 463-470.

Sutipan, P., Intarakamhang, U., & Macaskill, A. (2017). The impact of positive psychological interventions on well-being in healthy elderly people. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(1), 269-291.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). . Web.

World Health Organization. (2017). What is “active ageing”? Web.

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