Self-esteem in the Elderly

Self-Esteem for sale

Self-Esteem for sale (Photo credit: fran6co)

My colleague, Denise Scruggs, and I will be giving a workshop on promoting self-esteem in older adults at the Southern Gerontological Society Conference in Nashville, TN.

One might ask, “Why?”  Boomers, the next aging population, are known to have higher self-esteem than their parents or grand-parents apparently had, aren’t they?

But according to a recent study, those facing the big six-0 will also be facing a decline in the value they place upon themselves.  That’s the broad conclusion of a new study showing changes over the human lifespan based on interviews with a total of 3,617 Americans over a 16-year period from 1986 to 2002  (Orth, Trzesniewski, Robins).

Because we boomers, as a group, have had the tendency to be in denial with regard to our aging, that decline could be dramatic. Stop with the hair coloring, stop with the face lifts, stop with marrying someone younger than you, stop all those super athletic recreational activities, stop one’s role in the work place and what is left?

The above mentioned study found that the factors that had the largest influence on one’s sense of self include:

*Income and health.  In our money oriented society, it follows that we would associate money with power.  It also follows that if our independence becomes eroded by health issues, this would affect our sense of self in a negative way.

*Education plays a major role in maintaining self-esteem. Participants with higher education outranked those with less education throughout their lives.

*  The study confirmed that women had lower self-esteem than men through most of their lives, but the two genders were about equal by the time participants reached their 80s.  I suppose that men in their ’80′s have probably lost pretty much everything by which they defined themselves earlier in their lives.  One might reflect on the statement that it is at this time that men and women “were about equal” in their self-esteem.

*The self-esteem of whites and blacks differed only a little at age 25. However, black participants declined more sharply than white participants from about age 60. A further study to look into the factors that cause this discrepancy would be warranted

Beyond these global attributions to the loss of self-esteem, there are also factors of daily living.  The loss of loved ones, in particular spouses, can have an impact on one’s self-esteem.  In fact, findings from a study conducted by Julie Ann McMullin and John Cairney (2004) showed that single people have lower self-esteem than married people demonstrating that receiving feedback from a significant other helps promote a positive self-image.  When that person, with whom you could confront major challenges, bounce ideas off of, share life’s moments with, or was your biggest fan is no longer there and you do not receive regular feedback of your existence, that can erode self-esteem.

What about finding yourself not being able to keep up with the rapidly changing world you used to be a part of?  How would that make you feel?  Pretty worthless, no?

Or, and this is probably the saddest of all, being an old person that people are not interested in because, well, let’s face it, ageism is alive and well in our society.

So this is why Denise and I plan to present tools to our colleagues by which they can help promote positive self-esteem to those confronting that change of life: aging.

I will let you know how it went.

© Yvonne Behrens  2012

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