All those interviewed were picked for their ability to give reliable reports of their past, though many had some degree of mental or physical disability. The researcher also interviewed 20 people between 70 and 80 years old who were attending educational classes at a senior center. Those interviewed were chosen based on their degree of independent living (those who lived in a managed care facility or who were "taken care of" by their adult children were not interviewed, though a couple who claimed to still be in charge of taking care of their children or grandchildren in their own home were included). Each subject was asked to rate on a scale of 1-10, how socially active they had been during each half-decade of their life starting at age thirty. This was drawn as a line graph for each subject. The age at which socially-disabling illness set in, the age at divorce or widowhood, and the age at retirement, was noted when relevant.
The results were relatively compatible with the hypothesis. Retirement ages ranged slightly between 45-65, which made it more effective to compare trends in individual charts than in overall charts. Adults in managed care consistently reported decreasing levels of social interaction from the time of retirement onward, with sharp drops after disability when relevant. Those in an active environment showed a more interesting pattern. There were often overall slight decrease in social interactions occurring in the decade before retirement and in about half the cases a depression in social interaction occurring at some point following retirement (generally represented verbally as getting used to retirement). Decreases in social interaction following a death in the family or a disability were frequent. However, over all seniors who were active and independent in their 70s-80s showed an overall slight increase in social interaction following retirement and following divorces. Among those in the nursing home there were a few who reported similar trends up until the time of some specific disability, and about one third showed patterns staying relatively consistent until about five or ten years after retirement and then dropping during the later decades (70s-80s), and there were about a quarter of those outside the nursing home who displayed an overall downward trend. However, the majority in each case showed trends consistent with the theory that the active elderly do not experience significant social impairment, while the inactive elderly do. Additionally, many in the nursing home reported an over-all lower social involvement (dating back to their 30s and 40s) than those outside the nursing home, in addition to the further drop in social-ness related to aging, which may indicate that those who will be inactive elders began making the choices leading to that end long ago.
This study suggests that many aging individuals have increased or consistent social engagement, which coincides with greater health, mobility, and social/financial independence, while other aging individual experience decreased social engagement which coincides with steady physical decline and social/financial dependence and loss of mobility. This conclusion calls for a reevaluation of the way that seniority and aging is evaluated, based not just on the passing of time but also on the individual's choices regarding social interaction. Further research into what divides these two groups, what earlier life choices lead to social withdrawal after retirement, and the relationship between activity level and overall health, could all advance our understanding of this basic division among the elderly.
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