The Importance Of Having Control

Seniors who feel they are not effective or in control of their own destiny may find it a struggle to maintain a positive outlook and achieve happiness in later life.

This concept was raised in an interesting article by Janet Cameron on The Importance of Control. The article is well worth reading and had particular interest for me because of two of the references she cited.

The first of these was a book by Michael Ignatieff entitled The Needs of Strangers, which was published in 1984. He discussed the plight of poor or powerless people and our responsibility towards them. He was referring to the needs of strangers in general, but this also throws some light on the everyday dilemmas faced by elderly people in our society who may not necessarily be poor, but are, frequently, denied the power and control over their lives that they deserve. He stated:  “The administrative good conscience of our time seems to consist in respecting individual’s rights while demeaning them as persons.”  Although that was written over 25 years ago, one could question how much improvement there has been.  A key concept is to be in control of your life and instrumental in getting things done without – too much – obstruction, or even contempt.

The second reference was by a namesake of mine, Alan Traviss Welford. He was the Dir of the Nuffield Unit for Research into the Problems of Aging, and later became the Dir of Studies in Natural Sciences, St. John’s College, Cambridge University. He emigrated to Australia in 1968 as a Professor of Psychology at Adelaide University.  He died on June 16, 1995, at the age of 81 years in Hawaii while working on results from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing. 

In 1958, he wrote a book on Ageing and Human Skill ( Oxford University Press ).  He asserted that although people assume that personality changes with age, tests prove this is not so, except in minor ways. Any changes that occur are due to altered circumstances not taken into account by the test. On the plus side, these might be:

  • More leisure
  • More opportunities

The minus side is not so encouraging:

  • A restriction of activity possibly due to ill-health

People adjust to these changes in different ways. Some welcome the new opportunities and are accepting of the restrictions. Other are not interested in new hobbies and allow the restrictions to make them self-centred. Sometimes, this can be due to bereavement, but often reactions to these changed circumstances are due to personality traits. In other words, these reactions frequently have little to do with material circumstances, health problem or existing social outlets. As Welford said, “The changes in personality can, perhaps, be summed up by saying that old age is a revealing time, when the best and worst in us stand out in bold relief.”

In summary, a happy and fulfilled senior population depends not only on the positive attitudes of its members, but also on the attitudes of society as a whole.

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