A Framework for Maintaining and Enhancing Competence
Although most older adults are not as computer literate as Jack, the man introduced in the vignette, increasing numbers of older adults are discovering that computers can be a major asset. Many take advantage of the growing resources available on the Web, including sites dedicated specifically to older adults. E-mail enables people of all ages to stay in touch with friends and family, and the growing success of e-commerce makes it easier for people with limited time or mobility to purchase goods and services. Computers are already used in many health devices and are likely to become ubiquitous in the home environment of older adults in the relatively near future (Lesnoff-Caravaglia,
The use of computers is one way in which technology can be used to enhance the competence of older adults. In this section, we consider the general topic of how to maintain and enhance competence through a variety of interventions. How to grow old successfully is a topic of increasing concern in view of the demographic changes we considered earlier.
The life-span perspective we considered in Chapter 1 is an excellent starting point for understanding how to maintain and enhance people’s competence. In this perspective, the changes that occur with age result from multiple biological, psychological, sociocultural, and life-cycle forces. Mastering tasks of daily living and more complex tasks (such as personal finances) contributes to a person’s overall sense of competence even if the
540 CHAPTER 14 person has dementia (Mayo, 2008). How can this sense be optimized for successful aging?
The answer lies in applying three key adaptive mechanisms for aging: selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) (Baltes et al., 2006). This framework helps address what Bieman-Copland, Ryan, and Cassano (1998) call the “social facilitation of the nonuse of competence”: the phenomenon of older people intentionally or unintentionally failing to perform up to their true level of ability because of social stereotypes that operate to limit what older adults are expected to do. Instead of behaving at their true ability level, older adults behave in ways they believe typical or characteristic of their age group (Heckhausen & Lang, 1996). This phenomenon is the basis for the communication patterns we considered earlier in this chapter.
A key issue in the powerful role of stereotypes is to differentiate usual or typical aging from successful aging (Guralnik, 2008). Successful aging involves avoiding disease, being engaged with life, and maintaining high cognitive and physical functioning. Successful aging is subjective. It is reached when a person achieves his or her desired goals with dignity and as independently as possible (Bieman – Copland et al., 1998; Guralnik, 2008; Mayo, 2008; Schulz & Heckhausen, 1996).
The life-span perspective can be used to create a formal model for successful aging. Heckhausen (Heckhausen & Lang, 1996; Schulz & Heckhausen, 1996) developed a life-span theory of control by applying core assumptions that recognize aging as a complex process that involves increasing specialization and is influenced by factors unrelated to age. The basic premises of successful aging include keeping a balance between the various gains and losses that occur over time and minimizing the influence of factors unrelated to aging. In short, these premises involve paying attention to both internal and external factors impinging on the person. The antecedents include all the changes that happen to a person. The mechanisms in the model are the selection, optimization, and compensation processes that shape the course of development. Finally, the outcomes of the model denote that enhanced competence, quality of life,
and future adaptation are the visible signs of successful aging.
Using the SOC model, various types of interventions can be created to help people age successfully. In general, such interventions focus on the individual or aspects of tasks and the physical and social environment that emphasize competence (Allaire & Willis, 2006; Bieman-Copland et al., 1998). When designing interventions aimed primarily at the person, it is important to understand the target person’s goals (rather than the goals of the researcher). For example, in teaching older adults how to use automatic teller machines (ATMs), it is essential to understand the kinds of concerns and fears older adults have and to ensure that the training program addresses them (Rogers et al., 1997).
Performance on tests of everyday competence predicts longer term outcomes (Allaire & Willis,
2006) . Careful monitoring of competence can be an early indicator of problems, and appropriate interventions should be undertaken as soon as possible.