The three theories we have considered have much in common. Most important, all agree that the focus must be on the interaction between the person and the environment, not on one or the other. Another important common theme is that no one environ­ment meets everyone’s needs. Rather, a range of potential environments may be optimal.

Several researchers have built on these ideas and focused on people’s everyday competence (Diehl, 1998; Diehl et al., 2005). Everyday competence is a person’s potential ability to perform a wide range of activities considered essential for independent living; it is not the person’s actual ability to perform the tasks. Everyday competence also involves a person’s physi­cal, psychological, and social functioning, which interact in complex ways to create the person’s day – to-day behavior (Diehl, 1998; Diehl et al., 2005). Within each of these domains, a person’s behavior involves many elements. For example, an older person’s competence in the psychological domain includes cognitive problem-solving abilities, beliefs about personal control and self-efficacy, and styles of coping (Diehl et al., 2005).

Although everyday competence is most often considered in the context of activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs; see Chapter 4), it can also be

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Older adults’ ability to perform typical daily activities is essential for assessing everyday competence.

considered more broadly as described here. The reason is that a behavior must not be viewed in isolation; behavior is expressed in a particular environmental context. In particular, researchers and clinicians need to be sensitive to cultural and contextual differences in everyday competence across different environments (Diehl, 1998; Diehl et al., 2005).

Using these ideas, Willis (1991, 1996a; Allaire & Willis, 2006; Schaie & Willis, 1999) developed a model of everyday competence that incorporates all the key ideas discussed earlier. Willis distin guishes between antecedents, components, mech­anisms, and outcomes of everyday competence. Antecedents include both individual (e. g., health, cognition) and sociocultural (e. g., cultural ste­reotypes, social policy, health care policy) factors. These influence the intraindividual and contextual components, the particular domains and contexts of competence. Which components are most impor­tant or exert the most influence depends on the overall conditions under which the person lives. These elements of the model reflect the basic ideas in both the competence and environmental press model and the person-environment model we
considered earlier. The mechanisms involve factors that moderate the way in which competence is actu­ally expressed; for example, whether one believes that he or she is in control of the situation influences how competent the person turns out to be. Finally, the model proposes that the primary outcomes of everyday competence are psychological and physi­cal well-being, which are two of the major compo­nents of successful aging.

Understanding the complexities of everyday competence is important as a basis for consider­ing whether people, especially some older adults, are capable of making certain decisions for them­selves. This issue often arises in terms of compe­tence to make key health care and other decisions, a topic we consider in more detail later in this chapter. Willis’s model also points out that the health outcomes of one episode of everyday com­petence are the antecedents of the next, illustrat­ing how future competence is related to current competence. Finally, decline in older adults’ ability to handle everyday problems predicts mortality, indicating that everyday competence may be a reasonable indicator of health status (Allaire & Willis, 2006).

All of this research supports the idea that older adults can age in place to the extent that their every­day competence permits. Aging in place requires that whatever necessary services and supports an older adult needs in order to live in the commu­nity be provided or made available. This approach has been adopted by governments (e. g., Australia; Bigby, 2008), and is the goal for much of the smart technology available for homes (Coughlin & Pope, 2008). We will consider aging in place in more detail in the next section.

Concept Checks

1. What do the terms competence, environmental press, and adaptation level mean?

2. What are the basic components of the congruence model?

3. What are the main aspects of Schooler’s stress and coping theory?

4. How can everyday competence be modeled?