Stress and Coping Framework
As you know from your own experience, sometimes your interaction with the environment is stressful. Schooler (1982) has applied Lazarus and Folkman’s cognitive theory of stress and coping, described in Chapter 4, to the understanding of the older person’s interaction with the environment. The basic premise of Lazarus’s theory is that people evaluate situations to assess their potential threat value. Situations can be evaluated as harmful, beneficial, or irrelevant. When situations are viewed as harmful or threatening, people also establish the range of coping responses that they have at their disposal for avoiding the harmful situation. This process results in a coping response. Outcomes of coping may be positive or negative depending on many contextual factors.
Schooler (1982) argues that this perspective is especially helpful in understanding older adults like Hank because of their greater vulnerability to social and physical hazards. To test his ideas, Schooler evaluated retest data on a sample of 521 people drawn from a national sample of 4,000 older adults living in long-term care facilities. In particular, he examined the impact of three potential stressors (environmental change, residential mobility, and major life events) on health or morale. He also examined the buffering, or protective, effects of social support systems and ecological factors on the relationships between the stressors and outcomes. Consistent with the theory, Schooler showed that the presence of social support systems affected the likelihood that particular situations would be defined as threatening. For example, living alone is more likely to be viewed as stressful when one has little social support than when one has many friends who live nearby.
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Schooler’s initial work provides an important theoretical addition because it deals with the relation between everyday environmental stressors and the adaptive response of community-dwelling individuals. His ideas have been extended to other contexts. For example, when certified nurse aides (CNAs) working in nursing homes were provided with training and empowered as a way to deal with environmental stressors, the result was better care for residents, better cooperation between CNAs and nurses, and reduced turnover (Yeatts & Cready, 2008). Caregivers of persons with dementia also show resilience when they have effective ways of dealing with environmental stressors (Gaugler, Kane, & Newcomer, 2007).