Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology

Faculty/School

Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Nicky Newton

Advisor Role

Professor

Abstract

Over the past century, advances in health care, higher levels of education, and improved living conditions have resulted in increased human life expectancy. However, with longer life expectancy comes potential challenges to quality of life, as individuals may face numerous transitions in older age: children leaving home, employment to retirement, or physical declines possibly leading to lack of mobility. As a result, older adults may experience social isolation and difficulty in building new relationships. This is problematic, as lack of social connection is a strong predictor of lower physical and mental health (Fiori & Jager, 2012; Fiori, Smith, & Antonucci, 2007). The present study takes a longitudinal approach to examine the social networks of older adults, and the role of an extant telephone helpline program in the lives of older adults who might be less socially-connected. Three theoretical frameworks were used to guide the present study: Rowe and Kahn’s (1997, 1998) Successful Aging Model was used to examine the relationship between three lifestyle aspects, i.e., social, physical, and mental, that are related to the process of aging; Kahn and Antonucci’s (1980) Social Convoy Model was used to assess social networks; and Carstensen’s Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (1993, 1995, 1998) was used to guide the examination of goals older adults had towards the future. Thirty-one participants aged 60 to 94 were recruited as users of a telephone helpline program, and 46 participants who did not use a helpline program were also recruited. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected using phone interviews at three time points over the course of approximately one year. Participants were asked questions regarding their social networks, and their physical and mental health; additionally, the users of the telephone helpline program were asked about the role that the helpline played in their lives. Results supported hypotheses with respect to social, physical, and mental health: that is, program users had fewer social connections, as well as lower physical and mental functioning compared to program non-users. Further, patterns of change were evident in the size of social networks, although the quality of relationships remained stable over the three time points. In addition, the group who used the helpline rated the program as so important and close that they could not imagine their life without it, and shared the positive impact the program had in their lives. Overall, the results demonstrate the interconnectedness of the social, physical, and mental aspects of aging well, and the uniquely stable role the telephone program played for the group of older adults who used it. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for research, and how they may be applied in practice.

Convocation Year

2019

Available for download on Thursday, December 15, 2022

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