Psychological Aging A Contextual View

Hans-Werner Wahl and Frieder R. Lang

In this chapter we review theories on the psychological dynamics of person-environment relations as people age. The chapter begins with an introduction to the issue of aging in context by contrasting perspectives of the biology of aging, the social sciences, and psychological gerontology. We also consider the historical background important for the understanding of a contextual view of aging in the evolution of gerontology, as well as introduce core theory elements of life-span developmentalpsychol-ogy such as the concept of developmental tasks. In the main body of the chapter, contextual aging will be approached by following three lines of thinking, as well as empirical research in aging research. First, personenvironment dynamics are strongly driven in old age by interchange with the social environment, and respective theories addressing this fundamental dynamic of personenvironment regulation in social aging will find intense discussion. Second, the area of environmental gerontology, sometimes also coined the ecology of aging, has offered much in terms of theories and empirical findings, when it comes to person-environment relations in old and very old age. As the argument goes, getting older coincides with a substantial increase of vulnerability for "press" in the physical-spatial environment. Third, we will provide our view on how an integrative view of the social and physical environment can be achieved. The chapter ends with a prospective outlook on how the obvious separated treatment of physical and social environment in aging theories can be overcome, thus allowing research to address new and innovative issues on aging.

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