Life Span Development Interviewing an Elderly Person Thesis

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Life Span Development

Interviewing an elderly person proves a very effective insight and overview into life span development. By posing the appropriate questions one can elicit information and insight as to how certain aspects and influences change life development over time.

The interview I conducted was with the grandfather of a close friend. He is 87 years of age. Although I had some knowledge of the interviewee I was astounded to find out the amount of information concerning life development that could be gleaned for a well structured interview.

The focus of my interview was on the way that certain aspects and events had affected the life development of the individual in question. In other words, my aim was to ascertain through the interview questions which events and circumstance had been 'life-changing', in both a psychological and sociological sense. In order to limit the interview to a reasonable time, I also decided to focus more on socio-cultural developmental aspects and on the interviewees later years and developmental issues after sixty years of age. Furthermore, aspects that were highlighted in the interview were researched to ascertain if there were references in the literature to these aspects.

The questions that I asked feel into the following main categories.

Questions about his earlier life and influences on development - such as environment, family, friends, etc.

Questions relating to central developmental factors that had influenced him as an adult

Questions relating to life after 60.

My central trajectory or method in the interview was allowing the interviewee to expand on certain important aspects and to direct the interview in certain areas, without limiting the individuals' self-expression. I wanted to focus on issues which he saw as central to his life development.

A began with influences in his early youth and developmental years. Many of the common factors that determine any individual's life were obvious. This includes the fact that his early developmental years had been influenced by severe pecuniary difficulties, as he had grown up under hard financial conditions in the 1930s. This has had a marked effect on his later development in terms of his outlook on the world and his sense of self-worth.

Another aspect that emerged for the interview was the influence and the importance of peers and culture in his life. He stated that he regretted very little in his life except the way that he had succumb to the negative influences of peer pressure and peer groups. He confided in me that for many years and well into his early thirties he had been an alcoholic and that his drinking problem had its origins in his desire for peer approval and that this related to issues of self-worth. This aspect will be further elaborated on in the following section.

However, what was also especially interesting in the interview was the response to the last set of questions directed at his life after sixty. I asked him about the way older people are often stereotyped and prejudiced against and seen to be incapable or 'senile'. His response to the questions indicated once again the influence of society and social prejudices and perception in his life development. But in this case it was seemingly much more positive. He stated that the during the latter part of his life, his experience had been characterized by a growing sense of self-worth, independence and a greater sense of his own identity after sixty years of age.

Summary and assessment

There are a number of points that summarize the essential aspects of this interesting interview. The first is that after assessing the interview and carefully going over the answers given by the interviewee, a certain central developmental pattern emerged. While there are of course many other aspects of importance in the life story and development of the interviewee, what stands out in the interview is the need of the individual for self-actualization and for the expression of self and self-worth. This also concurs with and refers to more theoretical points-of-view put forward by Carl Jung and others relating to the aims and goals of life-development. For example, Jung believed that the healthy development of the individuals was based on an innate desire for 'wholeness" of self, which Maslow refers to as "self-actualization." (Boeree) This view is also coupled with the strong impression derived from the interview that this search for identity is often hampered and made more difficult by the views, perceptions and biases in the culture and society.

In the first instance, the interviewee stated that his earlier years were not only difficult in an economic sense but that his father was often absent and distant when he was at home. The interviewee developed a feeling of guilt and felt that he was somehow responsible for his father's lack of care and concern. This was a central aspect that seemingly initiated his poor sense of self-esteem and self-worth. His late youth and early adulthood were almost completely dominated by the need for friends and to belong to a group in order to justify and bolster his sense of identity. He discussed at length his deep regret about his failure to see how he was in fact denying his own identity and replacing it with the needs and desires of those around him.

In this period, one of the worst incidents in his life occurred when he took part in petty crime in order to 'belong' to the group. He would not go into detail about this period of his life but it was obvious that it had a profound effect on later life development. This was also to lead to many years of alcohol abuse, which were obviously very traumatic and embarrassing for him to recall.

He married relatively late in life and only began to raise a family when he was well into this thirties. However, the responsibilities and demands of raising a family shifted his life into a new direction and while he was a still very susceptible to the prejudices and biases of those around him, he began to discover a new sense of self and identity in his late forties.

What was different and particularly interesting about the interview was that instead of declining in terms of development and growth after sixty, the interviewee claimed his life took a new direction and an intensification of meaning. Ironically, at this age he was subject to the common stereotypes and prejudices about older people in society; namely that he was in 'decline' and that older people lose their abilities and significance as independent human beings. The interviewee stated his new sense of worth and being after sixty in the following words:

was free. I was free from the need to prove myself or to be accepted by those around me. I finally began to realize that I existed as a human being and did not need the approval of the world around me.

Many older people are subject to prejudicial views and biases by society. A thesis by Ashman, entitled, Lifespan Development: A Social-Cultural Perspective, which investigates the way that age affects life development, suggests that, "...negative aging stereotypes may have deleterious effects on the elderly..." (Ashman) According to Ashman, ageing stereotypes can also negatively affect the will to live. While the interviewee experienced this prejudice he was in fact 'freed' from the need to adhere to societal norms and cultural perceptions after the age of sixty. In fact, the interviewee stated that he had developed a new "lease of life" and entered a new and more positive developmental stage at this period of his life. He began to develop interest in various hobbies and even wrote a book about his early life, which was self-published by his family.

In essence, it was only at this late stage of his life that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Life Span Development Interviewing an Elderly Person."  Essaytown.com.  November 13, 2008.  Accessed December 12, 2019.
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