Colorado PROFILES, The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI)
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Defensive Responses to Thoughts of Death in Older Adults


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Terror management theory posits that awareness of the inevitability of death plays an important role in the pursuit of meaning and value in life and therefore affects a very diverse range of human behaviors. Over 300 studies have provided converging support for TMT's central propositions. Older adults are closer to death than the younger adults that have been studied in most TMT research. Further, with advancing age, people often experience changes that remind them of their mortality and that threaten their self-worth within the context of their cultural milieu. This suggests that death- related concerns and problems associated with them are likely to become increasingly troubling as one ages. However, the research on how elders deal with the issue of death suggests that, if anything, they report less fear of death than their younger counterparts, and a growing literature on the general psychological adjustment of older adults suggests that, for the most part, older adults are better adjusted than younger adults. Other research suggests, however, that many older adults experience significant problems with anxiety, depression, and cognitive rigidity. The proposed research has three goals: First, to explore similarities and differences in the ways young and old adults respond to reminders of death. Second, to examine the possibility that some but not all older adults have made a transition to a different form of coping with mortality by investigating the role of individual differences in cognitive rigidity and general psychological adjustment as possible moderators of how older adults cope with the problem of death. Third to investigate the possibility that older and younger persons use distinctly different strategies for coping with the problem of death, with older adults more likely to rely on socio-emotional selectivity, generativity, optimism for future generations, and an orientation toward the past than their younger counterparts. By exploring how older adults adapt to their greater proximity to death, this work will shed light on developmental changes in coping strategies that influence diverse aspects of older adults'lives. Given the strong evidence from research with younger adults that death-related anxiety plays a role in psychological adjustment and disorder, physical health, interpersonal relations, and the capacity to adapt to life changes, this research has implications for health, adjustment, and well-being in later life.


Collapse sponsor award id
R01AG022910

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Collapse start date
2006-07-01
Collapse end date
2011-06-30

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