Research and Practice in Victim Services: Perspectives from Education and Research



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Statement of the Problem

As they advance in age, elders may confront situations for which they are unprepared. Their resourcefulness, defined as their ability to solve problems independently or to request assistance, may determine in part whether they are able to live meaningful lives. An elder’s problem-solving strategies potentially apply to a broad variety of situations, including the problem of preventing or recovering from a criminal victimization. Particularly for those working with elders and in victim services, an understanding of resourcefulness that is rooted in the unique situation of elders offers the potential to yield significant benefits.

Being sociable, defined as the ease with which one interacts with others, is a way for elders to exchange information with others regarding their social identity, life situation, and developments and resources in the community. As such, it represents a significant resource. Being sociable is part of the pattern of acquiring, maintaining, transforming, or discontinuing relationships within an individual’s social network (Langl, 2003). Close emotional ties in many individuals appear stable until late in life, whereas social relationships often are discontinued in line with an individual’s goal priorities and future time perspective (subjective nearness to death). Purposive action to mold the social world according to one’s age-specific needs contributes to subjective well-being (Langl, 2003). Elders who possess better social-personality resources function better in everyday life and exhibit fewer negative age differences when compared to resource-poor elders (Langl, 2002).

An elder’s everyday life influences the character and the availability of social interaction. Of non-institutionalized elders aged 85 and over in the United States, 45% lived in family settings in 1998 (AARP, 1999). A family setting presumably would include routine opportunities for social interaction. By contrast, 31% of non-institutionalized elders 65 years of age and over lived alone in 1998. By gender, 41% of women and 17% of men age 65 and over lived alone in 1998. Among women aged 85 and over in the United States, 3 of 5 lived alone (AARP, 1999). For some elders, the death of a spouse may result in the elder living alone for the first time in his or her life.

Theoretical Foundations

This research used the concepts of John Dussich’s Social Coping Theory which describes the process by which people cope with problems. The theory is behavioral, dynamic, and comprehensive in scope. The key elements in Social Coping Theory are the Repertoire, the Problems, the Coping Processes, and the Products. The Repertoire is the accessible collection of problem-solving skills that an individual may bring to bear in order to resolve the stress of life strains. The Repertoire is supported by time and an individual’s psychic, social, and physical assets. Inputs in the coping model are problems that disturb an individual’s equilibrium. The Coping Process is composed of four sequential elements: prevention, preparation, action, and reappraisal. The potential result of the coping process is the elimination, reduction, or retention of stress.

Hypotheses

Four hypotheses are presented here:

H1: Sociability leads elders to perceive themselves as resourceful.

Social isolation and withdrawal are oft-cited risk factors for victimization. This inquiry posits that socializing maintains or expands social contacts that serve as a resource for addressing abuse problems. Socializing helps orient elders to their environment. Socializing also may elevate elders’ perceived resourcefulness by increasing their internal locus of control. The relationship between perceived resourcefulness and sociability may reveal an interactive synergism; that is, each variable serves as both cause and effect for the other.

H2. Sociable elders perceive that they can meet their needs.

Socializing draws upon and helps develop problem-solving skills. These skills, when applied to life problems, lead to results that support a belief among elders that they are able to meet their needs which includes the prevention of victimization.

H3. Those elders who are sociable are more likely to be able to take advantage of existing avenues of social support.

Sociable elders will be in a stronger position compared to their less sociable counterparts to take advantage of existing avenues of social support. Having friends and being sociable logically precede the elder’s awareness of having social support.

H4. Sociable elders are more likely to have a positive view of the aging process.

Through socializing, elders become familiar with how other elders cope with the challenges of aging. This familiarity enlarges the skills repertoire of sociable elders, with the result that they grow more confident of their ability to meet the challenges of aging.

Methods

Our data from elders was anonymously gathered through a self-completed survey instrument at 8 senior centers in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, USA, during the months of January and February, 2004. The centers were selected at random and each elder participated voluntarily.


Findings

Senior center staff returned 230 completed surveys. This represents a 29% rate of completion. Correlations of the ordinal variables based on the hypotheses appear below. The results are for interval-by-interval correlations (Pearson’s R). The correlations are positive and strongly significant; and, generally are in the range of r = .4.

Hypotheses

Pearson’s R

Asympt. Std. error

Approx. T

Significance

1

R = .439

.057

7.038

.000

2

R = .394

.077

6.234

.000

3

R = .427

.083

6.761

.000

4

R = .514

.082

8.610

.000

Discussion

Based on these findings all four hypotheses are supported. However, a bias of the sample stems from the fact that the data came from elders who self-selected by regularly going to these senior centers. Elders who go to senior centers are more likely to be resourceful, sociable, aware of current developments in their environment, and informed of existing avenues of social support. As such, the data perhaps provide a rosier image of the capabilities of elders than would emerge from a random sample of all elders in the city of Phoenix.
Conclusions

These results are consistent with the postulates of Social Coping Theory and suggests that being sociable is a resource that augments an elder’s ability to respond to life problems. Thus, it is reasonable to recommend that all persons approaching their senior years be provided information and opportunities to enhance their sociability thereby facilitating their ability to cope with later life problems.






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