Sustaining the self in the 'fourth age': a case study

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The purpose of this paper is to illuminate from the perspective of an older person (Harriet)* the factors that both support and jeopardise her mental wellbeing in the fourth age.
The paper is based on unstructured narrative interviews with an older woman who was originally interviewed for a previous research study 15 years ago. At that time she was aged 82; she is now aged 97. This paper explores themes of change and continuity in her experience of ageing with a view to re-evaluating the model of sustaining the self developed from the earlier study and comparing the findings with current conceptions of the fourth age.
Harriet’s previous efforts to remain independent have been replaced by an acceptance of dependency and diminished social relationships and activity. However, she retains significant threads of continuity with her earlier life and employs cognitive strategies that enable her to feel content. Her experience of advanced old age fits conceptions of neither the third nor fourth age, indicating the need for more sophisticated and nuanced understandings.
The paper is original in exploring the lived experience of an older person in advanced age across a 15 year time period. Its value lies in rendering visible the factors that have promoted and/or undermined her mental wellbeing and in generating insights that can be applied more generally to experiences of advanced age.
*The name ‘Harriet’, used throughout the paper, is a pseudonym, replicating the pseudonym used in the original study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
JournalQuality in Ageing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


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