RUNNING HEAD: ACTIVITY THEORY Activity Theory of Aging Long Island University-C. W. Post Campus Jennifer L. Bifulco Throughout this semester we have come across many psychological and social theories. From Vaillant’s aging well, to Erikson’s life stages, to Leont’ev’s activity theory, there is a lot to learn and to understand. For the purpose of this paper, I am going to focus on the Activity Theory of aging. After some thorough research on this topic I was able to come up with some great information about this theory that I will incorporate into this paper and make you understand the theory that way that I understand it.
Activity Theory (AT) was initially developed by Leont’ev during the twentieth century in the former Soviet Union (Leont’ev, 1978; Leont’ev, 1981a, 1981b). Leont’ev sought to understand human activities. Activity theory is dynamic. It can be used by a variety of disciplines to understand the way people act. The idea behind many programs and services for older adults is that activities have important benefits and that they contribute to increased life satisfaction for everyone.
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According to an article written in the Journal of Computer Science and Technology, activity is defined as the way a subject (either an individual or a group) moves towards an object with the purpose of getting certain results. Activity objects can be a concrete thing (such as a program) or something more abstract like an idea. When individuals engage and interact with their environment, the result is the production of tools. Tools can be used to understand the object or to improve the communication and motivation of the activity participants.
Leont’ev pointed out that people engage in actions that do no satisfy a need by themselves, but they do contribute towards the eventual satisfaction of a need. Participation in an activity is performing conscious actions that have an immediate and defined goal. Actions turn into operations when they become routine and unconscious. According to a study done by Lee and Markides, it was hypothesized that all three types of activity would be associated with a person’s life satisfaction. A test of this hypothesis was done using data collected in a retirement community.
It was found that there was an association only between informal activity with friends and life satisfaction. Many older adults explain their longevity in terms of their continuous high activity levels. AT suggests that people give up many roles as they age. They retire from work, become widows or widowers, drop out of professional organizations, leave clubs and unions, and so on. The changes challenge the ideas that people hold about themselves. They may create a reduced sense of identity and they may destroy the strength of their inner self.
For this reason continued role participation is necessary for successful adjustment in old age. Professionals advise older adults to keep active in order to maintain their health (Reich, Zautra, and Hill, 1987). AT has been an important part of gerontological thought for more than fifty years. The AT influenced researchers in the field of social gerontology during the 1940’s (Longino and Kart, 1982). AT is not a “theory” in the strict interpretation of the word. It actually consists of a set of basic principles, which make up a system that can be used as a foundation for more specific theories.
There are five basic principles of Activity Theory. These principles consist of; object-orientedness, internalization/externalization, mediation, hierarchical structure of activity, and development. Object-orientedness means that human beings live in a reality, which is objective. The things that make up this reality have not only the properties, which are seen as goals, but socially/culturally-defined properties as well. The Internalization/externalization principle deals with the impression of mental processes compared to internal activities.
AT states that internal activities cannot be understood if they are looked at separately from external activities because they transform into each other. The third principle is mediation. The Activity Theory states that human activity is mediated by tools. Tools are created during the development of the activity itself and they carry a certain culture. Tool use influences the nature of external behavior and also the mental functioning of each person. The fourth principle is the hierarchical structure of activity. The hierarchy has three levels; activity, action, and operation. Figure 1. Below shows Leont’ev’s structure of human activity.
Activities can be broken down into goal-directed actions that have to be undertaken in order to satisfy the object. Actions are conscious and happen automatically. The Activity Theory maintains the elements of the activity. The elements are not fixed but they can change as conditions change. The last principle is development. In Activity Theory, development is not only an object of study, it is also a research method. Research methods in AT is not comprised of actual lab experiments, but the experience of active participation and the monitoring of developmental changes of the study participants.
All of the five principles should be looked at as a whole system, because they are associated with various aspects of the whole activity. ACTIVITY ——–( MOTIVE ACTION ——–( GOAL OPERATION ——–( CONDITIONS Fig. 1 The Structure of Human Activity An activity is started by a motive such as a need or a drive. An activity is made up of one or more actions, which satisfies the motive. An activity and all the actions are always realized in specific ways, which determine the conditions under which the actions can be realized and the motive can be satisfied.
Within an activity system, all elements constantly interact with one another and are always in the process of working through changes. Research developed to test the AT has shown that most people do benefit from a high level of activity in age. For instance, The General Social Survey (an annual sampling of the American population designed by professors Jim Davis or Harvard University, and Tom Smith of the University of Chicago, and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago), shows a much higher level of happiness among those who are most active at all stages in life.
Research was also done and it was discovered that new activities are not necessarily substitutes for previous activities and that the quality of an activity is also important. People that engage in activities just for the sake of being “active,” can actually have negative effects from the activity. To be worthwhile, the activity must have a meaning to the participant. According to Lemon, Bengtson, and Peterson (1972), there are three activity types. These three activity types are informal, formal, and solitary. Informal activities are activities where you interact with friends and relatives.
Formal activities are activities where a person participates in a voluntary organization. Solitary activities are activities that are just a pursuit of leisure. Leont’ev’s theory of activity has been further developed by Engestrom (1987, 1999) and has also been incorporated into Vygotsky’s theory (Cole, 1996; Cole & Engestrom, 1993). The resulting theoretical framework is called Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), which represents an attempt to combine Vygotsky and Leont’ev’s theories. The CHAT activity system is shown below in figure 2 with an explanation below it. [pic] Fig. CHAT Activity System The above diagram shows the relationship between the different elements of the Activity. I will explain the diagram in terms of education. The subject in an educational activity system is the teacher. The object is the student and his/her own learning. The mediating artifacts or tools used are textbooks, audiovisual aides, and different instructional strategies. Rules include education laws, the national curriculum, school and classroom rules, and schedules. The community includes the students, teachers, administration, and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
The division of labor includes the distribution or work between teachers, school subjects, different units, mediating artifacts (tools), and modes of work. For the second part of this assignment, we were asked to choose a person aged 65 or older and interview him/her. I interviewed a wonderful older woman at the nursing home where I intern; St. Catherine’s of Siena in Smithtown, NY. For the sake of HIPAA privacy laws I have changed the name of the woman that was interviewed and I am going to call her Rose. Rose is a 70 year old, white, catholic, divorced, female.
She was born in New Jersey in the year 1938. Rose moved with her family when she was 5 years old to Brooklyn, NY. Rose completed grade school through high school at Long Island City High and married her high school sweetheart immediately after she graduated. Rose and her husband had some marital problems, which resulted in a divorce after six years of marriage. Rose never had any children and never remarried after her first marriage. When Rose got divorced she moved back to New Jersey to spend more time with her family. Rose has held numerous jobs throughout her life.
She worked as a bookkeeper for the first part of her life in a bank and eventually left the bank to work as a bookkeeper in a college bursar’s office. The second part of her life she worked in a hospital in New Jersey called Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. She worked in the dietary department. After a couple of years, Rose left the hospital and worked at a nursing home in the housekeeping department. After working at the nursing home in New Jersey, Rose moved to Long Island, NY and obtained a subsidized apartment in Lake Ronkonkoma. She held a job as a cashier at Kohl’s in Bayshore, NY.
When I asked Rose about her family she told me a lot of important details. She has a brother who is five years younger than her, whom is estranged from the family. She mentioned that her father was abusive towards the family members and that her mother suffered from severe depression. Her mother died from breast cancer at the age of 57 years old. Rose has cousins who now have children who are alive and well and living in New Jersey. Although that Rose doesn’t have any family close by she mentioned that she feels the nursing home is a secondary family to her.
She feels close to numerous people that work and/or live at the nursing home. Rose also has a male friend named Bob who visits her daily at the nursing home. Bob and her met while she was working at Kohl’s. Prior to Rose living in St. Catherine’s nursing home, she was 100% completely independent. In August of 2008, Rose had a fall, she went unconscious, and she suffered severe trauma to her head. As a result, she was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is the accumulation of excessive amounts of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the ventricles of the brain.
This fluid CSF buildup was a result of blockage of the normal channels for CSF drainage. The fluid buildup led to intracranial pressure in Rose’s head which then led to abnormal development of her psychomotor and cognitive skills. Rose received two surgeries…the first was unsuccessful and the second one the doctors implanted a ventricular peritoneal shunt in her head. After the surgeries, Rose had many difficulties with her speech and she needed rehabilitation to learn how to walk again after the fall. Rose came to St.
Catherine’s rehabilitation and after a while in the program, she decided to move upstairs and stay long term in the nursing home, since she didn’t have the proper support system and help available to care for her at home. Rose fully learned how to speak again and can hold a normal conversation with someone. , although she many times will stutter while she tries to find the right word to communicate with in her brain. When I asked Rose about what it was like to grow older in age she said that she doesn’t like to think about it. She also said that thinking about it would bother her.
She prefers to live her life and take each day as it comes to her. She also mentioned that she sometimes gets depressed that she is alone. She mentioned that her biggest regrets in life were not getting married for a second time and not ever having the children that she wanted to have. Rose was most influenced growing up by her Aunt who is her mother’s sister. She mentioned that her aunt is a warm, caring, and loving person that she has always looked up to. Rose said that she wants to be remembered just like she will always remember her aunt; loving, caring, and pleasant.
One of the last questions that I asked Rose before I got into her activity involvement was if she had any great advice that she learned from her life. Rose said that it is always good to move on and not dwell on things for too long. She reported that life is very short and that you should live life to the fullest each day. She also mentioned that no matter how many faults a person has that there is good in each and every person. She said that people should overlook those faults and focus on the strength’s of each individual person. Rose is very involved in activities in the nursing home.
She receives physical therapy and occupational therapy Monday through Friday. She also volunteers her time (2 hours/day) down in the laundry room folding towels in order to keep herself busy. Rose is involved as a board member on the Residents’ Council, she is involved in a baking group, and she loves to play bingo. Rose said that she thinks it is important to be active and involved with activities that she enjoys. She stated that the activities keep her mind going and keep her mind off of the stressors in her life. Rose is a very strong woman who I have come to learn is also very intelligent.
I have learned a lot from her in this interview that took just about an hour to complete on Wednesday, November 11, 2009. The last part of this assignment is to describe how the Activity Theory allows me to understand the experiences of Rose. I will also discuss one other theory that might apply to Rose’s case and one major aging issue that the case highlights. After learning about Leont’ev’s Activity Theory and interviewing Rose, I am able to see some connections with the things she was saying to his theory. Rose is very involved with numerous activities in the nursing home.
According to Leont’ev, an activity is initiated by a motive, such as a need or a drive. Rose gets involved with many different activities because she has a need to feel wanted and also a drive to keep her mind going and active. Leont’ev also states that an activity is made up of one or more actions that satisfy the initial motive. An action that satisfies Rose’s motive is the actual doing of the activity. If the activity was cooking, the action would be putting on an apron, picking up the spatula, and actually participating in the cooking activity.
The proposition that activities in and of themselves have important benefits and that they contribute to increased life satisfaction to everyone seems that it would be true. Rose is only one person but she did mention that she had the benefit of feeling wanted and needed while being involved in certain activities. For instance, she wanted to volunteer her time down in the laundry room to fold laundry because she missed that part of her independence. When she asked to volunteer her time the housekeeping ladies were very accepting of Rose’s wish to fold laundry and therefore satisfied Rose’s want and need to feel useful.
Rose also feels needed in Resident’s Council as she was selected by several of the other resident’s to be on the board. Rose serves as an advocate for other Residents and makes issues/problems known to the proper discipline so that it could be corrected. Rose feels needed by her fellow residents. Rose mentioned that being involved in all different activities helps her to feel fulfilled and to keep her mind off of the negative aspects of her life. As Rose grew older she lost out of a few roles in her life. She retired from the workforce, she became divorced and lost the role of a wife, and she lost her independence to care for herself.
The roles that she took on at the nursing home such as a board member on Resident’s Council, an advocate, a patient, and a volunteer are all substitute roles for the roles that have been abandoned in her life. The activities that Rose is involved in are essential to restore her “self” and boost her sense of well-being. All of the activities that Rose is involved in all have a specific meaning to her. Rose joined the cooking and bingo groups because they were of interest to her. Rose also enjoys helping others and doing the right thing so that is why she joined Resident’s Council.
Rose missed her independence in folding laundry when she was younger so the volunteering out of her own free will to fold the laundry gave her that independence back. Rose takes part in solitary activities such as sewing, reading, and folding laundry. She also takes part in informal activities like talking with her family/friends on the phone. Rose engages in formal types of activities as well such as becoming a part of Residents Council. I took the CHAT activity system model by Vygotsky and applied it to the cooking group at St. Catherine’s Nursing home. This model figure 3. appears below. [pic]
In the Object component I would put the name of the group (cooking group). The Subject would be the “Bakers” or the people that will be a part of the baking group. The Rules would be the recipe and the directions for what the cooking group is going to make. The Community would be made up of the residents, staff, administration, and families. The Division of Labor would be distributed between the bakers, and the group facilitator. The Instruments (tools) used would be the baking supplies, conventional oven, and the kitchen. One other theory that applies to the case of Rose is the Role Theory.
The Role Theory was one of the first attempts to explain how individuals adjust to aging (Cottrell, 1942). The definition of a role in relation to role theory includes description of the behaviours, characteristics, norms and values of a person or position (Major 2003; Thomas & Biddle 1966). According to Sarbin, A role is a patterned sequence of learned acts or deeds performed by a person in an interaction situation. Roles enable people to know what is expected of them and what to expect of others. Individuals play a variety of social roles throughout their lives. Some of these roles that Rose played in her life were; aughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, student, wife, businesswoman, friend, advocate, and volunteer. These roles identify and describe a person as a social being and are the basis of a person’s identity. Roles are typically organized sequentially, so that each role is associated with a certain age or stage of life. For example, the family expectations of a 32-year-old mother are much different from those of her at age 72. According to our textbook, how well an individual adjusts to aging is assumed to depend on how well they accept the role changes that occur in the later years.
I would say that Rose has adjusted well to aging due to the fact that she seems to have accepted the role changes in her life. I wonder if Rose were to have had children in the past if she would have adjusted the same or different to her role changes. Rose is a very strong woman who is insightful and willing to pick up any extra roles in order to make herself feel fulfilled. While interviewing Rose last week, I came across a couple of different aging issues related to her case. One particular aging issue that I wanted to bring up was the issue of depression. Rose has a family history of depression.
Her mother was severely depressed for most of her life up until she died from breast cancer. Rose has had a few episodes of depression after her divorce and more recently since she entered the nursing home. I can see why someone may become depressed once they make a nursing home their own home but it is even more prevalent in someone with a history of depression. I worry that once Rose grows older and experiences more physical decline and frailty that the depression may continue to exist. According helpguide. org, as many as 70% of institutionalized older adults, 65 and over, experience significant depression.
Depression could be controlled with psychotropic medications, but depression left untreated in the older adult population, can have dire consequences. Overall, this paper should give you some good insight on Leont’ev’s Activity Theory and help you to understand what it is all about. No attempts have been made to link activity levels to physical health outcomes, including mortality among older adults. A few individuals may benefit from inactivity, but most find that hobbies, crafts, volunteer work, housework and home repairs, caring for pets, sharing life with family and friends, and getting out and about, have he greatest value for a positive sense of well-being. References Basharina, Olga K. “Activity theory perspective on student-reported contradictions in international telecollaboration. ” Language, Learning & Technology 11. 2 (2007). Brooks, Kim, et al. “Role theory: a framework to investigate the community nurse role in contemporary health care systems. ” Contemporary Nurse 25. 1-2 (2007). Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology. A once and future discipline. Harvard, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Cole, M. , & Engestrom, Y. (1993). A cultural–historical approach to distributed cognition.
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