Ageing Theories and Understanding of Life Course


Aging is one of the scariest terms as it is associated with a lot of challenges especially diseases, physical/physiological weaknesses, and finally death. There are a lot of stories all over the world on how people have tried to fend off aging (Goldsmith 4). This is evidenced in biblical David who persuaded young women in the quest for youthfulness. Rich folks are cramming European hospitals for cosmetic surgeries and lamb cell injections just to stay young. Different theories have attempted to explain aging both from the physiological, sociological, and biological points of view (Jaul 123). Aging is defined as a steady and permanent reduction in the efficiency of several physiological processes once a person has reached the end of his reproductive stage in life (Zirkov 43).

Aging has become a major subject both in the political and social arena. Anti-aging medicines and doctors have attracted headlines in print and electronic media (Steen 4). They have also attracted attention from the UN which is currently putting a lot of attention on aging-related research. Even though the etiology of aging is very significant, distinguishing the normal physiological and sociological changes related to aging is equally important. Inability to identify these differences may lead to poor diagnosis and management of an aged person (Zirkov 81).

Physiological and sociological changes take place at a different rate depending on an individual. In some people, these changes are very first while in others changes are less significant (Steen 23). Major physiological changes in an aged person occur in the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, muscular-skeletal system, skin, gastrointestinal system, sexuality, sensory organs, and the brain (decline in intelligence capacity). The sociological aspect of aging focuses on the dynamic roles and relationships that follow the normal aging process. Sociological theories on aging explore how the varying roles, relationships, and positions influence an old person’s ability to adapt to his environment (Rattan 20).

Different Theories of Ageing

The theory is a supposition or a presumption that enables us to understand and explain a particular phenomenon or experiential observations. Theories have been used many times to explain ideas or observations. Even within a specific field of study, viewpoints on theories have become dynamic but some theoretical features stay constant over a period of time (Zirkov 64). Theories touching on the subject of aging vary from discipline to discipline but there have been efforts to blend these theories together to arrive at a unified theory (Zirkov 65).

The origin of aging theories can be traced back to A.D 3000. The biblical scriptures provided insights into the wisdom and agony associated with gray hairs (Steen 6). Aristotle is regarded as the first to code the aging theories by classifying life into four stages. The contemporary theories on successful aging owe their root to Coronado in 1957 who prescribed the right kind of lifestyle to maintain a healthier and longer life (Steen 12). However, the growing number of evidence provided by evolutionary biologists set the foundation for the present theories of aging. Aging theories have attempted to provide the answer on how certain changes can be described as part of the aging process (Jaul 44).

Bio-demographic theory of Ageing

Bio-demographic theory of aging explores the factors behind variability in the aging rate within a population (Goldsmith 3). This theory tries to provide the answers to the question on how the general status of the present human condition by investigating diverse species in diverse settings (Jaul 47). Some of the explanations relating to cellular aging and genetics. There is some evidence across a section of some species which show a similar pattern in their life spans and that their lifespan is greatly influenced by the environment (Goldsmith 5).

Bio-psychosocial theory on aging explains how the surrounding, health, and advancement in technology influence the rate of aging (Steen 45). This theory tries to establish the most vulnerable individual to adverse medical and age-related- conditions. The medical theory of stress and ageing has been recommended to clarify the difference. This states that too much strain as a result of exposure to persistent and severe strains leads to escalating risks for illnesses and disability (Jaul 57). In a nutshell, bio-demographic theories attempt to explain the role of the environment on a person’s medical condition and survival as the biological clock ticks (Goldsmith 17).

Biological theories on Ageing

The biological mechanisms accountable for ageing are very many and can be categorized into stochastic (random) and programmed (structured) ageing (Goldsmith 22). Biological theories of ageing acknowledge the role played by evolution especially the theory of natural selection in the ageing process. The immunological theory which falls under the biological theories of ageing hypothesizes that the very system that provides the important defensive function at the early age can become a danger at old age when it functions less effectively due to duplicative aging T cells. Thus, body immunity deteriorates with the ageing process (Goldsmith 23).

Ageing is a genetically programmed process adaptive to the changing surrounding condition (Zirkov 56). The expression of human genes just like the rest of the animal kingdom is programmed at various stages of life depending on environmental nutrition (Jaul 45). The free radical theory of ageing stresses the significance of wear and tear in the ageing process. The theory explains that when oxygen is used up in the metabolism process, radical electrons are disposed resulting in cellular damage and consequently to the body system. In contrast, the very process that is important for life-oxidation causes ailments and eventually death (Goldsmith 6).

The wear and tear resulting from the build-up of oxidative stress in the body repairs very slowly due to an ineffective defensive system at the old age stage. This may end up in cumulative body damage and weaken the body completely reducing a person’s chances of survival (Goldsmith 15). However, there is very little evidence to support the oxidative stress theory. There are only three major biological theories of aging-wear and tear theory, programmed genes, and evolutionary senescence theory.

Psychological theories of Ageing

The psychological theories are based on the societal relations model and this encompasses social networking and support, and satisfaction with the support from the society. The key aspect of this model relates to the response provided by the close family relations as the individual ages. Individuals in this case are greatly natured by the support and close relation they enjoy from the immediate family members and the society in general. Social networks are the pillars that offer the groundwork for which the individual aspect of the relation originates. Besides the ideal feature of social networks, the social relations model includes an individual’s evaluation of their personal relations. Individual’s social relations have far reaching impact on their health and personal/social wellbeing (Rattan 20).

The dynamic integration theory focuses on the emotional control among the old folks (Rattan 22). The theory categorises development of emotions among the aged into two. First an escalation in emotional stability of a person depends on the development of emotion control. The second view is that old people’s capacity to process information effectively is often compromised. Emotional control is a dynamic reaction to the challenges. The major question here is how well an aged person can maintain social well-being (Zirkov 65). The theory envisages highly stimulating circumstances creating an increasing level of emotional provocation among the aged than young people. Studies show that older people have a lot of trouble inhibiting soaring emotional provocation.

Sociological theories of Ageing

Anthropological theories focus on how difference in maturity is integrated in the social order and how they are modelled by the cultures into ideas related to ageing. They regard generational systems as the beneficial ways of assessing life (Rattan 34). They posit that human societies have generational rules that systematize social lives. Besides time line, generational systems designate relationship within a society (Rattan 36). Anthropologist distinguishes theories between age and ageing. Theories about age describe cultural and social facts while theories about ageing explore living, dynamic experiences in different stages of life, and the interdependence among different generations (Rattan 36).

Life course theories embody a legitimate sociological approach to individual occurrences corresponding to the ageing and life course model of human individuals (Zirkov 67). These theories recognise individual ageing occurs simultaneously with the occurrence of the societal change, offering momentum to the attempts trying to distinguish ageing from contemporaries. The theory also initiates the concept of age amalgamation as well extreme categories of age structure as well as recommending mechanism for group norm formation (Rattan 38).

Social theory of ageing focuses on a number changes in the in the development of the social phenomena of ageing. Changes imply that life course transition is diminishing with age and the changes are geared towards age integration from age segregation Rattan 14). The most common instance of the social theory of ageing is illustrated in the ageing and society model. The striking feature of this model is the emphasis on persons and societal principles as well as the methodical relationship between them (Jaul 22). This theory concerned with peoples lives and social structures and how people are incorporated into the structures and their interrelationships (Rattan 25).

Old Adult interview-Case study of adults of age over 65

The interviewer carried out a study of adults of age above sixty five using a simple random sampling. The interviewees were of the same age bracket and were of the same age with the interviewer in the year 1945. This was the year the world experienced the Second World War. Many American citizens took part in this war either as soldiers or grounds men including a number of the interviewees. The interviewees confirmed a number of their cohorts including their relatives lost their lives in the Second World War. Majority of the interviewees were very sorry to what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world never wishes to see another country succumb to nuclear weapons.

Asked on whether they could recall of some of their friends who participated in the war majority were positive although they couldn’t remember all of them. Some of the historical events that took place on the same period the interviewees could remember very easily included the great depression of 1939 and the Radio popular. They described the great depression as having severe impact on the global economy as compared to the sub-prime crisis of the recent year. However, many of the interviewees were not sure of what caused the depression while others felt it was due to tension that resulted into the Second World War.

From the interview the interviewer established that the interviewees could not remember many of the historical events that occurred when they were of the same age-that’s around 1945. This justifies the biological theory of ageing that posits decline in mental or brain capacity to remember most of the events that took place at the earlier stages of their lives. From the study, the interviewer also observed that the interviewees shown different physical/morphological characteristics despite being of the same age bracket. Some of the interviewees looked older than others. This observation authenticates the bio-theory of ageing which postulates variability in ageing rates within a population (Goldsmith 14). Those who participated in the Second World War looked frail authenticating bio-psychosocial theory which explains how the surrounding, health and advancement in technology influences the rate of ageing. Those who participated in the war ascertained that they suffered either physical or psychological injuries which are catching up with them in the old age. The interviewees also had unclear memories on the recent historical occurrences and the ensuing events such as the assassination of the Martin Luther Junior and John F. Kennedy, resignation of President Nixon, Elvis Presley’s popularity among others.

Majority of the interviewees were impatient with the interviewer as the interviewer pressed many questions in quest for more answers about the historical events the respondents personal lives especially their medical records. Indeed, many of them admitted weaknesses in their health conditions (Goldsmith 34). They lacked absolute emotional control when aroused. This interview confirmed the biological and the psychological theory of ageing which recognises frailty in health conditions as a person grows old and emotional instability respectively. The study also established that the interviewee’s lifestyle was completely different from the interviewers when they were at the same age. The interviewees were more mature than the interviewers at the same age and this keep on changing with generation. The roles of the aged have also changed with time plus how people view them in the society (Rattan 6).


Many theories relating to ageing originates from other theories for instance the theory on evolution. These theories are interconnected such as the biological theories and the physiological theories, thus no one particular theory of ageing has been established. Ageing related changes in the human body is as a result of a combination of genetics and environmental features which further complicates the quest of finding a unanimous theory of ageing. Through the theoretical models and medical discoveries, scientists are working relentlessly to establish the solution to the ageing process. Exploring the physiological aspect of ageing has played a major role in finding cures for the age-related ailments. Ageing is a multifaceted subject that encompasses the biological, physiological and sociological aspects.


Goldsmith, Theodore. Theories of Biological Ageing: Implications for Public Health. NY: Azinet Inc, 2009. Print.

Jaul, Eliano. The importance of increasing awareness of hearing and vision in the elderly population Harefuah. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Vol 145:136-40.

Rattan, Suresh. Ageing intervention and therapies. Singapore: World scientific publishers, 2005. Print.

Steen, Bernard. Biological aging—a mini review. Focus on heart/blood pressure and nutrition. Chicago: Lakartidningen, 2001. Print.

Zirkov, Medvedev. An attempt at a rational classification of theories of ageing. NJ: Biol Rev Publishers, 1990. Print.