Special Articles / T.K. Nair / Old Age in an Indifferent Society
(A study of 104 elderly persons aged 60 and above participating in a community care programme of CEWA)
Life satisfaction, “in the sense of a subjective feeling of well- being, depends both on external, material factors, as well as the internal dispositions of the ageing person “ (Brearley, 1978). The concept of satisfaction is, therefore, closely linked to the idea of adaptation to aging. Satisfaction in later years of life is dependent on being able to see a total pattern in life, which will not always be easy in the light of the past and present deprivations, hardships and problems that many older people experience. Life satisfaction is the outcome of self-comparison of what one desired with what one got.
Life Satisfaction Index (LSI)
Several studies have been reported on the life satisfaction of individuals. Of particular relevance is the study of Neugarten, Havighurst and Tobin (1961). They have developed two scales to measure life satisfaction: life satisfaction idex A and life satisfaction index B, which have been clinically validated. The scales measure the happiness and satisfaction of an individual with his present life. Life satisfaction index A has been used in the present study to measure the life satisfaction of the elderly respondents (vide appendix). An individual is regarded as being at the positive end of the continuum of psychological well- being to the extent that the person (a) takes pleasure from the round of activities that constitutes his or her everyday life; (b) regards his or her life as meaningful and accepts resolutely that which life has been; (c ) feels that he or she has succeeded in achieving the major goals in life ; (d) holds a positive self - image; and (e) maintains happy and optimistic attitudes and mood. Conceptually, the components are zest, resolution, congruence, self-concept, and mood tone. (Neugarten, et al., 1961).
Life satisfaction index A contains twenty items, each having a simple statement with two response categories of ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’. The individual has to choose either of the two responses which is true for him or her. Of the twenty items in the scale, twelve are positively worded and eight are negatively worded. As regards the scoring procedure, “ agree” response to a positive item or “disagree” response to a negative item has a score 1. Similarly no score is given for “disagree” response to a positive item or “agree” response to a negative item. Thus the possible scores on the life satisfaction scale range from 0 to 20; higher the score greater will be the life satisfaction on the part of the individual. As the original scale is in English, a Tamil version was prepared for the study. In order to ensure the aptness of the Tamil translation of the life satisfaction scale, the English and Tamil versions were compared and examined separately by two scholars in Tamil and two psychologists. The final Tamil version had the consensus of these four specialists.
Reliability of the Tamil version of the index was determined by both split-half and test- retest methods. In all, 104 elderly persons were administered the life satisfaction scale. The items of the life satisfaction index were divided into groups on odd-even criteria and the product moment correlation coefficient (r) was computed between the scores obtained on the two halves of the scale. Half of the elderly persons (104), who had responded to the test earlier, were chosen on simple random sampling basis (that is, every alternate person commencing from the random start of 2) for the retest. There was a gap of four weeks between the first test and retest. The product-moment correlation coefficient (r) calculated between the test and retest scores of the 52 elderly respondents gave the index of temporal stability. The coefficient of internal reliability of the scale was computed using Spearman- Brown formula (2r/1+r) to correct for attenuation in the split-half test.
The reliability coefficient shows that the Tamil version of the life satisfaction scale is valid for measuring life satisfaction of the elderly participants. Sinha (1989), who has used a Hindi version of the life satisfaction scale for an earlier study, has also arrived at the same conclusion. The index of reliability of the Hindi version was 0.84.As young (1966) says, a reliable scale “agrees with itself” and measures consistently that which it is supposed to measure.
Analysis of Results
The LSI scores of the 104 elderly persons on whom the scale was administered range from 0 to 18. As the group selected for administering the scale was not based on the probability sampling method, chi – square test has been preferred for analysis. Individual scores have been grouped into two categories: below 10, and 10 and above. Scores less than 10 are considered to indicate low level of satisfaction, and scores of 10 and above denote satisfactory level.
In general, life satisfaction of the elderly participants of the community care programme is low as seen from the mean score of 7.89. However, the scores of 39 per cent of the elderly participants are 10 and above indicating that a substantial proportion of the older persons in the community care programme have life satisfaction to a reasonable extent. The life situations of two elderly persons at the two extremes of the life satisfaction index continuum are presented below.
Govindammal (score 18) is a widow. She has a married daughter, settled in Bangalore. She works as a house maid and earns a meagre wage every month. She lives alone in a tiled house .She says that since she does not have a son, she toils even at the age of 75. But she is very happy that her daughter is settled in life. She does not worry that her daughter is not visiting her often because of high railway fare, which her daughter cannot afford. Govindammal is active and healthy. She does not suffer from any disease. She says that with the money she gets regularly from CEWA through the family assistance programme, she is able to eat good food; her relationship with her relatives has improved; and she need not have to depend on anybody now.
Kamakshi (score 0), aged about 85, lives in Parivakkam village. She is a widow. She earns her livelihood by working as an agricultural coolie. She started working only after her husband’s death. She did not give birth to any child. Now she lives all alone, in a thatched hut, feeling very depressed and “waiting for the final hour”. She has neither a sister nor a brother. She has no other relative also in the village. She suffers from chronic backache and is very weak. Recently, she had undergone hysterectomy operation. She staggers as she is not able to walk properly.
Men and women have different problems as well as different life perspectives. Yet they derive satisfaction in life depending upon the way each one achieves ego integrity.
Note: In all tables, Chi – square has been computed using the cell frequencies.
Though the mean score of elderly men is greater than that of elderly women, there is no significant difference in the life satisfaction level between older men and women participants in the community care programme.
A study of life satisfaction of older persons between the ages of 50 and 70 was made by Ramamurthi (1970) by administering both the indexes A and B on a sample of 250 educated elderly men in Madras city. The results indicated a decline in life satisfaction around the 55th year and also beyond the 61 st year, and an improvement in between these two ages. He explains that the first decline may be due to retirement effects and the second due to psychological and physical effects of “ old age “. The data for the present study also show a decline of the mean scores of the first three age groups from 60 to 74 years. But there is no statistically significant association between age and life satisfaction.
Becoming a widow or a widower is a traumatic experience. It can be a process that may begin before the event occurs, or it may be an event without any anticipation. Marriage is a very intimate human relationship and loss of spouse deprives the individual of deep emotional relationship. For men, the death of the wife, the principal caregiver, causes dependence on other relatives for care, particularly in times of illness. Older persons, who are married and widowed, differ in the life satisfaction scores, with higher mean score for the married. But the difference is not significant probably because the individual slowly learns to cope with the effects of being widowed as the years advance.
Elderly persons with neither children nor close relatives may experience isolation than those with close familial ties. However, too much emphasis should not be placed on the existence of children as close relatives can compensate for the care and affection which an older person may get from his or her children. Further, even if a person has children, it need not follow automatically that the relationship is satisfying. Value lies in the existence of close family ties more than in the mere fact of having children. According to the data for the present study, there is no significant variation in life satisfaction between the elderly who have children and those who do not have.
Good health normally has positive bearing on the individual’s attitude towards life in general. Self - estimate of health and level of life satisfaction show significant association. Many elderly respondents experience varying degrees of discomfort and impairment related to general health, vision or hearing. This may be the reason for the significant relationship between these two variables.
Poverty and life satisfaction are mutually exclusive phenomena under normal circumstances. A large number of elderly participants belong to families without adequate means for subsistence. Therefore it is natural to find significant association between the reaction towards the harsh economic situation in life and the unfavourable attitude towards life as seen from the data.
The idyllic description of the Indian village as an important social support system for the elderly has been found to be at variance with the real situation in the rural areas. The mean life satisfaction score of the rural elderly respondents is only 4.63 in sharp contrast to the mean score of their counterparts in the city, which is double that of the former. Consequently, the association between place of residence and life satisfaction level is very high.
Philosophic acceptance of old age and death is advocated in the religious scriptures. It is widely held that the sufferings in the present life will be compensated in the next birth; it, no doubt, is a weak consolation. The elderly respondents were, therefore, asked whether they believed in re- birth. Two in five elderly persons are certain that there is no re-birth; a third are in doubt; and a fourth firmly believe that they would be born again. Quite strikingly, the non – believers are more among the rural elderly. The data show that if a person believes in re-birth, he or she is likely to be satisfied with the present life despite the problems in living.
Analysis of the life satisfaction level of the elderly participants has been done in relation to a limited number of variables only. Life satisfaction score of the elderly participants in the community care programme is generally low. Statistically valid association does not exist between life satisfaction, and the variables such as sex, age, marital status and number of children. On the other hand, significant association exists between life satisfaction, and the variables such as place of residence, economic situation, self-estimate of health and belief in re-birth. Social work is concerned with issues of alleviation, prevention and enrichment. The community care programme operates under considerable financial and personnel constraints being an experimental low cost effort. Therefore, its contribution towards the enhancement of the quality of material life of the elderly with regard to adequate and nutritious food, sufficient clothing, decent shelter and some personal income is only small, though significant.
LIFE SATISFACTION SCALE
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