The continuity theory posits that elderly people always maintain the patterns from the past in order to adapt to a new environment.
Reasons for the Choice
I chose to interview Mrs. Margaret Ruffin because she is a family friend and would, therefore, eagerly tell me her life story. Moreover, the fact that Mrs. Ruffin is currently living in a nursing home made me determined to investigate whether the interview would reinforce the continuity theory considering a person’s life course to be discontinued when she or he lives in an institution providing residential accommodation and health care.
Mrs. Ruffin was born in Clanton, Mississippi in 1941 to a single African American maidservant mother. Mrs. Ruffin’s education stopped at the 9th grade due to financial difficulties. Her teenage years were composed of helping out her mother at work during the weekdays and attending a local Presbyterian church on weekends. In her twenties, she joined the hippie movement, traveled around the country and practiced Christianity and Buddhism. In her thirties, she married Sam Ruffin, a farmer, and settled down. Her later years were spent raising her six children, working with her husband on their farm, and attending church services on Sundays.
According to Mrs. Ruffin, the significant changes that occurred in her life included experiencing the hippie movement that changed her lifestyle, marrying Sam Ruffin whereby she settled down, and having children that made her work hard to ensure they got the best education. However, the loss of her husband in 2007 to an age-related heart condition was the biggest blow. Mrs. Ruffin believes the most important historical events she experienced are the ordination of women by the Presbyterian Church in 1955 and the appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first African American judge of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967.
Family and Social Network
According to Mrs. Ruffin, her family of six children and eleven grandchildren is spread out in Los Angeles, and Mississippi State. However, they have a family tradition where they meet at her daughter Eloise’s house in Mississippi State once a month. After her husband’s death, her busy children put her in a nursing home in Clanton where gerontological nurses care for her. Her two children, who live in Mississippi State, always visit her during the weekends. Apart from her family, Mrs. Ruffin’s closest person is her friend and companion Damaris Gladwell, who also stays at that nursing home. They have been friends ever since their twenties.
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On a typical day, Mrs. Ruffin wakes up at six a.m., does exercises, does her laundry and assists the chefs in preparing calorically-restricted food. Afterward, she plays bingo with other retirees and watches her favorite Mexican soaps in the evening before going to bed at 10 p.m. Mrs. Ruffin admits that due to biological aging and inevitable age-related effects like arthritis, she is unable to do some activities like farming. Moreover, she requires the assistance of gerontological nurses to take long evening walks.
Mrs. Ruffin admits she realized that family and loyalty are all that a person needs to be happy. The primary values she lives by are honesty, kindness, discipline, love, forgiveness, and respect for religion.
The theory posits that people experiencing senescence always attempt to preserve existing structures by using strategies devised in the past (Wadensten 350). To them, these strategies ensure continuity in their old age.
At 75 years of age, Mrs. Ruffin is still physically strong. It proves the life expectancy theory that women in America live longer than men with their life expectancy in 2013 being 81 years while that of men was 76 (Minhat, Amin, and Shamsuddin 51). Even though Mrs. Ruffin has experienced physical age changes and lives in a new environment, she has maintained several aspects of her life. For example, she wakes up at 6 a.m. and goes to bed at 10 p.m., a pattern she was used to at her home. She believes it contributes to her longevity. By controlling her daily routine, she extends continuity over her life. Mrs. Ruffin also maintains her cooking skills by helping the chefs with cooking calorically-restricted food and, unlike other retirees, she does her own laundry. Mrs. Ruffin also personalizes her space. She brought furniture from her house. She says it makes her feel like she is in a home away from home.
Moreover, maintaining contact with family and friends provides a sense of security and predictability for individuals living in assisted living homes (Horowitz and Vanner 133). Mrs. Ruffin always attends church on Sundays with her two children and her friend, Mrs. Gladwell.
The interview reinforced the continuity theory. Living in a nursing home had been expected to prevent Mrs. Ruffin from continuing with the life she was used to. However, reinterpreting her experiences, and maintaining traditions like going to church, Mrs. Ruffin ensured continuity of her current life. The interview experience proved that the continuity theory is practical and does not depend on a person’s current environment. Moreover, the life changes that a person undergoes from teenage years to old age and the connection between calorically-restricted meals and longevity were established.
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By observing Mrs. Ruffin’s history, family and social network, functional capacity and values, one gains an understanding of her life. Mrs. Ruffin maintains continuity of her life by performing actions such as observing family traditions and exercising. By following these activities that mimic her previous personal routines, Mrs. Ruffin reinforces the continuity theory.