Theories of Aging

This course is a review of the major theories of aging and how they apply to nursing practice.

Theories of Aging

Biological Theories

The biological theories are related to aging done physiologically.  They include the following theories:

  • Genetic - the belief that individuals are genetically programmed for a certain life expectancy
  • Cross-linking - the division of cells in a person's body is changed by radiation and chemical influences.  This is detrimental to normal cellular division.
  • Evolutionary - based on the theories of natural selection and mutation of different species throughout time
  • Free radical and lipofuscin - These theories are based on the damage done to healthy cells by free radicals (molecules created during oxygen metabolism that have extra electrical charge) and lipofuscin (a by-product of oxidation)
  • Autoimmune reactions - reduced ability to fight disease as immunity decreases with age
  • Wear and tear - simply the overuse and repetition injury sustained by the body over a lifetime
  • Stress - proposal that increased physical and psychological stress over years reduces lifespan
  • Biogerontology - the relationship of organisms and disease processes to the aging of the body
  • Neuroendocrine and neurochemical - the thought that certain hormones and chemical imbalances promote aging
  • Radiation - the possibility that the accumulation of radiation mutates cells and decreases lifespan
  • Nutrition - a discussion surrounding how poor intake and obesity may decrease the lifespan
  • Environmental - the effect pollutants and chemicals have on our bodies aging process.  Examples include smoking, lead, arsenic, and pesticides  

Write a short response reflecting on the patterns of aging in your family and whether you have influence over those patterns.

Psychosocial Theories


This category is split into psychological and sociological theories of aging.  Psychological theories look at the way individuals adapt mentally and behaviorally as they age.  Sociological theories study the impact society has on the individual as they age and vice versa.  


  • Disengagement - this theory proposes the split of the adult from societal roles as they age.  It is important that older adults do this for transfer of power to the next generation, but there are people who believe it is important that older generations stay engaged.  
  • Activity - Insists that individuals stay engaged in society and their communities for as long as possible to avoid some of the detrimental effects of decreased physical and mental activity.
  • Continuity - This theory indicates that individuals have a predisposition toward living a certain lifestyle and influencing society in a certain way for their entire lives.
  • Developmental tasks - the theorists we have looked at in class already are part of the group that feels individuals have stages and levels of mastery that are necessary for completion of each life stage.
  • Gerotranscendence - this theory proposes that individuals move from a concrete, materialistic, and rational state to a more transcendent and abstract state.

What activities do you see in your community that both engage and influence disengagement of older adults?

Indicate whether the statements below are true or false

  • Activity and stress are examples of biological theories
  • Disengagement and developmental tasks are examples of psychosocial theories
  • Nutrition and autoimmune are examples of biological theories

Compare and contrast theories

Match the theories with the correct aging theory category

  • Psychosocial theory
    Erikson's theory of development
  • Psychosocial theory
    Continuity theory
  • Biological theory
    Neuroendecrine theory
  • Biological theory
    Free radical theory

What disease processes are related to factors believed to influence aging? (give at least three)

List activities you feel would assist an older adult in healthy aging. Indicate whether these activities are based in biological or psychosocial theory

Application to nursing practice

Why are the theories important?

These theories help the nurse to understand physical changes that patients are undergoing as they age.  It also helps nurses plan care to decrease the vulnerability to stress and disease.  The psychological theories help the nurse learn where the patient is in life and how to help them adapt to change.


Assessing adaptation to changes in life and the sense of well-being are applications to which of the following theories?

  • Biological
  • Sociological
  • Psychological

Biological theories include assessment of the following (select all that apply)

  • Bowling group
  • Health screenings
  • Diabetes education class
  • Blood pressure monitoring at a health fair

Having elders connected to meaningful activities so that they find gratification in life is an example of sociological theory.

  • Having elders connected to meaningful activities so that they find gratification in life is an example of psychosocial theory.
  • Nurses should view aging as a gradual decline in health and wellness
  • Nurses should consider several aging theories when implementing care and be aware of the characteristics and limitations in each.