Death Anxiety Among the Elderly- the Impact of Children

Journal of Psychological Researches, 1998, Vol. 42, No. 1, P: 32-34

INTRODUCTION

Death anxiety became a topic of psychological interest in the late 1950’s. From its inception “thanatology” has been a multidisciplinary field including contributions from all disciplines. The definition of death anxiety has been the most perplexing task for a researcher till today. In the opinion of earlier reviewers, such as Kastenbaum & Costa (1977) much confusion in the literature on death attitudes can be traced to the “careless interchange of ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety,’ each of which implies different approaches”, for e.g., if fear represents a more realistic reaction to a specific danger, anxiety refers to a more neurotic response that is out of proportion to any actual external hazard (Choron, 1974). Peterson (1980) concluded that the study of death and dying “is severely limited in terms of both methodology and on theory.

Death is reality in the lives of adults; in adolescence, it may still be regarded as a stranger, but by old age it has come to be viewed as frequent, unwelcome companion of life’s journey (Stillion, 1995). Lieberman and Tobin (1980) maintain that older people do not generally have the same reluctance to discuss death and may, openly resolve fears on mortality as they review their lives. They suggested that elderly may have simply accumulated enough unpleasant life events over the years to make dying seem less traumatic. Sinha (1971) indicates that “fear of death in the elderly is a result of psychological deterioration.”

Kogan & Wallach (1961) found that adults of all ages ranked death as the most aversive of a wide range of concepts, even though every one evaluated death negatively, the elderly persons rated it more positive than else. Mullins & Lopez (1982) show evidences that old (75+) may become more death anxious than young old (60-75). There is not yet enough evidence to provide a secure interpretation of older respondents’ lower death concern.

Elderly with sound emotional health, married and with more number of children received lower death anxiety scores (Baum & Boxley, 1984). Elders who perceived time as slow and those who lived in institutions tends to feel more anxious about death (Baum, 1983). Elderly with satisfactory family-ties and more life satisfaction received less death anxiety scores (Tate, 1982).

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

Review of literature on death anxiety leads to the conclusion that not much research has been done both in abroad and in India to study the role of children in the experience of death anxiety. Hence this study has been attempted to find out the influence of children in the experience of death anxiety among the elderly. It has already been proved that presence of more children results in lower death anxiety among the elderly (Baum & Boxley, 1984).

METHOD

Sample

Sample comprised of 30 men and 30 women elderly ranging in age from 50 to 82 years (mean age= 63.1 years) forming a sample size of 60. The samples were selected from Coimbatore District (Manchester of South India) in Tamil Nadu. The participants were contacted individually by the researcher and data was collected by face-to-face interview.

Tools

The tools used in this study for data collection by the researcher were:

1. Personal Information Schedule: An “Information Schedule” was designed by the investigator to procure demographic and biographic information from the samples required for the study.

2. Leming’s fear of death scale (1979-80): This scale comprised of 26 statements with 6 possible response outcomes i.e., 1 as ‘Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “tend to agree,” “tend to disagree,” and “Strongly disagree.” Each statement carries scores from 1 to 6 and the respondent is to circle the category which he/she feels suitable. All such scores are added to give the total score. The maximum score is 156 and minimum is 26.

STATISTICAL ANALAYSIS

Mean, standard deviation and “t” test were the statistics calculated.

Table I: Shows the influence of children in the experience of death anxiety among the elderly

Variable More Children

(n=24) No/less Children

(n=36) “t” p

Mean

SD

Mean

SD

2.185

<0.05

Death Anxiety

79

4.78

88.33

18.19

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Since no significant gender differences were found in the experience of death anxiety, the results are presented with data combined. The results summarized in Table I shows that the‘t’ value for 58 df is significant below .05 level of confidence which indicate that elderly with more children experience less death anxiety than elderly with less and no children, this is in accordance with prior findings (eg., Reinhardt and Fisher, 1988; Baum & Boxley, 1984; etc) which described the relationship with children as providing more stimulation, ego-support and utility in latter life.

REFERENCES

Baum, S.K (1983). Older People’s anxiety about after life. Psychological Reports. Vol. 52 (3), 895-898.

Baum, S.K & Boxely, R.L (1984). Age denial: Death denial in the elderly: Death Education. Vol. 8(5-6), 419-423.

Choron, J (1984). Death and modern man. New York: Mac Millan.

Kastenbaum, R & Costa, P.T (1977). Psychological perspectives on death. Annual Review of Psychology, 28, 225-240.

Kogan, N & Wallach, M.A (1961). Age changes in values and attitudes. Journal of Gerontology, 16, 272-280.

Liberman, M.A & Tobbin, S.S (1983). The experience of oldage, stress, coping and survival. New York: Basic Books.

Mullins, L.C & Lopez, M.A (1982). Death anxiety among nursing home residents. A comparison of the young old-old. Death Education, 6, 75-86.

Peterson, J.A. (1980). “Social aspects of death & dying and mental health” in Birren, J.E and Sloane, R.B (Eds.). Handbook of mental health and aging. Engle Wood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall.

Reinhardt, J.P & Fisher, C.D (1988). Kinship versus friendship: social adaptation in married and widowed elderly women. Women and Health. Vol. 14(3-4), 191-211.

Sinha, S.N (1971). Lonely Old Man. Indian Journal of Gerontology, Vol. 3 & 4.

Stillion, J. (1995). Death in the lives of Adults: Responding to the Tolling of Bell. In Wass, H and Neimeyer, R (Eds.) Dying: Facing the facts, Washington, Taylor & Francis, 303-322.

Tate, L.A (1982). Life satisfaction and death anxiety in aged women. International Journal of Aging and Human Development. Vol. 15(4), 299-306.

Thorson, J. A & Powell, F.C (1988). Elements of death anxiety and meanings of death. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 44, 696-701.