Intimacy in Older Adulthood

Topics: Sociology, Old age, Gerontology Pages: 14 (3958 words) Published: October 14, 2013

Intimacy in Older Adulthood
Lauren Heatherly
August 9, 2013

Final Paper
To Meet Partial Requirements
For SOCI-349
Aging and Society
Southern Adventist University
School of Social Work



As human beings, social interaction is important in our lives. It is so crucial that Hillier and Barrow (2010) characterize it as the essence of life for all people of all ages. However, not only is social activity important, but intimacy from relationships is also significant. Without experiencing intimacy in relationships, the relationship itself can become meaningless. Research has shown that as people age, they are less inclined to develop and invest in insignificant relationships and selectively choose ones that are worth time and effort (Hillier & Barrow, 2010). The online Merriam-Webster dictionary (2013) defines intimacy as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature” and “being marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity”. The things in life that we are intimate with or familiar with, such as where we grew up or certain things we love to do, or our relationships with others, are all things that lead to belonging and having meaning in life. It is easy to see how individuals of all ages need intimacy to some extent in order to have a life of quality that is satisfying. Many factors impact the ability of older adults to find intimacy in their lives. Some older adults seclude themselves from social contact and actually use it as a coping strategy that balances their social engagement activities (Hillier & Barrow, 2011, p.78). In some cases, comfort in being alone has been found to be related to lower depression, fewer physical symptoms, and greater life satisfaction (Hillier & Barrow, 2011). For many, however, being alone without adequate intimacy can lead to disengagement, stagnation, and loneliness, depression, and despair.

Literature Review
The aging process is a progressive time of change in the life of each individual throughout their lifespan. Along with the onset of older age, there are adjustments to be made.



Some individuals require greater adjustments than others. This research paper will explore intimacy in older adults and investigate factors such as the need for intimacy, loneliness and other consequences of lack of intimacy, the impact of communication and its role in intimacy, and how individuals can cope with changes in levels of intimacy throughout older life. The peer reviewed articles used in this review were found through the McKee library databases Sage, PsycINFO, ERIC, and PsycARTICLES. The keywords used in this search include words such as intimacy, older age, loneliness, and communication.

It is a well-known fact that social relationships have an important role in the psychological and physical wellbeing of all individuals. Specifically, relationships are very important in older life. Intimacy has been theorized by scholars as a process of incorporating another person into oneself (McCann & Roberto, 2011).

Intimacy is conceptualized and measured in different ways. The intimacy of couples not specifically older aged, was examined in a study by Mitchell et al. (2008). The results of the study showed that post-interaction intimacy with a partner was determined by high selfdisclosure and empathetic responding. Additionally, the results concluded that emotional and cognitive expressions were stronger predictors of intimacy than factual expressions were. The findings also proposed gender differences regarding feelings of intimacy. For women, intimacy was stronger when their partners exhibited understanding, validation, and caring. For men, their own caring for their partner predicted feelings of intimacy. Although this study targeted couple relationships, these findings regarding intimacy are applicable in many relationship contexts, as...

References: Hansson, R. O. (1986). Relational competence, relationships, and adjustment in old age. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(5), 1050-1058
Hefferly, M. (2009). Examining the relation between hearing loss and successful aging. (Order
Hillier, S. & Barrow, G. M. (2010). Aging, the individual and society, (9th ed.). Boston:
intimate. 2013. In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved June 20, 2013, from
McCann, B. R., & Roberto, K. A. (2011). Relational systems: How older women with chronic
health problems construct close relationships
(2008). Predictors of intimacy in couples’ discussions of relationship injuries: An
observational study
Mullins, L. S. & Mushel, M. (1992). The existence and emotional closeness of relationships with
children, friends, and spouses: The effect on loneliness among older persons
Steptoe, A., Shankar, A., Demakakos, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Social isolation, loneliness, and
all-cause mortality in older men and women
Sciences, 110(15), 5797-5801. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219686110
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