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The Person-Environment Perspective

The Person-Environment Perspective

The person-environment perspective suggests that the environment in which we live is not a stage set before which we live out our lives, but instead, a living part of our existence from which we take what we need, control what we can and adjust to those elements beyond our control. As we, at any age, act on our environment, the environment also acts upon us. With aging, the process of acting upon the environment may become more difficult, the process of the environment acting upon us, more prominent. The trick, as we age, is to maintain a healthy and comfortable balance.

Hooyman and Kiyak (2005) present the competence model as described by numerous authors, as a model in which the environment is viewed as the surroundings in which we live – the society, community or neighborhood. As a part of the examination of the environment, they also present the idea of the environmental press, or those elements of the society that place demands on the individual organism. They continue by explaining that in social work, the goal is often to attempt to orchestrate a better fit between the person and the environment by social action, policy intervention or advocacy.

Think about some of the ways in which the aging process might impact the ability to function in the world. For example, does getting from one place to the other become more complicated as we age? As we accommodate our aging bodies, do we allow more time for even short trips? Do we limit our driving and rely more on public transportation? Do we rely more on others to get us where we are going? In what ways can you imagine the social worker addressing these issues on an individual level? On a community level? On a policy level?

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) at is a non-profit membership group providing information and service to persons who are age 50 and over. Visit the web site and browse. Be prepared to discuss at least one element of this organization that you did not expect.

The Aging Population, Including Those at Increased Risk

Senescence is a natural process that happens gradually as the body ages. As the process occurs, body systems decline in their viability and in their ability to combat disease. As senescence is slowed with increases in the quality and quantity of medical care for the population, the life expectancy tends to increase.

During the 20th century, the average life expectancy at birth increased by 30 years. Accordingly, the aging population is growing at an increasing rate and with that, the life expectancy in the United States has increased dramatically. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2000, more than 4.2 million people were in the oldest age group, living to be age 85 and older. According to Hooyman and Kiyak (2005), the age group of the oldest-old in America has increased by a factor of 23, the old-old have increased twelve fold and the young-old eight fold. These authors also report that centenarians as a group have increased by 35% since 1990. As medical and biological researchers continue to combat the major killers of the population, heart disease and cancer, the life expectancy will likely continue to increase. Read “Healing the Heart” and “Primary Care for Elderly People: Why Do Doctors Find It So Hard?” (Aging, 05/06).

As you read and think about the increasing life expectancy, consider Fries “compression of morbidity,” defined as experiencing only a few years of major illnesses in very old age. Be prepared to discuss how this concept may change the way in which health care for the elderly is delivered.


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