Ageing International

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 115–135 | Cite as

Perceptions of Being Old and the Ageing Process

  • Rhonda ShawEmail author
  • Matthew Langman


Ageing anxiety is based on worry about age-related changes in one’s physical appearance and the belief that old age is a phase of life in which poor physical health, pain or discomfort, sensory losses and cognitive decline are inevitable. This qualitative study aimed to explore perceptions of being an older adult and the ageing process. Six focus groups were conducted with a total of 39 participants, aged between 50 and 92 years. An inductive thematic analysis identified three manifest themes within the data: freedom/liberation, independence/autonomy and personal responsibility/self-care, and one overarching, latent theme, continuity and change. Perceptions of ageing and old age among this group of older adults were generally positive, however, this positivity was tempered by fears about possible future declines in health and loss of independence.


Ageing Positive ageing Freedom Independence Personal responsibility Continuity 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Informed Consent

“Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.”

Ethical Treatment of Experimental Subjects (Animal and Human)

“All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.”


  1. Allan, L. J., & Johnson, J. A. (2009). Undergraduate attitudes toward the elderly: the role of knowledge, contact and aging anxiety. Educational Gerontology, 35, 1–14. doi: 10.1080/03601270802299780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrews, M. (1999). The seductiveness of agelessness. Ageing and Society, 19(3), 301–318 Scholar
  3. Angus, J., & Reeve, P. (2006). Ageism: a threat to “aging well” in the twenty-first century. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 25, 137–152. doi: 10.1177/0733464805285745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atchley, R. C. (1989). A continuity theory of normal aging. The Gerontologist, 29, 183–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2007). Older Australia at a glance (4th ed.). Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved from:
  6. Barrett, A. E., & Robbins, C. (2008). The multiple sources of women's aging anxiety and their relationship with psychological distress. Journal of Aging and Health, 20, 32–65. doi: 10.1177/0898264307309932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berman, R. L. H., & Iris, M. A. (1998). Approaches to self-care in late life. Qualitative Health Research, 8, 224–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Butler, R. N. (2009). Combating ageism. International Psychogeriatrics, 21, 211. doi: 10.1017/S104161020800731X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chasteen, A. L. (2000). The role of age and age-related attitudes in perceptions of elderly individuals. Basic and Applied Psychology, 22, 147–156. doi: 10.1207/S15324834BASP2203_3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Duay, D. L., & Bryan, V. C. (2006). Senior adults’ perceptions of successful aging. Educational Gerontology, 32, 423–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Haak, M., Fange, A., Iwarsson, S., & Dahlin-Ivanoff, S. (2007). Home as a signification of independence and autonomy: experiences of very old Swedish people. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 14, 16–24. doi: 10.1080/11038120601024929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Healy, J. (2004). The benefits of an ageing population. The Australia Institute Discussion Paper Number 63, Australia Institute. Retrieved from:
  14. Hurd, L. C. (1999). “We're not old!”: older women's negotiation of aging and oldness. Journal of Aging Studies, 13(4), 419–439. doi: 10.1016/S0890-4065(99)00019-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Johnson, R. A., & Bibbo, J. (2014). Relocation decisions and constructing the meaning of home: a phenomenological study of the transition into a nursing home. Journal of Aging Studies, 30, 56–63. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2014.03.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kafer, R. A., Rakowski, W., Lachman, M., & Hickey, T. (1980). Aging opinion survey: a report on instrument development. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 11, 319–333. doi: 10.2190/JQF5-XDCV-H1AH-3E1Y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kidd, P. S., & Parshall, M. B. (2000). Getting the focus and the group: enhancing analytical rigor in focus group research. Qualitative Health Research, 10(3), 293–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lasher, K. P., & Faulkender, P. J. (1993). Measurement of aging anxiety: development of the anxiety about aging scale. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 37, 247–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lerner, M. (1957). America as a civilization: life and thought in the United States today. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  20. Levy, B. R. (2003). Mind matters: cognitive and physical effects of aging self-stereotypes. Journal of Gerontology, 58B, 203–211. doi: 10.1093/geronb/58.4.P203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lynch, S. M. (2000). Measurement and prediction of aging anxiety. Research on Aging, 22(5), 533–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lyons, I. (2009). Public perceptions of older people and ageing: a literature review. National Centre for the Protection of Older People. Retrieved from:
  23. Mock, S. E., & Eibach, R. P. (2011). Aging attitudes moderate the effect of subjective age on psychological well-being: evidence from a 10-year longitudinal study. Psychology and Aging, 26, 979–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nelson, T. D. (2005). Ageism: prejudice against our feared future self. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 207–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pasupathi, M. (1999). Age differences in response to conformity pressure for emotional and non-emotional material. Psychology and Aging, 14, 170–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Plath, D. (2008). Independence in old age: the route to social exclusion? British Journal of Social Work, 38, 1353–1369. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcm045.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Powell, R. A., & Single, H. M. (1996). Focus groups. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 8(5), 499–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Quéniart, A., & Charpentier, M. (2012). Older women and their representations of old age: a qualitative analysis. Ageing and Society, 32(6), 983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Quine, S., & Morrell, S. (2007). Fear of loss of independence and nursing home admission in older Australians. Health and Social Care in the Community, 15, 212–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rauschenbach, C., Goritz, A. S., & Hertel, G. (2012). Age stereotypes about emotional resilience at work. Educational Gerontology, 38, 511–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reifman, A., Klein, J. G., & Murphy, S. T. (1989). Self-monitoring and age. Psychology and Aging, 4, 245–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ron, P. (2007). Elderly people’s attitudes and perceptions of aging and old age: the role of cognitive dissonance? International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 22, 656–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shaw, R., Gullifer, J., & Wood, K. (2016). Religion and spirituality: a qualitative study of older adults. Ageing International, 41, 311–330. doi: 10.1007/s12126-016-9245-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wisocki, P. A. (1988). Worry as a phenomenon relevant to the elderly. Behavior Therapy, 19, 369–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wullschleger, K. S., Lund, D. A., Caserta, M. S., & Wright, S. D. (1997). Anxiety about aging: a neglected dimension of caregivers’ experiences. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 26, 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Yen, I. H., Shim, J. K., Martinez, A. D., & Barker, J. C. (2012). Older people and social connectedness: how place and activities keep people engaged. Journal of Aging Research, vol. 2012, Article ID 139523, 10 pages, 2012. doi: 10.1155/2012/139523.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charles Sturt UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Port MacquarieAustralia

Personalised recommendations