Article Summary – Friendship and Social Support: The Importance of Role Identity to Aging Adults

What population is the author trying to reach?

In my opinion, the author seeks to target practitioners designing treatment for older adults. Social support has long been considered a predictor of satisfaction and well-being within the geriatric community. However, the specific psychosocial mechanisms through which social support enhances well-being have remained unexplored. Furthermore, the presence of multiple disparaging research study results have confounded practitioners on the best avenue of exploiting this utility. Through role identity theory, this research provides an insight into the underlying psychosocial mechanisms that facilitate the role of social support in enhancing overall well-being and life satisfaction. The study also offers several recommendations that should help alleviate confusion and promote the use of social support effectively and sustainably.

What is the message?

The study’s primary message is the importance of role identity theory in predicting perceived social support in the elderly population. The results of the study show that friendship is a more valuable predictor of life satisfaction and overall wellbeing for older adults (Siebert et al., 1999).  According to the study, aging adults seek long term friends who can mitigate discrepancies between self-perception and negative perception from family and strangers. By exchanging meaningful feedback with peers, an existing positive self-identity is legitimized, and well-being is optimized (Siebert et al., 1999). On the other hand, familial ties impede a positive self-perception (Siebert et al., 1999).  The onset of dependence brings with it substantial role identity issues for older adults. Much of the assistance they receive from family members often go unrepaid, which may induce feelings of obligation and distress from being unable to reciprocate support.

Can you tell from the article his/her philosophy on aging?

From my assessment, the author’s philosophy on aging is founded on role identity theory and sociology’s convoy theory. According to the convoy model, an individual is often accompanied by a dynamic selection of supporters throughout their life called a convoy (Siebert et al., 1999). The roles of each of these supporters in the group depend on the person’s needs. Since the convoy primarily exists to serve the individual’s needs, a persistent friendship is more beneficial to the individual than a relatively new one. Role identity theory posits that individuals often categorize and position interactions within our universe to remain organized (Siebert et al., 1999). Role identity refers to the character the individual devises for himself/herself in this social arrangement.  When others confirm the role of this assigned character, it supports this identity. Thus, individuals will often search for friendships that support their role identity.

What goals do the programs have?

The goals of the programs offered by the research are to enhance life satisfaction and well-being for older adults by delineating appropriate avenues to exploit the utility of social support. The study also seeks to inform social workers on the importance of positive role identities to the client’s overall well-being (Siebert et al., 1999). Moreover, the study also aims to caution against typical social support offerings made by practitioners to elderly adults, such as creating and linking clients with new support avenues (Siebert et al., 1999).  Finally, the study aims to illustrate the gender differences in perceived social support. According to the study, women have limited opportunities to participate in activities that could reaffirm a positive role identity (Siebert et al., 1999).  Therefore, more attention should be given to increasing positive appraisal for female client’s to enhance well-being.

What types of programs does it offer?

Role identity and convoy model theories inform the author’s understanding of social support within the elderly population and the basis of the programs offered by the research. Thus, the author cautions against support services focusing on creating new social contacts for elderly patients as they may erode an existing positive identity role (Siebert et al., 1999).  Instead, social workers should strive to design interventions that enhance existing friendships and strengthen family ties as they will be more effective and efficient in creating sustainable social support (Siebert et al., 1999).  Finally, the researcher underscored the importance of targeting the patient’s internalized role identity through positive appraisal as an avenue towards increased positive outcomes for elderly women (Siebert et al., 1999).

What is your overall reflection on the article?

As individuals age, they become increasingly susceptible to depression and anxiety. The presence of an elaborate social support system in the form of friends, relatives, social partners, neighbors and coworkers acts as a buffer to these conditions, enhances health, morale, well-being and optimizes life satisfaction. Social support can be offered in the form of affection, acceptance, approval, and appraisal (emotional support), assistance with self-care, financial aid (instrumental) and affirmational support. It was interesting to note family member often do not contribute to enhanced feelings of well-being despite providing substantial instrumental support. According to the study, support from family members often brings distressful feelings of obligation for the older adult due to their inability to reciprocate assistance with self-care or finances. In my opinion, instrumental support is a constant reminder of the older adult’s dependent status, which conflicts with a self-perception of being useful and valued. On the other hand, affirmational and emotional support from peers offers an appraisal of the older adult’s valuable and useful status and enhances well-being (Siebert et al., 1999). It was indeed puzzling to learn was that long term friendships are more effective in proving appraisal and legitimizing the older adults self-assigned role identity. According to the study, it might, therefore, not be beneficial to link older adults with novel support systems as an intervention to increase social support.

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