Choosing Goals in Later Life for Quality Living

Rita Dichele - June 02, 2010 12:42 PM

Older adults can take full advantage of their potential for aging successfully by selecting goals that make possible growth and later life satisfaction.  Goal setting can actually eliminate passive and sedentary lifestyles.  By choosing goals within one’s scope of familiarity can result in positive living.  For instance, goal setting can lead to:

·         Empowerment

·         Increased Self Esteem

·         Increased Resiliency

·         Optimism

·         Autonomy/Independence

·         New Frontiers

·         Social Relationships

·         Optimal Living

One method to achieving goals is the use of the Selection, Optimization, Compensation (SOC) Model that was developed by Paul Baltes and his wife Margaret Baltes.  Paul and Margaret Baltes studied individual behaviors from birth to old age at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in the early 1990’s.  As a couple, they were interested in allowing the process of aging successfully to occur well into the twilight years.

The SOC Model is easy to understand and certainly an effective method to help older adults to achieve quality of life.  The SOC Model makes it possible to think independently and to cope with many life disappointments often experienced in later life.  Specifically the SOC Model entails:

Picking goals . . . . . . . .SELECTION

Pursuing goals. . . . . . . OPTIMIZATION

Maintaining goals . . . . COMPENSATION

The older adult can use the SOC Model in numerous ways.  For example, Paul and Margaret Baltes described the older adult with visual deficits having to give up reading books and having to compensate for the loss by listening to audio tapes instead.  The SOC Model can help the older individual adjust to hearing aids, walkers, home healthcare services, etc. by showing how to make adaptations through compensation. 

Even those individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s can use the SOC Model to achieve goals that will compensate for the memory loss associated with the illness.  By engaging in mental and memory exercises, the Alzheimer patient can increase resiliency and hold on longer to the independence that is often taken away as the illness progresses.

Moreover, the SOC Model can be practiced in skilled nursing facilities.  For instance, a nursing facility can create an environment that is user friendly for the residents.  Selection involves an environment that has fewer physical demands and more ergonomic products; optimization involves opportunities for expansion of the facility; and compensation involves technological and medical support devices to be available for the residents.

Setting goals in later years can give one greater appreciation of life and be prepared spiritually for the finality of life. Leisure activities can be selected that will bring one closer to friends and family as well as improving physical health. 

Selecting goals can inspire the older adult to live in the moment and look ahead with a new found sense of hope and not regress into the past which is so often the case.  For instance, older adults might ask themselves the following questions when they are considering choosing goals:

“What direction do I want to take to achieve my goals?” (Selection)

“Am I ready to use any means to achieve my new goals? (Optimization)

“What methods am I using to achieve those new goals? (Compensation)

Caregivers can also ask the above questions to older adults who might need help in formulating goals.  In fact, any caregiver who is involved with older adults should be aware of how goal setting can result in a quality lifestyle where the gains in life are achieved through compensation and the losses in life are minimized. 

Caregivers can guide older adults with making specific choices as well supporting them in their efforts to commit to a goal.  The caregiver can help with the selection process by pointing out viable goals by assisting the older adult in the selection of goals and showing the older adult how to focus on new goals. Furthermore, the caregiver can also help the older adult prioritize the goals.

Caregivers can help as well in the attainment of the goal by asking questions that refer to time commitment, energy to be expended, development of new skills, and willingness to learn from other individuals.

And finally, caregivers can help the older adult with maintaining the goal, for instance, by replacing old behaviors with new behaviors.  In other words, when one method does not work, choose a different method to maintain the goal.

Moreover, perhaps, the most famous example that Paul and Margaret Baltes used to describe the SOC Model was the famous pianist Rubenstein’s performance.  Rubenstein needed to reduce his repertoire by playing fewer pieces (selection), practicing more frequently (optimization) and slowing down his speed in the overall piece so as to have the ability to play the faster sections of the musical piece (compensation).

In conclusion, any older adult has the capacity to make goals as well as to accomplish them through compensating behaviors.  Paul and Margaret Baltes showed us that by using the SOC Model, later life can be a period of growth.  Furthermore, we all have the capacity to change and improve our quality of living later in life.

Therefore, the SOC Model provides older adults with the opportunity to spend their lives as productive human beings.  SOC is an easy model to follow and should be practiced by the older adult and encouraged by the caregiver.

Note:  Further reading on this topic can be found in:   Baltes, P.B. & Baltes, M. (1990), Successful Aging:  Perspectives from the Behavioral Sciences.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Rita Dichele holds Masters’ degrees in Counseling and Healthcare Administration.  Currently, she is an advanced doctoral learner at Capella University where she is writing her dissertation on successful aging.  Rita resides in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and serves as a board member on the Council on Aging. She is a town appointee for the Shrewsbury Cultural Council, facilitates two groups at the Shrewsbury Senior Center, and is a certified SHINE Medicare/Medicaid counselor.  Rita is also a past presenter at the 2009 American Society on Aging Conference.


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