Year

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Psychology

Abstract

Population ageing is placing ever-increasing and unprecedented demands on societies, and the health and wellbeing of older adults is now regarded as a key issue for policy makers and health service providers alike. Over the past three decades, there has been a discernible shift away from decline models of ageing and an increased research focus on what distinguishes those older adults who age well from those who are less proficient at adapting to age-related changes. This research is situated broadly within the field of successful ageing. One potentially important psychological marker of successful ageing that has received growing attention from researchers in recent years, and which is often conceptualised as a process underpinning self-regulatory abilities, are older adults’ self-perceptions of ageing (SPA). While the research to have emerged from this field has provided some substantial insights into the adaptive processes of ageing, there remain significant gaps in our knowledge. In particular, the pathways between SPA and mental health are currently poorly understood. Despite the empirical evidence regarding the numerous contextual and individual variables which inform and shape the multiple facets of SPA and health independently, investigations into the mechanistic pathways between ageing experiences and mental health have been scarce.

This doctoral thesis sought to address these gaps in knowledge by adopting a selfregulation framework to examine relationships between SPA and mental health. The overarching aim of this research was to better understand how certain psychosocial mechanisms, specifically, coping and dispositional traits operate to influence the relationships between SPA and mental health functioning. A secondary aim of this research was to establish whether the self-regulation framework which was originally applied to the field of health and illness (i.e. the Common-Sense Model: CSM) would be an appropriate conceptual framework for examining SPA in a group of older, community-dwelling Australian adults. Participants (N = 368) aged 55 years and over were asked to complete survey questionnaires at two time points (with a 12-month lag) which included a range of measures to assess SPA and psychosocial functioning. SPA were measured with the Ageing Perceptions Questionnaire (APQ), a multidimensional instrument which was informed by the CSM but applied to an ageing context. In the first three studies of this thesis, all of which utilised survey data from Time 1 of the repeated measures design, relationships between SPA and key sociodemographic, subjective health, psychosocial, and mental health variables were examined. Drawing on several core assumptions of the CSM, this thesis then examined whether coping resources would mediate the relationships between SPA and mental health over time (study four), and whether certain dispositional traits would moderate these relationships (study five). The repeated measures survey data from both time points were utilised in study four, while study five was investigated cross-sectionally with the Time 1 survey data.

The first three cross-sectional studies of this thesis provided preliminary evidence that (i) the CSM is an appropriate framework for investigating SPA in older, Australian adults, (ii) very little variance in SPA is accounted for by individual differences in sociodemographic factors whereas self-rated health status is moderately related to many of the SPA dimensions, and (iii) SPA are meaningfully related to mental health and psychosocial factors in a common-sense fashion. In general, participants in this study rated their SPA and mental health favourably, and were found to be a fairly wellresourced and well-functioning segment of the older Australian adult population. Extending on the findings from the first three studies, the fourth and fifth studies, which were exploratory in nature, provided preliminary partial support for the assumptions of the CSM, when applied to an ageing context. Specifically, coping resources were found to indirectly influence relationships between SPA and coping. The relationships observed between the various dimensions of SPA and coping conformed to the common-sense patterns which the CSM posits and a number of different mediation patterns were detected across both waves of the study. Further, dispositional traits were found to moderate relationships between a number of the SPA dimensions and two measures of mental health.

While many of the relationships from study four did not appear to hold over time when changes within individuals were examined, and further, the size of the effects observed in studies four and five were not large, these findings need to be interpreted within the broader context of the current study sample. Overall, the findings from this thesis provide novel insights into the mechanistic pathways between SPA and mental health within independent, community-dwelling older Australian adults, all of which have important theoretical and clinical implications. Because of the exploratory nature of these investigations, the results must be treated as speculative at this stage. However, confirmatory investigations are warranted to establish these relationships and extend on this research. Possible future avenues of research are presented. These include exploring the mediating role of social mechanisms in greater depth and examining how interactions among personality traits moderate mediated pathways between SPA and mental health.

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