The Relevance of Control Beliefs for Health and Aging

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chapter contents

Brief History and Conceptual Overview
of the Construct of Control
Age Differences and Changes in
Control Beliefs
Sociodemographic Variations in
Control Beliefs
Relation of Control Beliefs to
Aging-Related Domains
Is High Control Always Adaptive Mechanisms and Processes Linking Control Beliefs and Aging-Related Outcomes
Interventions to Modify Control Beliefs
Summary, Conclusions, and Future
pressure, high blood sugar, pain, sexual dysfunction, and sleeplessness. A multitude of spiritual messages
(e.g., the serenity prayer) advocate the importance of knowing what you can and cannot change. There are numerous psychological theories about control and countless treatments designed to help control behavioral problems such as gambling, excessive drinking, smoking, and overeating.

Application of the control construct to the field of aging is more recent, but the notion that one can take control over the aging process is now widespread. The lucrative anti-aging industry, which offers products and treatments designed to prevent, slow, reverse, or compensate for aging-related changes in the face, body, and mind, counts on the consumer to accept that there are things we can do to control aging-related changes and losses. Control over the aging process is heralded not only in the popular media and advertising industry, but also in professional journals and books such as

Successful Aging
by Rowe and Kahn (1998)
Aging Well
. A key message conveyed is that although aging is influenced to some degree by genetic factors, there is a large component that is determined by lifestyle choices and behavioral factors that is, the nature of aging is to some extent under one’s own control.
In stark contrast is the common notion that with aging we lose control over many aspects of life. This view is prominently embedded in stereotypes and attitudes about aging (Hess, 2006; Levy et al., 2009
), with important consequences for behavior and health. These stereo- typic views include images of older adults as helpless and deteriorating, and assumptions that aging-related declines are inevitable and irreversible. Such conceptions are promoted and reinforced by societal views and treatment of aging manifested in the negative views of getting older presented, for example, in birthday cards

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