Date of release: Friday, April 12, 2013

Dr Oliver RobinsonA third of people report having a life crisis in their sixties that led to either positive or negative outcomes for their well being.

This is one of the findings of a new study by University of Greenwich psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson, who presented the results at this week’s annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Harrogate.

Dr Oliver Robinson said: “The findings suggest that the 60-69 decade is a key time for developmental crisis and this should be the focus of continued research.”

In the first phase of the study, 282 participants aged over 60 took part in an online survey which assessed the perceived effects of crisis. It found 32 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women reported having had a crisis since the age of 60.

The most frequent feature of these crisis episodes was bereavement, followed by illness or injury to themselves or to others, and caring for an ill or disabled loved one.

In the second phase, interviews were conducted with 20 participants. This revealed crisis episodes all involved two or more stressful life events, one of which was a ‘mortality-awareness-raising’ event, such as a major illness or health complications in oneself or a close relation, or bereavement of a partner or close relative. This led the person to being more conscious about frailty and death.

The study also found that a person’s previous aspirations and values are reappraised during a later life crisis, and the result of this reappraisal can take a number of forms. Some reacted with resilience and positivity, and set new goals to achieve. Others focused more on the present, appreciating every day they have, and endeavouring to enjoy life more than they did in their past.

Some avoid making any plans or goals to avoid being disappointed, retreating from the world and becoming increasingly isolated. This range of reactions suggests that later life crisis is always transformative, but this transformation can lead towards either growth or decline.

Dr Robinson concluded: “It seems that when loss-inducing events occur together or in close proximity in time, a person’s capacity to cope in their sixties is overwhelmed and a later life crisis is precipitated. By better understanding such crisis episodes, psychologists are well placed to understand mental health problems in this age group, which may well be affected by the events of a crisis. They will also be better placed offer help to promote positive post-crisis growth.”

Dr Robinson is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the university’s School of Health & Social Care, within its Faculty of Education & Health. He is widely published and achieved international recognition for his work about the ‘quarterlife’ crisis which can affect people aged between 25 and 35.

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Story by Public Relations