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Title:Adaptation to late-life spousal loss: An examination of longitudinal trajectories
Author(s):Xu, Shuo
Director of Research:Liechty, Janet
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Liechty, Janet
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ostler, Teresa; Hernandez, Rosalba; Garthe, Rachel; Koerner, Susan Silverberg; An, Ruopeng
Department / Program:School of Social Work
Discipline:Social Work
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Spousal Loss
Older Adults
Abstract:Spousal loss is one of the most devastating life events in late adulthood, and has substantial negative impact on the well-being of older adults. One impact of spousal loss is the disruption of self-narratives and world views, thus meaning making is an important task for bereaved individuals, and is associated with the development of adaptation. The primary purposes of this study were to respond to a heated debate regarding whether resilience (no change in functioning during adversity) is the most common response to adversity, and to describe trajectories of adaptation in the context of late-life spousal loss. Specifically, this study aimed to examine the influence of spousal loss on the process of aging, to identify person-centered trajectories on six dimensions of adaptation, particularly on two meaning-related dimensions, and to analyze the prevalence of resilience among widowed older adults. The study used secondary data from 2011-2018 waves of the National Health & Aging Trends Study (NHATS). The NHATS is a nationally representative study of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older living in the United States (n = 8,245). This study included 570 widowed participants who were initially married and lost a spousal during the study. Propensity score matching was conducted to select 464 pairs of widowed and non-widowed participants by matching their characteristics on seven areas including age, gender, race, education, mobility, physical health, and number of chronic illness. To operationalize the multidimensional nature of adaptation, six dimensions— life satisfaction, subjective age, depression, anxiety, positive affect, and negative affect—were examined simultaneously in this study. Growth Mixture Model (GMM) was applied to identify heterogeneous adaptation trajectories. Specifically, an array of conditional GMM analyses with the predictor of spousal loss were conducted with the entire sample (464 pairs of widowed and non-widowed participants) to examine the impact of spousal loss on the memberships of trajectories of the six dimensions. Another array of unconditional GMM analyses were conducted only with the widowed subgroups (n=570) to estimate heterogeneous trajectories of the six dimensions. Lastly, logistic regressions were performed to estimate the influence of demographic factors on predicting the memberships of the trajectories among the widowed older adults. Four key findings resulted. First, widowed older adults were more likely to be in the unfavorable trajectories (e.g. chronic high trajectory) than non-widowed participants with exceptions on life satisfaction and negative affect. Second, among widowed participants, two to three adaptation trajectories emerged for each of the six dimensions of adaptation, but resilient trajectory did not emerge on anxiety. Third, most participants (71% - 100%) exhibited resilience when examining the six dimensions individually. However, when examining the six dimensions collectively, the majority of participants (61%) exhibited resilience only on four dimensions of adaption, and no one was resilient across all six dimensions. Lastly, education was the only significant predictor of resilience. This study suggests that spousal loss has a longitudinal negative impact on the well-being of older adults. Widowed older adults presented individual pathways on adapting to spousal loss; the majority of widowed older adults experienced challenges on at least two dimensions of adaption, and no individual was resilient across all six dimensions. Additionally, education was the only significant predictor of resilience. Future research is needed to uncover more dimensions of adaptation, examine the association of pre- and post-loss experiences, investigate the influences of special occasions on adaptation, and compare adaptation by age groups.
Issue Date:2020-05-03
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Shuo Xu
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-27
Date Deposited:2020-05

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