Attachment Styles Impact Well-Being in Older Adults

As people age, they face challenges that they may never have experienced before. Loss of friends due to death, loss of independence as a result of diminished income, and loss of physical health can all create significant stress in a person’s life. The way that people choose to cope with that stress is directly related to the skills they learned throughout their lives. Attachment styles developed in early childhood can dictate the response people have to a variety of stressors, including ones encountered in later years. Additionally, an individual’s ethnic origin influences how he or she will respond to stress at various stages. To better understand how attachment style affects coping and overall well-being in older adults and what role ethnicity plays, Eva-Maria Merz of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute at The Hague in the Netherlands recently conducted a study of 1,116 older adults from varying cultural backgrounds.

The participants, which included European Americans, African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, and Caribbean immigrants, were examined to determine how attachment style affected their well-being. Specifically, Merz looked at secure or dismissive attachment styles in comparison to avoidant and fearful attachment styles. “As expected, secure attachment and dismissive attachment were associated with greater well-being, whereas ambivalent/fearful attachment was related to reduced well-being in this older cohort,” said Merz. The link between secure attachment and positive well-being was most evident among the Caribbean and African American participants and weakest among the other two groups. When she looked at avoidant/fearful attachment styles, Merz discovered that it negatively impacted well-being in all the ethnic groups with the exception of the Caribbeans.

The results of this study support previous research highlighting the importance of healthy attachment styles on well-being. This new evidence extends the existing data by demonstrating that attachment styles are especially important in later life when unique challenges arise. Further, attachment styles are influenced by ethnicity. Taken together, this information provides new insight into the underlying factors that contribute to the general physical and mental health of older adults and should be considered when implementing interventions to help older adults cope with life’s stressors.

Merz, E.-M., Consedine, N. S. (2012). Ethnic group moderates the association between attachment and well-being in later life. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029595

Related articles:
Patterns of Attachment in Adults
Individuation Issues with Elderly and Ailing Parents
The Importance of Attachment in Early Caregiving

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  • m.sylvestre

    August 21st, 2012 at 11:31 PM

    relationships and attachment are just so important.and especially so for older adults.attachments become much more important in later years and a lack of strong attachment style can impact is a time when people need more and more reassurance that they have loved ones near them and that they are not alone.but I guess many older adults out there just do not have that luxury.

  • dorothy p

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    I would hate to think about my own parents feeling fearful and unsecure in their later years.

  • Simon

    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    I can connect with this. Being sixty seven years old I am aware of just how important relationships become when you age. When youre young there is so many things-your career,your friends,your happening social life and what not.But as you start to age things become centered around the people you care for and love.They start to become more and more important to you.And if healthy relationships exist then it is absolute bliss.

  • lena

    August 22nd, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    It’s hard to believe that our style of attachment that we learn during our formative years are really dictating to us how we cope and relate with others all throughout our lives. You think that there are some things that you can move beyond, but I suppose that once many of those pathways and connections are created and practiced over time, it is difficult to change the way we process them overall.

  • JoBud

    August 24th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Why do we have to wait til we are grown ups to learn all this stuff?!?

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