The role of life stress, social support and self-actualization in adapting to a disability: The experience of hospitalized older adults

Joseph A Lynch, Fordham University


The present study examined the contributions of self-actualization, perceived social support from family and friends, and life stress to adjustment in 56 female and 28 male elderly hospitalized patients (mean age of 74 years) undergoing physical rehabilitation. The physical problem that brought the patients to the hospital (e.g., hip replacement) was the context in which antecedents of positive or negative adjustment were investigated. The ability to cope with a mild disability was measured through self-efficacy and psychological symptoms while controlling for the severity of physical limitations. As hypothesized, self-actualization and perceived support from family were inversely related to psychological symptoms and positively related to self-efficacy. As expected, life stress was related positively to psychological symptoms and inversely to self-efficacy. The potential stress-buffering role of self-actualization was not confirmed. The stress-buffering role of perceived support from family was confirmed while perceived support from friends produced no significant buffering effects. Friend support was not related to adjustment outcomes but was related to self-actualization. Family support was more related to adjustment outcomes and more effective as a buffer against the negative effects of life stress; however, it was unrelated to self-actualization. An examination of the participants' life events reveals that one of the most frequently occurring negative events was death of a close friend (29%). In contrast, the most frequently occurring positive events centered around the family. Over one-half of the respondents (52.4%) reported a significant accomplishment of a family member as having a positive impact on their life. The second most frequently occurring positive life event was gaining a new family member (47.6%), followed by becoming a grandparent (38.1%). Results are discussed in terms of the developmental significance of self-actualization, the differential role (both main and buffering effects) of family versus friend support, and the importance of assessing both positive and negative adjustment outcomes in elderly persons adapting to a disability.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology|Gerontology

Recommended Citation

Lynch, Joseph A, "The role of life stress, social support and self-actualization in adapting to a disability: The experience of hospitalized older adults" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825876.