Gerotranscendence Theory Explained


Gerotranscendence theory is a way to look at aging as a positive aspect of life. According to Lars Tornstam, who took more than 20 years to develop this theory, there are several ideas about human aging that are often overlooked. The core of his theory looks to include these forgotten elements.

There are 4 key points to consider when looking at the Gerotranscendence theory.

  1. Aging includes an increased feeling of togetherness with past generations while decreasing an interest in social interactions that are superfluous at best.
  2. There is an enhanced feeling of universal awareness, with an awareness that space, time, and life can all be redefined. Even death tends to have a different definition.
  3. People as they age become less self-occupied, while also becoming more selective of their social activities and other events that they choose to pursue.
  4. Aging produces a decrease in a personal interest for material things, while time in solitude becomes a more attractive option.

Humans at any age will naturally resist change. For many, the aging process is a daily reminder that a youthful identity has been passed into the pages of history. It is a perspective that can be difficult to surrender. According to Tornstam, the process of finally embracing that surrender encompasses the 4 steps listed above and that provides the foundation of the Gerotranscendence theory.

Each Person Has Three Dimensions to Their Life

Humanity has three different perspective dimensions that are embraced every day: the self, the cosmic, and the relationship dimensions. The themes of these dimensions are often based on an individual sense of happiness. Based on how we each define what it means to be happy, we create the foundation of belief for each dimension.

Our dimensions are seen as positive or negative based on the levels of positive energy we allow to be funneled into them.

As people age, the perspectives change in a way that is often negative. A person might look in the mirror one day and see extra gray in their hair or added wrinkles to their face. “This is not what I remember looking like in my youth,” this person might think. This causes the self-dimension to experience negative energy, which then causes the natural aging process to be seen in a negative way.

The same can be true for the cosmic dimension. What was once mysterious may now be seen as bland and boring. Or for the relationship dimension, aging may cause good friends to leave and the lack of social interaction causes isolation instead of solitude.

Instead of thriving in the later years of life, the negative energy, when embraced, puts the focus solely on survival.

By shifting the perspective toward positive energy instead of negative energy, the Gerotranscendence theory proposes that a person’s worldview can stay positive, even as it shifts. The wrinkles and gray hair become a representation of wisdom. Instead of fearing death, it is accepted as a natural part of the cycle of life.

And instead of isolation, an individual may look to deepen their relationship with an inner self and enjoy the silence.

Limitations of the Gerotranscendence Theory

The primary limitation of this theory is that it does not have a specific definition. It is explained through individualized characteristics and experiences, but does not have a method of outside identification.

Tornstam also limits Gerotranscendence theory to old age, but in reality, the aging process affects everyone in some way. It is a prevalent perspective than anyone may experience at any point in their life.

It is an individualized theory that does not include broad social factors that could influence the aging experience. Maybe an individual already feels happy in solitude before they reach old age. How can they embrace more solitude? Or does having extreme wealth cause someone to approach aging in a different manner than someone who is living in extreme poverty?

The goal of Gerotranscendence theory is to provide caregivers and the elderly with an explanation of why perspectives change. This allows caregivers to provide assistance in a way that is meaningful because they can better recognize what the focus of an older adult may be. For those who are aging, it is a way to understand the changes in life that they are experiencing.

Change will always be difficult to accept. Humanity is often comfortable in the way things are instead of the way things could be. By understanding how life changes as we age, it becomes easier to understand the universe as a whole. That is the goal of Tornstam’s theory.