Life Review and Disengagement Theory

Disengagement has been defined as, "an inevitable process in which many of the relationships between a person and other members of society are severed, and those remaining are altered in quality" (Cummings & Henry, 1961, p. 210). In other words, it involves the process of social and psychological withdrawal of an individual from society. Disengagement is theorized to result in a reduction of life activities and ego energy in old age.

Disengagement theory has been used in support of the concept of the life review in old age. Butler (1963) hypothesizes that later life brings on isolation and unoccupied time (disengagement). This isolation provides the individual with time to reminisce and review one's life. In a sense, it prepares the individual for the ultimate disengagement - death (Kastenbaum, 1977).

However, the majority of researchers (for example, Maddox, 1964) have argued against the concept of disengagement. They have argued that there are many kinds of disengagement and individuals may disengage at different rates. For example, Carp (1968) found disengagement from family negatively correlated with disengagement from friends. Thus, individuals who were disengaged from their families maintained strong contact with friends and visa versa. In addition, Tallmer and Kutner (1969) found disengagement was not related to age but rather to physical and social stress, both of which have been found to increase with age.

Therefore, as disengagement theory has a poor conceptual and empirical basis, it can not and should not be used as evidence in support of the life review theory.