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The self-care movement, like most other social movements, waxes and wanes according to general cultural trends and the opportunties and necessities these provide. In the context of American culture, self-care is prompted by the desire to maintain control of life with competence, autonomy, and self-reliance. Although we tend to think of self-care primarily as an individual phenomenon, it is in act supported by family, communal, and societal efforts. Consequently, our conceptualization of self-care must go beyond the notion of single individuals acting alone for the purpose of "filling a gap." Such efforts involved deliberate acts of balancing risks and resources, including the help and support provided by others. Indeed, we seek to examine under the rubric of self-care those activities through which individuals mobilize personal and social resources proactively to sustain and enhance the quality of their life and functioning. In some cases, self-care may include quite specific skills acquired and renewed through formal instruction. On the other hand, self-care may represent a pattern of behavior learned through the day-to-day experience of coping with a chronic health problem or functional limitation.
As American society confronts the prospect of a rapidly increasing number of older adults, the notion of self-care has received increased attention as one means of responding to self-care ha received increased attention as one means of responding to the expected increased in demand for personal healthcare services from this population. An increase emphasis on self-care as a strategy for health improvement among older adults may meet with both positive and negative responses from healthcare providers who care for these elderly persons at a time in their lives when access to--and the continuity of a relationship to--formal medical care may be of the greatest importance. In this paper we illustrate several ways in which self-care may be seen by healthcare professionals (and healthcare provider organizations) a an important ajunct to the care they give older adults.
Although there is some difference of opinion among demographers over the likely scenario for the growth of the elderly population through the second or third decade of the coming century, there is general agreement that the numbers of older adults and their relative proportion of total population will increase substantially in most industrialized nations. The controversy is greatest with respect to the quality of life these increased numbers of older adults are likely to experience. Many researchers (e.g., Fries, 1983, 1989) have forecast a situation in which most older adults will live quite healthy and independent lifestyles until their 80s or 90s, with a relatively short period of disabling illness just prior to death. …