Attachment in older adulthood: concept clarification


Craig Cookman,
Health Sciences Center,
School of Nursing,
Texas Tech University,
3601 4th Street,


Aims.  This paper is an analysis to clarify the concept of attachment by: (1) specifying the antecedents of attachment in older adulthood, (2) describing the defining or critical attributes of attachment as relevant for development beyond adulthood, including older adulthood and old age, and (3) specifying the consequences of attachment in older adulthood.

Background.  Attachment is a concept that has been studied both within and outside the discipline of nursing. Most of the scholarly work on the concept has involved investigations of the concept as it applies at very early developmental phases of the lifespan. Despite this concentration of effort on the concept in childhood, theorists have consistently called for attention to the concept in adulthood and older adulthood to advance our understanding of how such close and supportive relationships relate to health.

Results.  Antecedents of attachment behaviour include any number of fear-provoking or challenging situations, as well as interactions that involve conflict. Illnesses commonly have these characteristics and so are broadly included as antecedents. Defining attributes of attachment behaviour include three distinct behaviours: (1) proximity, or keeping to one or more ‘preferred others’, (2) protest following involuntary and perceived permanent separation from a preferred other and, (3) the presence of a secure base, viewed as necessary for developmental exploration and growth. Consequences include environmental interaction secure in the belief that a safe haven exists should reliable clues to danger present themselves, and the mobilization of personal and interpersonal assets called developmental resources.

Conclusions.  Nursing implications include the ability of nurses to intervene positively with older clients who may be experiencing age-related transitions that affect health. Knowledge about attachment will help nurses mediate the potentially negative impact of health transitions on developmental tasks and promote high-level wellness and successful ageing.