Theoretical perspectives of perceived control in older adults: a selective review of the literature


  • Cynthia S. Jacelon

    1. Cynthia S. Jacelon PhD RN CRRN-A Assistant Professor School of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
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Cynthia S. Jacelon:


Aim.  This paper is a report of a theoretically based review of literature exploring the concept of perceived control in relation to older adults.

Background.  Perceived control is a cognitive attribute that is a precursor to function, a mediator between social support and psychological wellbeing, and instrumental for effective disease self-management. It has been defined from several theoretical perspectives with either a global or a specific focus.

Methods.  A review of literature was conducted. Articles were abstracted into a table in order to compare the purpose, theoretical framework, definition of perceived control, scope of application of perceived control, research questions, subjects, methods, instruments and findings across studies. The articles were sorted by theoretical framework for analyses among and between theoretical frameworks.

Results.  Twenty papers published between 1995 and 2005, listed in CINAHL or Medline, with the words ‘perceived control’ in the title, and which included older adults as at least half of the sample and used one of five predominant theoretical frameworks were included in a review of the literature. In this review, perceived control is defined within the theories of social learning, self-efficacy, planned behaviour, the lifespan theory of control, and from a person–environment framework. There is little consensus among researchers as to the definition of perceived control.

Conclusion.  Lack of consensus on the theoretical underpinnings and variability in definition of perceived control exist. The mechanisms through which perceived control develops and is exercised are also in dispute. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that high perceived control is important for wellbeing in older adults.