Perceived control in the lives of older adults: the influence of Langer and Rodin's work on gerontological theory, policy, and practice

Gerontologist. 2014 Feb;54(1):67-74. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt051. Epub 2013 May 30.


A key concept driving the field of both clinical and applied gerontology is that of personal control. Seminal work conducted in the late 1970s to early 1980s by Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin, who examined the effect of choice and enhanced responsibility on older adults, not only contributed to the discussion of the relevance of control in contemporary theories and practices of aging but also aided in the development of today's philosophy of how to serve and care for older adults in ways that are passionate, humanistic, and empowering. In their early research, residents at a nursing home were randomly assigned to 2 groups: 1 group was told they could arrange their furniture as they wanted, go where they wanted, spend time with whom they wanted, and so forth and were given a plant to care for; the other group was told that the staff was there to take care of and help them, including watering a plant given to each of them. During this study, and 18 months later, residents who were given control and personal responsibility had improved health; among those for whom control had not changed, a greater proportion had died. Since these original studies, research has continued to support the need for personal control as we age. This paper presents a brief overview of literature informed by Langer and Rodin's seminal findings, as well as the role of control to theory, policy, and practice.

Keywords: Advocacy; Attitudes and perception toward aging/aged; Autonomy and self-efficacy; Health; Independence; Literature; Person-centered care; Public policy; Successful aging; Theory.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Geriatrics*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Public Policy*
  • Self Efficacy