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Disability, Dependence, and Old Age: Problematic Constructions*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2010

Sharon Dale Stone*
Lakehead University
Requests for offprints should be sent to: / Les demandes de tirés-a-part doivent être adressées à: Sharon Dale Stone, Ph.D., 955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 5E1,


This paper argues that fear of aging can more precisely be recognized as a fear of disability and that fear of disability can be centrally understood as a fear of dependence. Accordingly, we are not likely to see old people being treated as important members of society until we see a change in attitudes towards disability. The argument is developed with reference to a consideration of attitudes toward and treatment of elders and people with disabilities, a consideration of the social construction of dependency, and an examination of statistics on the Canadian population of people with disabilities. The ubiquity of disability across all age groups means that there needs to be a re-conceptualization of disability as part of the human experience.


Selon cet article, la peur de vieillir peut être vue, dans une manière plus précise, comme une peur de l'incapacité. Cette peur de l'incapacité est surtout une peur de dépendance. Par la suite, on ne verra pas les personnes âgées traiter comme des membres importants de la société si on ne voit pas un changement d'attitude envers l'incapacité. L'argument de l'article se développe en prenant en considération les attitudes envers les personnes âgées et des personnes handicapées et le traitement de celles-ci. Aussi, l'article considère l'importance de la construction sociale de dépendance. Enfin, il examine les statistiques canadiennes des personnes handicapées. L'omniprésence de l'incapacité dans tous les groupements d'âge veut dire qu'il faut une reconceptualisation de l'incapacité comme partie de l'existence humaine.

Copyright © Canadian Association on Gerontology 2003

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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Research Symposium “Celebrating Gerontology”, Northern Educational Centre for Aging and Health, Lakehead University, March 23, 1999. For helpful suggestions to strengthen the paper, the author thanks Ellen Gee, Carolyn Rosenthal, and anonymous reviewers.



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