Cumulative trivia: a holistic conceptualization of the minor problems of ageing

Elinor Newall, Belinda Dewar, Marti Balaam, Mike Porter, Sarah Baggaley, Scott Murray, Alan Gilloran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1999 Hockey postulated the hypothesis that some older people experience a continual accumulation of small, individually minor events or difficulties that degrade their resilience until they ‘cannot cope with another thing’. She referred to this accumulation as cumulative trivia. The essence of cumulative trivia lies in their everyday nature, where regular occurrence and variety of challenge stack up to form perceived threats to an older person's ability to function independently. There is a strong overlap between this concept of cumulative trivia and an established concept in the health psychology literature called daily hassles. Consistent with the mainstream psychology approach, the vast majority of research into daily hassles has been quantitative. In the present article we adopt a critical stance to the knowledge produced from this research, questioning its foundations in the positivist epistemology. In particular the research is criticized for absenting the social context from our understanding of daily hassles, and for focusing too strongly upon the individual. The considerable lack of research into daily hassles in the lives of older people is also highlighted, indicating the need for work in this area. Using a social constructionist framework, we attempt to develop a holistic conceptualization of cumulative trivia, through which some key differences between the cumulative trivia and daily hassles concepts are indicated. We argue that cumulative trivia could be seen within the framework of the daily hassles literature but that this framework would require to be developed further and refined to accommodate the specific characteristics associated with Hockey's concept. We suggest that the social construction of ageing may serve to normalize experiences in ageing such that they become trivialized. Finally we examine how the social construction of independence as an ideal state may create or exacerbate the effects of cumulative trivia, and argue for its reconstruction to legitimize older people's experiences of minor difficulties. Through these arguments we relocate responsibility for cumulative trivia toward the social context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-340
Number of pages10
JournalPrimary Health Care Research & Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes


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