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9: Late Adulthood

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    Learning Objectives: Late Adulthood Definition and Demographics
    • Describe the increase in the number of individuals who are currently identified as late adults
    • Describe the increase in late adulthood worldwide
    • Explain gender and ethnic differences in the number of individuals identified as late adults
    • Explain the different ways developmental psychologists describe aging
    • Explain the difference between life span and life expectancy
    • Define the three age categories for late adulthood
    • Explain what factors contribute to becoming a centenaria

    Late adulthood spans the time when we reach our mid-sixties until death. This is the longest developmental stage across the lifespan. In this chapter, we will consider the growth in numbers for those in late adulthood, how that number is expected to change in the future, and the implications this will bring to both the United States and worldwide. We will also examine several theories of human aging, the physical, cognitive, and socioemotional changes that occur with this population, and the vast diversity among those in this developmental stage. Further, ageism and many of the myths associated with those in late adulthood will be explored.

    • 9.1: Late Adulthood
      Late adulthood, which includes those aged 65 years and above, is the fastest growing age division of the United States population (Gatz, Smyer, & DiGilio, 2016). Currently, one in seven Americans is 65 years of age or older.
    • 9.2: Life Expectancy
      Lifespan or Maximum Lifespan is referred to as the greatest age reached by any member of a given population (or species). For humans, the lifespan is currently between 120 and 125. Life Expectancy is defined as the average number of years that members of a population (or species) live. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2016) global life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 71.4 years, with females reaching 73.8 years and males reaching 69.1 years.
    • 9.3: Age Categories in Late Adulthood
      There have been many ways to categorize the ages of individuals in late adulthood. In this chapter, we will be dividing the stage into three categories: Young–old (65-84), oldest-old (85- 99), and centenarians (100+) for comparison. These categories are based on the conceptions of aging including, biological, psychological, social, and chronological differences. They also reflect the increase in longevity of those living to this latter stage.
    • 9.4: Theories of Aging
      There are many theories that attempt to explain how we age, however, researchers still do not fully understand what factors contribute to the human lifespan (Jin, 2010). Research on aging is constantly evolving and includes a variety of studies involving genetics, biochemistry, animal models, and human longitudinal studies (NIA, 2011a). According to Jin (2010), modern biological theories of human aging involve two categories.
    • 9.5: Physical Changes of Aging
      Aging process varies significantly from individual to individual and from one organ system to another. However, some key generalization can be made including heart muscles thickening with age, arteries becoming less flexible, and lung capacity diminishing. Kidneys become less efficient in removing waste from the blood, and the bladder loses its ability to store urine. Brain cells also lose some functioning, but new neurons can also be produced.
    • 9.6: Nutrition
      A healthy diet is necessary for older adults to increase mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, boost energy levels, improve immune system strength, recuperation speed, and have greater effectiveness in the management of chronic health problems.
    • 9.7: Chronic Conditions
      Chronic illnesses are illnesses that are ongoing, generally incurable conditions that require continuing medical attention and affect daily life. As individuals live longer, diseases that affect older individuals will become more prevalent, and the burden of chronic illness grows with age. Less than 50% of adults 50-64 have a chronic condition, yet 90% aged 75 and up do (Cohen, 2011). Older women are more likely to have a chronic condition than are older men (83% vs. 88%) (CDC, 2009).
    • 9.8: Brain Functioning
      Research has demonstrated that the brain loses 5% to 10% of its weight between 20 and 90 years of age. This decrease in brain volume appears to be due to the shrinkage of neurons, lower number of synapses, and shorter length of axons. The normal decline in cognitive ability throughout the lifespan has been associated with brain changes, including reduced activity of genes involved in memory storage, synaptic pruning, plasticity, and glutamate and GABA (neurotransmitters) receptors.
    • 9.9: Sexuality
      Older men and women are often viewed as genderless and asexual. There is a stereotype that elderly individuals no longer engage in sexual activity and when they do, they are perceived to have committed some kind of offense. These ageist myths can become internalized, and older people have a more difficult time accepting their sexuality (Gosney, 2011). Additionally, some older women indicate that they no longer worry about sexual concerns anymore once they are past the child bearing years.
    • 9.10: Cognitive Development in Late Adulthood
      There are numerous stereotypes regarding older adults as being forgetful and confused, but what does the research on memory and cognition in late adulthood reveal? Memory comes in many types, such as working, episodic, semantic, implicit, and prospective. There are also many processes involved in memory, thus it should not be a surprise that there are declines in some types of memory and memory processes, while other areas of memory are maintained or even show some improvement with age.
    • 9.11: Attention and Problem Solving
      Changes in sensory functioning and speed of processing information in late adulthood often translates into changes in attention. Research has shown that older adults are less able to selectively focus on information while ignoring distractors, although Jefferies and her colleagues found that when given double time, older adults could perform at young adult levels. Other studies have also found that older adults have greater difficulty shifting their attention between objects or locations.
    • 9.12: Intelligence and Wisdom
      altes (1993) introduced two additional types of intelligence to reflect cognitive changes in aging. Pragmatics of intelligence are cultural exposure to facts and procedures that are maintained as one ages and are similar to crystalized intelligence. Mechanics of intelligence are dependent on brain functioning and decline with age, similar to fluid intelligence. Baltes indicated that pragmatics of intelligence show little decline and typically increase with age.
    • 9.13: Neurocognitive Disorders
      A Major Neurocognitive Disorder is diagnosed as a significant cognitive decline from a previous level of performance in one or more cognitive domains and interferes with independent functioning, while a Minor Neurocognitive Disorder is diagnosed as a modest cognitive decline from a previous level of performance in one of more cognitive domains and does not interfere with independent functioning. There are several different neurocognitive disorders that are typically demonstrated in late adulthoo
    • 9.14: Work and Retirement
      Older adults are just as capable as younger adults at the workplace. In fact, jobs that require social skills, accumulated knowledge, and relevant experiences favor older adults (Erber & Szuchman, 2015). Older adults also demonstrate lower rates of absenteeism and greater investment in their work. In 2015, 8.8 million adults aged 65 or older were employed or actively seeking employment. This constitute about 5.6% of the U.S. labor force (AOA, 2016).
    • 9.15: Psychosocial Development in Late Adulthood
      Stereotypes of people in late adulthood lead many to assume that aging automatically brings poor physical health and mental decline. These stereotypes are reflected in everyday conversations, the media, and even in greeting cards (Overstreet, 2006). Age is not revered in the United States, and so laughing about getting older in birthday cards is one way to get relief. The negative attitudes people have about those in late adulthood are examples of ageism, or prejudice based on age.
    • 9.16: Living Arrangements
      Do those in late adulthood primarily live alone? No. In 2014, of those 65 years of age and older, approximately 72% of men and 46% of women lived with their spouse. Between 1900 and 1990 the number of older adults living alone increased, most likely due to improvements in health and longevity during this time. Since 1990 the number of older adults living alone has declined, because of older women more likely to be living with their spouse or children (Stepler, 2016c).
    • 9.17: Erikson - Integrity vs. Despair
      How do people cope with old age? According to Erikson, the last psychosocial stage is Integrity vs. Despair that includes, “a retrospective accounting of one’s life to date; how much one embraces life as having been well lived, as opposed to regretting missed opportunities”.  This stage includes finding meaning in one’s life and accepting one’s accomplishments, but also acknowledging what in life has not gone as hoped.
    • 9.18: Generativity in Late Adulthood
      Research suggests that generativity is not just a concern for midlife adults, but for many elders, concerns about future generations continue into late adulthood. As previously discussed, some older adults are continuing to work beyond age 65. Additionally, they are volunteering in their community, and raising their grandchildren in greater numbers.
    • 9.19: Social Networks in Late Adulthood
      A person’s social network consists of the people with whom one is directly involved, such as family, friends, and acquaintances. As individuals age, changes occur in these social networks, and The Convoy Model of Social Relations and Socioemotional Selectivity Theory address these changes. Both theories indicate that less close relationships will decrease as one ages, while close relationships will persist. However, the two theories differ in explaining why this occurs.
    • 9.20: Late Adult Lifestyles
    • 9.21: Gay and Lesbian Elders
      Approximately 3 million older adults in the United States identify as lesbian or gay (Hillman & Hinrichsen, 2014). By 2025 that number is expected to rise to more than 7 million (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2006). Despite the increase in numbers, older lesbian and gay adults are one of the least researched demographic groups, and the research there is portrays a population faced with discrimination.
    • 9.22: Elder Abuse
      Current research indicates that at least 1 in 10, or approximately 4.3 million, older Americans are affected by at least one form of elder abuse per year (Roberto, 2016). Those between 60 and 69 years of age are more susceptible than those older. This may be because younger older adults more often live with adult children or a spouse, two groups with the most likely abusers.
    • 9.23: Substance Abuse and the Elderly
      Alcohol and drug problems, particularly prescription drug abuse, have become a serious health concern among older adults. Although people 65 years of age and older make up only 13% of the population, they account for almost 30% of all medications prescribed in the United States. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) (2015), the following statistics illustrate the significance of substance abuse for those in late adulthood:
    • 9.24: Successful Aging
      Although definitions of successful aging are value-laden, Rowe and Kahn (1997) defined three criteria of successful aging that are useful for research and behavioral interventions. They include: (1) Relative avoidance of disease, disability, and risk factors, like high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity, (2) Maintenance of high physical and cognitive functioning, (3) Active engagement in social and productive activities.
    • 9.R: Late Adulthood (References)

    This page titled 9: Late Adulthood is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.