10: Late Adulthood
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About 13 percent of the U. S. population or 38.9 million Americans are 65 and older (U. S. Census Bureau, 2011). This number is expected to grow to 88.5 million by the year 2050 at which time people over 65 will make up 20 percent of the population. This group varies considerably and is divided into categories of 65 plus, 85 plus, and centenarians for comparison by the census. Developmentalists, however, divide this population in to categories based on health and social well-being. Optimal aging refers to those who enjoy better health and social well-being than average. Normal aging refers to those who seem to have the same health and social concerns as most of those in the population. However, there is still much being done to understand exactly what normal aging means. Impaired aging refers to those who experience poor health and dependence to a greater extent than would be considered normal.
- 10.1: Introduction to Late Adulthood
- We are considered in late adulthood from the time we reach our mid-sixties until death. Optimal aging refers to those who enjoy better health and social well-being than average. Normal aging refers to those who seem to have the same health and social concerns as most of those in the population. Aging successfully involves making adjustments as needed in order to continue living as independently and actively as possible.
- 10.2: Physical Development
- Increased life expectancy brings concern over the health and independence of those living longer. Greater attention is now being given to the number of years a person can expect to live without disability which is referred to as active life expectancy. The shorter life expectancy for men in general, is attributed to greater stress, poorer attention to health, more involvement in dangerous occupations, and higher rates of death due to accidents, homicide, and suicide.
- 10.3: Cognitive Development
- Aging may create small decrements in the sensitivity of the sensory register. And, to the extent that a person has a more difficult time hearing or seeing, that information will not be stored in memory. As we age, the working memory loses some of its capacity. This makes it more difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at a time or to keep remember details of an event.
- 10.4: Psychosocial Development
- Erikson believed that late adulthood is a time for making sense out of one’s life, finding meaning to one’s existence, and adjusting to inevitable death. He called this stage integrity vs. despair. Focusing on what a person can do and pursuing those interests and activities is one way to optimize and maintain self-identity. Some activities include work, education, volunteering, family life, and intimate relationships.
- 10.5: Relationships
- Grandparenting typically begins in midlife rather than late adulthood, but because people are living longer, they can anticipate being grandparents for longer periods of time. An increasing number of grandparents are raising grandchildren today. Issues such as custody, visitation, and continued contact between grandparents and grandchildren after parental divorce are contemporary concerns.