The vast majority of people claim that old age is a state of mind rather than a state of body. Nevertheless, certain life events and psychological changes signify the beginning of the old adulthood period. Retirement from work, eligibility for Medicare program and Social Security are the benefits people gain being at the age of sixty-five and older. Many other terms, such as “senior citizen”, “retired citizen”, “elderly” and “golden ager”, are associated with this life period. Late adulthood is divided into five subcategories.
People at the age of sixty to sixty-five years are considered to be the young-old. In spite of their age, lots of them lead active lifestyles due to a good state of health. Besides, the release from work gives a possibility to see life. The next decade is from seventy to seventy-nine years, and it is called the middle-age old. The loss of spouses, friends and health problems occur more frequently. These factors have a negative impact on a person’s well-being. People of the age bracket from eighty to eighty-nine years belong to the old-old subcategory. Health problems are severe and durable. As a result, the majority of golden agers need care. The very old-old people are at the age of ninety to ninety-nine years. Their physical and social activities are very limited, since health problems impede them. People at the age of one hundred and older are called centenaries. The representatives of this subcategory are far less in comparison to others. They differentiate themselves from others by the lower rate of chronic diseases and positive disposition (Mahmud, 2005).
Although a chronological age is used as a criterion, there are several other criteria. Psychological age depends on the intellectual characteristics. Social age is determined by the social habits and roles. The person who goes in for sports is perceived much younger than the person of the same age, who spends all day at home. Physical age refers to the physical ageing signs such as grey hair or sensory deterioration. Late adulthood is the life period that leads to the physiological changes. The state of health worsens along with the intellectual abilities, while susceptibility to illness increases. A full consideration of this life span will be given further.
Senescence is an aging process of late adulthood. Physical development of an organism is on the decline, and the organ systems work less efficiently at this period time. The skin becomes wrinkled, thinner and dry due to the changes in collagen that loses its elastic properties. In addition, brown or yellow spots (age spots) may appear on the skin. The hair becomes thin, grey and slipping.
The process of weight loss that usually starts in middle adulthood continues in late adulthood. This process is caused by such factors as lower metabolism and less food consumption. In addition, the loss of height is considered to be an integral part of senescence. It happens because of spinal column compression, softening of bone, and muscles tissues. Weight and height changes lead to formation of the stooped posture inherent in the older people.
Lots of golden agers change their active lifestyle into sedentary behavior. In other terms, their ability to move is restricted. Fatigue and poor coordination are observed due to the loss of muscles’ tone and strength. Bones are more likely to break or fracture. The intensity and frequency of back pain increases. Almost every senior citizen suffers from rheumatism or arthritis, scoliosis or kyphosis (Simmers, 2008).
The impact of senescence on the cardiovascular system, that becomes apparent in middle adulthood, worsens in late adulthood. Higher blood pressure and cardiovascular problems become more pronounced. The slower heart rate is the reason why people get tired easily and cannot endure stress. Coronary heart disease caused by atherosclerosis or hypertension can lead to a heart attack.
The respiratory system is altered in the following way. The inhaling and exhaling capacity of the lungs is reduced, because the organs become less elastic and consequently less capable of expending and contracting. Besides, scoliosis diminishes chest capacity. Pneumonia (lungs inflammation), emphysema (lowered lungs elasticity), and lungs cancer are the most frequent conditions among the elderly.
Disorders of the digestive system such as gallbladder condition, constipation, hemorrhoids, gastritis, and hernia are the most common among the people in late adulthood. Hernia is a cause of indigestion, chest pain, gastritis, and difficulty in swallowing. Gallbladder problems are triggered by the gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder.
The process of aging negatively affects the central nervous system. The slow transmission speed of the nerve cells, the decrease in cells number and reduced amount of oxygen transmitted to the brain cause slowing in reaction time. Reaction time, in turn, influences perception and memory. Over and above, the reduced amount of oxygen in the brain triggers insomnia and general irritability.
Sensation and perception begin to undergo the age-related changes in late adulthood. The decrease in vision sharpness and level of light or darkness adaptation as well as decrease in focusing ability are observed. Hearing loss is the most significant sensory change among the elderly. Taste and smell perceptions are violated, as the taste buds and nerve fibers in the nose gradually reduce in number. For example, lots of elderly season a dish heavily with salt and pepper in order to improve its flavor (Navid, 2009).
The slowdown of cognitive development is caused by the central nervous system changes. The speed of reaction and information processing declines as the brain ages. However, the retired citizens can pay attention to and cognitively process the information. In other terms, the elderly outperform the young adults in the parallel processing. For instance, the word recognition in elderly adults, who have been reading for decades, is considered to be automatic. They can finish the word recognition task and an auditory or visual assignment much faster than young adults. Selective optimization with compensation is a means of making the best use of the cognitive skills. It contributes to the goal setting and selecting of activities for the purpose of energy optimization and maximizing.
Wisdom includes knowledge gained during the life span, ability to properly apply it, listening skills, and emotional maturity. All these skills and abilities improve through the life experience. It happens because people are forced to deal with difficulties and find solutions in the different real-life situations. Wise people have higher education level and occupy higher positions.
Memory also falls under change. It was noticed that the golden agers can describe in detail the event that happened forty years ago, but it is difficult for them to remember what they had for supper yesterday. Information encoding, storing and retrieving are the three steps for processing memory. The elderly people are less efficient in the first and in the third steps. As a result, their speech is slow, overfull with pauses, repetitions, false starts and references. Besides, the clause structures are simplified in order to retrieve the proper words much easier and faster (Navid, 2009). Those who want to slow down the memory decline should stay mentally active (write and read).
IQ scores of the golden agers show a constant decline. The elderly people are often depicted as intellectually slow, forgetful, and vacillatory. The points on the portion of tests that define problem-solving and performance speed are poorer than the points that define verbal skills. Problem solving ability declines in late adulthood. That is why, married people deal with the matters in collaboration. The elderly people are able to make fast decision only in the spheres they are familiar with.
Reading refers to the language ability. Does senescence influence the ability to read? If so, how aging affects it? Reading strategy of the elder people is different in comparison to strategy of the younger adults. They focus on the new vocabulary, while the older adults grasp the context and correlate the new information with the old one. Off-target verbosity is frequently observed in late adulthood. The older people are inclined to make irrelevant logical correlations due to the misread cues during the conversation (Simmers, 2008).
In late adulthood, social development tasks are distinct in the two fundamental ways. Firstly, the maintenance of a person’s life and lifestyle quality are in focus instead of creativity and discovery. Secondly, the tasks are centered on the events in the own life rather than in the life of others. The elderly people are challenged to accustom themselves to the need of help from the surrounding people and limited financial resources. The new life situations lead to the changes in the lifestyle.
In spite of the deterioration in functioning and physical skills, social and personal development continues throughout the years of late adulthood. Getting over the changes is the most difficult task of social development at this period of life. Restrictions can impede the evolution. However, successful adaptation and adjustment guarantee healthy development in late adulthood.
Studies have proven that elderly people experience positive and negative emotions less intensively in comparison with the younger adults. In addition, the older adults are more complex in their emotional experiences. This fact is called affective complexity. However, another research rejects the above mentioned data. The scientists claim that increase in affective complexity occurs between early and middle adulthood. As a result, this phenomenon shows decline in late adulthood (Mahmud, 2005).
Peck’s views of personal adjustments belong to the classical theories of personality emotional development. Peck claims that three changes should occur in personality development of the older adults. A person must get used to altering the primary personal identity role. The next change is a necessity to find satisfaction in relation to the surrounding persons and in the mental endeavors. At last, an elder person should be reconciled to a fact that death is impending (Mahmud, 2005). Therefore, everyone must enjoy life, making it even more meaningful and satisfying.
The adjustment process in late adulthood is related with a type of one’s personality. Four basic types of personality are distinguished. An integrated personality is the one who is flexible in life approach and well-adjusted. There are three variants of this type of personality. Reorganizers are the individuals involved in the various activities. They easily substitute the terminated roles with the new ones. The focused individuals reserve their energy for only a few roles. The disengaged personalities participate in a short range of activities.
The second type is an armored-defended type of personality. These people gasp for maintaining control of their lives. There are two variants of this type. Individuals are engaged in the middle-age activities as long as possible. For example, people who do not want to retire and try to work as long as possible since they perceive retirement as a decline of life. The representatives of this type of personality are also the persons who try to limit activities for the purpose of defense against the ravages of the old age.
Others refer to the passive-dependant personality type that is divided into the two variants: help-seeking personalities that depend on others, and apathetic individuals that have little or no interest in others. Nonintegrated personality type is the last one. People of this type are disorganized in the process of adaptation. Their control of emotional expression is poor (Mahmud, 2005).
Moral development is a complex issue. It has been discussed by the world’s psychologists, culture theorists, and theologians. Moral development of personality includes such aspects as spirituality, religiosity, and personal values. Spirituality is defined as a sense of connection with the higher spiritual being (God). Religiosity is the personal externals of religion. For instance, a spiritual personality believes in God, but never goes to church. Religious person both believes in God and attends a house of worship (Navid, 2009). Moreover, engaging in various sorts of religious activities makes up an important part of life. Values can be defined as a person’s convictions what is good and what is bad.
Children raised in religious families show higher level of compassion and virtue. At any time thereafter, religion continues to be important. In late adulthood, it is associated with positive outcomes. Person’s religiosity level increases with decades. Besides, longevity, mental health, and well-being are associated with religiosity.
A great number of theories that describe how and when moral development occurs are distinguished. However, one of the widely accepted and well known is considered to be the Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. He takes into consideration both a psychological and a philosophical perspective.
Development of the theory originated from the study of the moral reasoning.
This inclined Kohlberg to believe that the moral reasoning is got through the various stages of thinking. There were six stages in total, which were grouped in three levels. After he released the theory, he added two sub-stages in response to the critiques of his theory. The new sub-stages describe two different types of reasoning connected with the moral development.
According to Kohlberg, a person cannot move from one stage to another without meeting all the criteria from the previous stage. In addition, all stages should be passed through in a particular order. Kohlberg claims that there are pre-requirements for the moral development based on the social perspective taking and general cognitive structures (Mahmud, 2005).
Moral development can be measured by the two instruments: Moral Judgment Interview and Rest’s Defining Issues Tests. The instruments suggest a few hypothetical situations and a number of questions. It all creates a clear indication of how a person reasons through the moral dilemmas. Individual’s responses are scored. The result gives an indication of where a person is in the moral reasoning (Mahmud, 2005).
The moral development of the elderly people or their faith makes a great contribution to the formation of the positive general outlook on life. The elderly people a positive outlook can better cope with stresses caused by aging.
Late adulthood is the last stage of the life span. The deterioration in physical development continues. A decline in the functioning of the nervous system causes gradual loss of sight and sense of hearing. The elderly people’s tolerance for hot or cold temperatures is decreased. Memory loss and diminishment in reasoning ability are considered to be frequent phenomenon among the golden agers. Functioning of the heart, kidney and bladder is less efficient in late adulthood. Decreased breathing capacity triggers shortness of breath. However, some individuals may not experience abrupt decline in physical development until their eighties due to better health or leaving conditions.
The decline in mental abilities may vary among the different representatives of late adulthood. Some elderly people can remain mentally active, while others experience early decrease in mental capacities. Alzheimer’s disease can lead to the gradual and irreversible memory loss, disorientation, gait disturbance, and a loss of speech skills. Decrease in mental abilities can also be caused by Arteriosclerosis.
Stability of emotional development also varies among individuals in late adulthood. Some older adults easily cope with the stress triggered by senescence. As a result, they remain happy and enjoy their life. Those who are not able to overcome all changes during aging process become depressed, frustrated, and withdrawn. Retirement, death of a spouse, decrease in physical abilities, financial problems, and realization of the fact that death is inevitable can cause emotional distress. That is why, emotional adjustment is necessary throughout late adulthood.
Social and moral adjustment should also occur at this period of the life span. Retirement may negatively influence self-esteem. Lots of the elderly people make new social contacts and try to engage in the new activities, while others limit their social relationships. In fact, new social contacts are necessary at this period of life as they provide an opportunity to find new social roles.