Learning Objectives

10 October 2016

The central idea is that each person ultimately depends on himself or herself. Integrity versus despair is the final stage of Erik Erikson’s developmental sequence, in which older adults seek to integrate their unique experiences with their vision of community. Many older people develop pride and contentment with their personal story. They are proud of their past, faults included. They realize their life is no longer measured in years since birth, but in years before death. Close family members become more important to them, and they continue to try to understand themselves focusing more on the way they will be remembered.

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Tension occurs between the two opposing aspects of development. Past crises, particularly identity versus role confusion, reemerge when the usual pillars of self-concept crumble. 2. The continuity theory is the theory that each person experiences the changes of late adulthood and behaves toward others in a way that is consistent with his or her behavior in earlier periods of life. It assumes that a primary goal of adult development is adaptive change, not homeostatic equilibrium. The Big Five personality traits are maintained throughout old age as in younger years, shifting somewhat but always oriented toward the same life goals.

A person’s reactions to potentially disruptive problems reflect continuity, as do attitudes toward all other topics—drugs, sex, money, neatness, privacy, health, government. One example of selective optimization is the positivity effect, which is the tendency for elderly people to perceive, prefer, and remember positive images and experiences more than negative ones. Selective memory is a way to compensate for whatever troubles occur; unpleasant experiences are reinterpreted as inconsequential. Research has found that this has both cognitive and social aspects, and in many ways, enhances life in late adulthood.

While the positivity effect does not always emerge, self-perception normally tilts toward integrity rather than despair. Most people realize they could have chosen other paths through life, but they also appreciate their particular self. Research on what people hope for themselves and how they perceive themselves finds that, with age, the two selves come closer together. This may explain the contentment that older adults generally feel. 3. Another major set of theories regarding late adulthood that emphasizes the relationship between society and old age are the stratification theories.

These theories emphasize that social forces, particularly those related to a person’s social stratum, or social category, limit individual choices and affect a person’s ability to function in late adulthood as past stratification continues to limit life in various ways. Individual factors—including quality of marriage and friendship, personality, and cognitive capacity—affect each person’s position in his or her society. Nonetheless, stratification theories note significant social restrictions imposed by stratification categories such as age, gender, and ethnicity.

Stratification by age is demonstrated as industrialized nations segregate elderly people, gradually shunning them out of mainstream society as they grow older. Stratification by gender is demonstrated as society guides and pressures males and females into divergent paths. Stratification by ethnicity affects every aspect of development, including education, health, place of residence, and employment. 4. Work provides many psychological benefits besides the practical benefit of income. Work provides social support and status, boosting self-esteem.

For many people, employment allows generativity and is evidence of productivity, effectiveness, and independence. Some of those who keep working in late adulthood do so because they need the money, while others stay on the job because they appreciate the social recognition and self-fulfillment that work brings. Many people once believed that older adults were healthier and happier when they were employed and that retirement led to illness and death. In the 1980s, legislators outlawed mandatory retirement.

The paradox is revealed by finding that since 1980, when older workers were no longer required to quit their jobs at age 65, the average age of retirement has decreased. Rather than preferring to work until they die, many older adults retire as soon as they can. Only when retirement is precipitated by poor health or fading competence does it correlate with illness. If income is adequate, retirement in every nation is more likely to make older adults happy rather than sad. An unexpected social problem has resulted from retirement of workers at relatively young ages.

Some professions have too few experienced workers over age 50. Just as employment does not always bring joy, retirees are not always happy as planning is often inadequate, and married couples may disagree as to who should retire, when retirement should begin, and how their lives should be reconstructed. 5. Volunteering offers some of the advantages of paid employment, such as generativity and social connections. There are individual benefits such as better health and less depression, and benefits for society such as help in providing health, education, and other services.

Empirical data finds a strong link between good health and volunteering. Steady volunteers are less likely to become depressed or sick. In some ways, late adulthood is an ideal time for continuing education. Many adults have strong intellectual curiosity as well as a wish to understand the deeper meaning of history, literature, philosophy, and other subjects. This approach to education is quite different from younger adults who want skills that will be useful on the job. Older adults are less likely to attend religious services than are the middle-aged, but faith increases with age, as do praying and other forms of eligious involvement. Many studies show that religious beliefs and practices of all kinds are positively correlated with physical and emotional health. Social scientists have studied the reasons for the connection between religion and well-being. They have found that faith encourages a healthier lifestyle, attendance at services fosters social relationships, and belief in a divine plan decreases stress by fostering reinterpretation of past problems, by reducing fear of death.

In Europe as well as the United States, the elderly do not seem to be involved in political activism, but by other measures, the elderly are more politically active than people of any other age. More of them write letters to their elected representatives, vote, and identify with a political party. Many government politics affect the elderly, especially those regarding housing, pensions, prescription drugs, and medical costs. 6. Siblings, old friends, and spouses to celebrities, neighbors, and acquaintances can all be a part of one’s social convoy, especially in late adulthood.

Spouses buffer each other against problems of old age, thus extending life. It is clear that personal happiness increases with the length as well as the quality of the marriage or intimate relationship. A lifetime of shared experiences brings partners closer in memories and values. 7. Another common event that long-married older adults must face is the death of their spouse. Among the current cohort of women, many have centered their lives on being a wife, mother, caregiver, and homemaker.

As a result, the death if a husband means more than a loss of a mate; it means a reduction in status, income, social activities, and identity as someone’s wife. With time, many older widows come to enjoy their independence, few seeking another man. For companionship and emotional support, widows usually rely on women friends and grown children, and they typically expand their social connections after a husband’s death. However, widowers are more vulnerable. They are less comforted by their families and have fewer male friends that have lost a partner. Men typically find it difficult to seek and accept help.

Elderly widowers are more likely than widows to by physically ill and socially isolated. Their risk of suicide has been found to increase. Although few widowers seek t remarry, they are far more likely to do s than widows are because they tend to be lonelier than the women and thus more strongly motivated to seek companionship, and the sex ratio is in their favor, giving them more potential partners to choose from. For the man’s mental as well as physical health, remarriage is usually beneficial. 8. Filial responsibility is the obligation of adult children to care for their aging parents.

When parents need material goods, adult children often sacrifice to provide them, but emotional support is more crucial and more complex, sometimes increasing when financial help is not needed. Other elders actually resent supportive behaviors such as visiting frequently, giving presents, cleaning the refrigerator, calling the doctor, or even paying the telephone bill. Culture is crucial in determining what specific type of support people expect and who they think should provide it. In the United States, a major goal among adults is to be self-sufficient.

The old would rather take care of their own needs, but if that is not possible, they would rather rely on a spouse than on a child. Adult children may be more willing to offer support than their parents are to receive it. A good relationship with successful grown children enhances a parent’s well-being. By contrast, a poor relationship makes life worse for everyone. Remote grandparents (distant grandparents) are emotionally distant from their grandchildren. They are esteemed elders who are honored, respected, and obeyed, expecting to get help whenever they need it.

Companionate grandparents (fun-loving grandparents) entertain and spoil their grandchildren, especially in ways, or for reasons, that the parents would not. Involved grandparents are active in the day-to-day lives of their grandchildren. They live near them, see them daily, and provide substantial care. ‘ Surrogate parents raise their grandchildren, usually because the parents are unable or unwilling to do so. 9. Activities of daily life (ADLs) are actions that are important to independent living, typically identified as five tasks of self-care: eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, and transferring from a bed to a chair.

The inability to perform any of these tasks is a sign of frailty. Instrumental activities of daily life (IADLs) are actions that are important to independent living and that require some intellectual competence and forethought. The ability to perform these tasks may be even more critical to self-sufficiency than ADL ability. 10. When caregiving results in resentment and social isolation, the risk of depression, poor health, and abuse (of either the frail person or the caregiver) escalates. Most family members provide adequate care despite the stress.

However, abuse of the elderly person is likely if the caregiver suffers from emotional problems or substance abuse. Maltreatment ranges from direct physical attack to ongoing emotional neglect. Three distinct elements contribute to the problem: the victim, the abuser, and the community. Abuse is likely when the care receiver is a feeble person who suffers severe memory loss, when the caregiver is a drug-addicted relative, or when care occurs in an isolated place where visitors are few and far between.

If any one of those conditions is absent, abuse is less likely. The typical case of elder maltreatment occurs benignly, as an outgrowth of caregiving. Benign beginnings make elder abuse difficult to identify, and family members are reluctant to notify authorities. Sometimes the caregiver becomes the victim, cursed or even attacked by the confused elderly person. As with other forms of abuse, the dependency of the victim makes prosecution difficult. 11.

One common form of alternative care if assisted living, which is an arrangement that combines some of the privacy and independence of home life with some of the medical supervision of a nursing home. Skilled gerontologists consider it essential to help each resident retain independence, control over his or her decisions, and self-respect. Their efforts have resulted in new laws, which provide for limitations on the use of restraints and privacy requirements, and better practices, such as more self-management and self-choices. Both correlate with physical and mental well-being as well as a longer, happier life.

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