Late adulthood is a period of various biological changes which can impact on an individual’s health and ability to function as easily in society. The stereotypical changes of this stage are paler less elastic skin resulting in wrinkles, thinning hair gradually turning from grey to white, weaker bones, muscle loss, and vision and hearing impairments e.g. cataracts and difficulty with word discrimination. There are changes to the brain also, such as the loss of dendrites which causes a reduction in brain weight and volume and slower synaptic speeds resulting in slower reaction times (Bee 1998, p. 453). Their immune system slows down as well, becoming less effective, and making them more prone to illness (Fernandez 2010, p. 794). Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and is a change in the brain structure due to the tangling of dendritic fibres in the brain causing severe memory loss and personality changes (Bee 1998, p. 459). Overall, the elderly are more likely to have a chronic illness and disabilities which may impact upon their ability to bathe, walk, feed themselves, prepare meals, shop, dress themselves, and even live independently (Bee 1998, p. 456).
This stage of life is characterised by a number of stresses and is a time of reflection. An individual’s changing work status, in particular when they retire, can be a source of stress as work is a major component of adult life and they now have to find other activities to fill their day. There is also the uncertainty of their financial future and whether they will have enough to live comfortably off (Fernandez 2010, pp. 853-855). Their health or partner’s health may be another source of stress for them, especially if it results in a caring role being required to complete everyday tasks; and the knowledge that their life is coming to an end (Fernandez 2010, pp. 867-868). Fernandez (2010, p. 851) states that late adulthood is a “...time of looking back and taking stock of where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished, and whom we have touched.” This results in a process called ‘Life Review’ which is gradually looking back at past experiences analysing and evaluating them to develop more secure and complex self concepts (Bee 1998, p. 502).
Social interaction is an important part of life, continuing on in late adulthood and is associated with good health and life satisfaction. The elderly have frequent contact with family, finding strong emotional and practical support through them, especially adult children, and tend to have lower levels of institutionalisation with couples and relatives providing a high level of care and assistance to each other (Bee 1998, pp. 484-490). Friendships play an important role in late adulthood, with many enjoying time with friends more than with family (Fernandez 2010, p. 843). They provide companionship, intimacy, acceptance, opportunities for laughter, sharing of activities, links to a larger community, and protection from the psychological consequences of loss (Berk 1998, p. 609).
In late adulthood where and with whom individuals are going to live is an issue they face. There are a number of options available to the elderly such as mobile homes, age segregated villages/communities, institutions, with family, or in their own home (Kalish 1975, pp. 97-99). Deciding which option is the most suitable for an individual can be influenced by a variety of things, such as health, disability, socio-economic...