Erik Erikson, who took a special interest in this final stage of life, concluded that the primary psychosocial task of late adulthood (65 and beyond) is to maintain ego integrity (holding on to one's sense of wholeness), while avoiding despair (fearing there is too little time to begin a new life course). Those who succeed at this final task also develop wisdom, which includes accepting without major regrets the life that one has lived, as well as the inescapability of death. However, even older adults who achieve a high degree of integrity may feel some despair at this stage as they contemplate their past. No one makes it through life without wondering if another path may have been happier and more productive.
Two major theories explain the psychosocial aspects of aging in older adults. Disengagement theory views aging as a process of mutual withdrawal in which older adults voluntarily slow down by retiring, as expected by society. Proponents of disengagement theory hold that mutual social withdrawal benefits both individuals and society. Activity theory, on the other hand, sees a positive correlation between keeping active and aging well. Proponents of activity theory hold that mutual social withdrawal runs counter to traditional American ideals of activity, energy, and industry. To date, research has not shown either of these models to be superior to the other, in other words, growing old means different things for different people. Individuals who led active lives as young and middle adults will probably remain active as older adults, while those who were less active may become more disengaged as they age. As older adults approach the end of their life span, they are more apt to conduct a life review. The elderly may reminisce for hours on end, take trips to favorite childhood places, or muse over photo albums and scrapbooks. Throughout the process, they look back to try to find the meaning and purpose that characterized their lives. In their quest to find life's meaning, older adults often have a vital need to reminisce with others who care, especially family.
Relationships: Age 65+
Given increases in longevity, today's older adults face the possibility of acquiring and maintaining relationships far longer than during any other time in modern history. For instance, nearly 1 in 10 adults over the age of 65 has a child who is also within the older adult age range. Nurturing long-term family relationships can be both rewarding and challenging. While middle and older adults may enjoy the peaceful relationships that develop over the decades in place of sibling rivalry, younger adults may feel the strain of trying to care for their aging and ailing parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Even so, most young people report that they have satisfying relationships with their older family members.
Marriage and family
Older adult marriages and families are sometimes referred to as retirement marriages or retirement families. In such families, the following demographics are typical: The average age of the wife is 68, and the husband, 71; they have been married for over 40 years and report high levels of marital satisfaction; they have three grown children, the oldest being about 40; and 20 percent of the husbands and 4 percent of the wives continue to work, even though they consider themselves retired. For these families, the typical household finances are less than in earlier stages of the life span. By far the most devastating event in older adult marriages is widowhood, or the disruption of marriage due to death of the spouse. Nearly 3 percent of men (widowers) and 12 percent of women (widows) in the United States are widowed. In the 75 and older age group, approximately 25 percent of men and 66 percent of women are widowed. One common complaint of widows and widowers is the difficulty they experience finding a new spouse or partner. This is especially true of widows,...