Late Adulthood

Topics: Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, Erik Erikson, Gerontology Pages: 6 (1223 words) Published: April 3, 2013
Late Adulthood

Late adulthood is one of eight stages in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. It is the last stage in a person’s life- after the age of 65 until death.

Increased age is associated with greater maturity and well-being. The psychosocial crisis is considered to be Ego Integrity versus Despair. To solve this crisis, individuals ask the questions: “Have I lived a full life?”, or “Was my life worth it?” People reflect on their lives, and deem themselves both as worthy and successful (leading to integrity), or as unfulfilled and disappointed (leading to despair).

The developmental task is retrospection (looking back at one’s life and remembering past experiences and accomplishments). They should be able to cope with good choices and memories, and ones they regret, or are angry about. If they can accomplish this task, it can lead to renunciation and wisdom.

Physical changes

Aging in body systems varies with each person according mostly to lifestyle and genes.

Aging: “To make old; cause to grow or seem old.” (

We can differentiate two types of aging:

● Primary aging- biological aging that occurs even if a person is in good health ● Secondary aging- aging that is affected by hereditary defects, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, stress, or diseases Health generally declines in late adulthood, leading to many disorders, and illnesses. Organs begin to show reduced efficiency, and the body is not able to work at full capacity. Specifically, these physical changes can also include:

● The heart becoming more susceptible to diseases
● Sensory problems (hearing, taste, sight)
● An inability to control movements (arthritis, Parkinson’s, etc.) ● Height decreasing slightly, because of changes in the vertebrae column ● Chronic diseases (cancer, stroke, etc.)
● Sleep apnea and insomnia- risk of an inability for the body to fully regenerate at night Because of the suppressed immune system, older persons are susceptible to many health problems. They need more medical attention and coverage than those who are younger. On average, those older than 65 spend more than 4 times as much on health care compared to those of other life stages. Chronic conditions are very common: 48 percent suffer from arthritis, 37 percent experience hypertension, 30 percent have heart disease, and 30 percent are hearing impaired.

Cognitive changes

In late adulthood, response speeds decline (slower thinking, and delayed reactions). Older persons have troubles thinking clearly, and focusing on one task, because of poor memory.

One way for elderly people to cope with loss of cognitive strength is through “selective optimization with compensation”-- narrowing their goals and choosing personally valued activities that stimulate their minds and provide them with mental energy. For example, if an elderly woman was a teacher in her younger days, and enjoys teaching, she might try narrowing her goals by only teaching once a week to a certain group of students (=optimization). She would also compensate for her lack of strength and energy in classes by teaching smaller groups and not walking as much, or talking as loudly.


Memory failure increases as people age. They lose the ability to find context, leading to confusion. Deliberate recalling of information is not as reliable, but implicit memory (remembering things without conscious awareness) usually stays more intact with aging.


People in late adulthood have troubles with language processing. They have difficulties seeing patterns, and finding the right words to use and remembering when to use them. Learning a new language is especially challenging. Sentence structure is not as clear; they often hesitate while speaking; finding the right words can sometimes take a while. Speech is generally slower, as they gather their thoughts, and try to recall the right names and words.

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