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Late Adulthood

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Late Adulthood: Death and Dying

Late adulthood (old age) is generally considered to begin at about age 65. Erik Erikson, a famous psychoanalyst, suggests that at this time it is important to find meaning and satisfaction in life rather than to become bitter and disillusioned, that is to resolve the conflict of integrity vs. despair. Integrity occurs when the individual can look back on the events of earlier life with pleasure about what has taken place and the people one has helped to develop, and a sense of having lived a complete life (Carducci 193). Despair occurs when the elderly individual looks back on his or her life with a sense of incompleteness about what has not been done or will never be done and realizes that his or her time on earth is running out (Carducci 193).
In late adulthood, attitudes about death shift: anxiety decreases, hope rises. According to the text, “this shift in attitudes is beneficial…many developmentalists believe that one sign of mental health among older adults is acceptance of mortality, increasing altruistic concern about those who will live after them” (Berger 580). There are three proposed explanations for the relatively low level of fear of death among older adults: “(1) they may accept death more easily than others because they have been able to live long, full lives; (2) they may have come to accept their own deaths as a result of a socialization process through which they repeatedly experience the death of others; and (3) they may have come to view their lives as having less value than the lives of younger persons and thus may not object so strenuously to giving them up (Corr, Nabe, and Corr 437). Berger mentions that as “evidence of the change in attitude, older people write their wills, designate health care proxies, read scriptures, reconcile with estranged family members, and in general, tie up all the loose ends that most young adults avoid” (Berger 580). Acceptance of death does not mean that the elderly give up on living. Most try to maintain their health and independence (Berger 580). Furthermore, “researchers explain that family becomes more important when death seems near. This is supported by a study of 329 people of various ages who had recently been diagnosed with cancer and a matched group of 170 people (of the same ages) who had no serious illness. Life-threatening illness, more common in late adulthood but not directly caused by age, seems to change attitudes about life, people, and death” (Berger 581).
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross interviewed more than 200 terminally ill patients and proposed that the dying go through five stages. First, they deny that death is imminent, perhaps insisting that their doctors are wrong or denying the seriousness of their illnesses. Second, they feel and express anger that they are dying. Third, they bargain—they try to “make a deal” with doctors, relatives, or God, promising to behave in a certain way if only they may be allowed to live. Fourth, they become depressed. Finally, they accept their fate. (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 412). Kubler-Ross believed that family members and health professionals can help dying people by understanding the stages through which they are passing and helping them attain a state of final acceptance. Many dying people have experiences similar to those Kubler-Ross observed, but not necessarily all of them and not always in the order she proposed. Some dying people do not deny the inevitable but arrive at a rapid though painful acceptance of death. Some become hopelessly depressed; others experience mainly fear; still others have rapidly shifting feelings.
In late adulthood, heart disease and cancer remain the leading causes of death (Nevid 401). As people move into advanced old age, many should no longer be driving due to loss of sensory acuity and slowed reaction time (Nevid 401). They are also more prone to falls. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias increase greatly. Some older people come to fear disability and discomfort nearly as much as death (Nevid 401). Continuing with physical, leisure, and informal social activities are all associated with greater life satisfaction among older retired people (Nevid 401). Just like younger adults, older adults differ in the level of activity they find personally optimal. Some older adults pursue a busy lifestyle; while others are happier with a quieter lifestyle (Hockenbury 410). People who are dying are sometimes placed in a hospice, a hospital where terminally ill people could spend their last days in comfort (Berger 584). Hospice professionals relieve pain and discomfort, not only with drugs but also with massage, bathing, and so on. They avoid measures that merely delay death, their aim is to make dying easier (Berger 584). There are two principles for hospice care: (1) each patient’s autonomy and decisions are respected. For example, pain medication is readily available, not on a strict schedule or at a minimal dosage. (2) Family members and friends are counseled before the death, taught to provide care, and guided in mourning. Hospice personnel believe that the mourners’ needs, both before and after the death, are as important as the needs of the patient (Berger 584). All in all, death and dying in late adulthood is a critical time for older people. The average life expectancy for men in the United States is currently about 76 years, and for women, about 81 years (Hockenbury 410). Thus, the stage of late adulthood can easily last a decade or more. So at this age and stage, older people must come to terms with death, and the family around them must prepare for this end.
Works Cited
Berger, Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Lifespan. 2nd ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2014. Print.
Carducci, Bernardo J. The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. 2nd ed.Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 193. Print.
Corr, Charles A., Clyde M. Nabe, and Donna M. Corr. Death and Dying: Life and Living. Belmont:Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2009. 437. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015.
Hockenbury, Don H and Sandra E. Hockenbury. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010.410- 412. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015.
Nevid, Jeffrey. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2013. 401. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015.

Cited: Berger, Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Lifespan. 2nd ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2014. Print. Carducci, Bernardo J. The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. 2nd ed.Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 193. Print. Corr, Charles A., Clyde M. Nabe, and Donna M. Corr. Death and Dying: Life and Living. Belmont:Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2009. 437. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015. Hockenbury, Don H and Sandra E. Hockenbury. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers, 2010.410- 412. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015. Nevid, Jeffrey. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2013. 401. Google Books. Web. 6 Feb 2015.

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