Late Adulthood: Psychosocial Development

Theories of Late Adulthood
Self Theories

    * Self theories emphasize the core self, or the search to maintain one's integrity and identity.
    * Self theories begin with the premise that adults make choices, confront problems, and 
interpret reality in such a way as to define, become, and express themselves as fully as possible.

    * Integrity versus Despair - Erikson's 8th stage - when older adults seek to integrate & unify their 
unique personal experiences with their vision of their community.
    * Idenity versus role confusion - Identity Theory - Erikson's 5th stage - People of all ages should 
have a sense of who they are. In response to this need for identity in a changing world a person 
could employ:
      Identity assimilation where identity remains what it always was - denies reality!

      Identity accommodation where the self concept is changed - produces self doubt!

      Ideal adjustment where a person maintains a firm but flexible identity, NOT leaning to far to 
either extreme.
    * Selective Optimization ( with compensation ) Involves choosing to play to your strengths 
rather than to your weaknesses.
    * Behavioral Genetics Some inherited traits seem even more apparent in late adulthood 
than earlier. 

Stratification Theories

•  Stratification theories emphasize that social forces, particularly those related to a person's 
social stratum (SOCIAL CLASS) or social category, limit individual choices & affect the ability 
to function.
•  In late adulthood past stratification continues to limit life in various ways. Many believe that 
cultural forces become even more important but less supportive in old age.

Stratification by Age - Disengagement versus Activity
Disengagement theory - The view that aging makes a person's social sphere increasingly narrow, 
resulting in role relinquishment, withdrawal, & passivity.
Activity theory - The view that elderly people need to remain active in a variety of social spheres 
- with relatives, friends, & community groups - & become withdrawn only unwillingly, as a 
result of ageism.

Stratification by Gender & Race
Sexual Discrimination - In many ways , social polices & cultural values converge to make later 
life particularly burdensome for women.
Racial Discrimination - stratification comes from critical race theory which sees race not as 
"inborn" but rather as a "social construct" which shapes experience & attitudes for minorities
 as well as majorities.

Dynamic Theories

•  Dynamic theories emphasize change & readjustment rather than either the ongoing self or 
the legacy of stratification.

•  Dynamic theories emphasize that each person's life is seen as an active, ever-changing, largely 
self propelled process, occurring within specific social contexts that themselves are ever changing.

•  Continuity Theory - Each person experiences the changes of late adulthood & behaves toward 
others in much the same way as in earlier periods of life.

Keeping Active

    * People are retiring at younger ages than ever before. Many retired people continue their 
education (e.g. Elderhostel ) or perform volunteer work in their communities. Both of these 
activities enhance the health and well-being of the elderly and benefit the larger society.
    * The elderly are politically active and influential, which is one reason for their success in 
protecting their economic benefits. Fortunately, most older adults agree on the need for 
generational equity. 

The Social Convoy

    Social Convoy: collectively, the family members, friends, acquaintances & even strangers 
who move through life with an individual.

    The "big" convoys (generational stereotypes & defining work characteristics):
•  Traditionalists  (1925 -1945)   Practical, patient, loyal & hardworking, respectful of authority, 
rule followers

•  Baby boomers  (1946 - 1960)   Optimistic, use teamwork & cooperation, ambitious, workaholics

•  Generation X  (1961 - 1980)   Skeptical, self-reliant, risk-taking, balanced work & personal life

•  Millennials  (1981 - present) -   Hopeful, want meaningful work, diversity & change valued, 
technology savvy

Long-term marriages

    * Most elders are married and they tend to be healthier, wealthier and happier than those who 
never married, or who are divorced or widowed.
    * While the absolute levels of conflict, sexual activity and emotional intensity drop over time, 
couples who start out high or low on any dimensions tend to remain so as time goes by. 


    * Women are widowed more often than men.
    * The average adult woman lives longer than the average man, the average husband is 
older than his wife, the average American wife will eventually spend 6 years as a widow.
    * In terms of physical and emotional adjustment, women generally have an easier time 
coping with the loss of a spouse than do men. 

The Never Married & the Divorced

    * Of those currently over age 64 in the U.S., only 4.4 percent have never married, making 
this the most married cohort in history.
    * The never married are content with their independence, more likely to have extensive, 
alternate social networks and sometimes have long-time companions.
    * Divorce is very rare in later life, except with recent marriages.
    * Differences between divorced males and females (females fare better) 


    * In older adults, the quality of friendships is more important than quantity.
    * For men, friends are equally likely to be male/female; for females friends are same sex.
    * For successful aging, people must not allow themselves to become socially isolated, 
because a secure social network is a buffer against almost any problem.
    * Older people’s satisfaction with life bears relatively little relationship to their contact with 
younger members of their own family, but correlates significantly with the quantity and 
quality of their contact with friends. 

Younger Generations

    * Beanpole family: consists of more generations than in the past, but with only a few 
members in each generation.
    * A family can be very supportive or very independent, with either pattern welcomed in 
some families and resented in others.
    * Contrary to popular perceptions, assistance typically flows from the older generation to 
the younger.
    * The price of intergenerational harmony may be intergenerational distance. 

Younger Generations & Family Ties

    * Assistance arises both from need and from the ability to provide it.
    * Generally the mother daughter relationship is simultaneously close and vulnerable.
    * In-person contact depends mostly on geographical proximity; however, increased 
communication capability via the internet changes this somewhat.
    * Affection is strongly influenced by a family's past history of mutual love and respect.
    * Sons feel stronger obligation. while daughters feel stronger affection.
    * Cultures & families vary markedly: there is no agreed upon "right" way for the 
generations to interface.

The Frail Elderly

    * Frail elderly: people over age 65 who are physically infirm, very ill, or 
cognitively impaired.
    * Activities of daily life (ADLs): actions that are important to independent living, 
typically comprising five tasks: eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, & transferring from 
a bed to a chair; inability to perform these tasks is a sign of frailty.
    * Instrumental activities of daily life (IADLs): actions that are important to independent 
living and that require some intellectual competence and forethought; even more 
critical to self-sufficiency than ADLs; ex: paying bills, shopping, etc. 

Increasing Prevalence of Frailty, Why?

   1. More people are reaching old age.
   2. Modern medical technology prolongs life.
   3. Health care has largely been designed to rescue individuals from acute illnesses, 
such as cancer, while ignoring the longstanding, chronic complaints of the elderly.
   4. Measures that could prevent or reduce impairment—everything from adequate 
nutrition to safe housing—do not necessarily reach the frailest elderly. 

Caregivers often feel unfairly burdened and resentful because

    * Other family members tend to feel relieved not to do their share rather than 
obligated to help out.
    * Care-receivers and caregivers often disagree about the care that is needed.
    * Social services designed to support caregivers are difficult to obtain.

Caring - notes

    * Respite care: an arrangement in which a professional caregiver takes over to give 
the family caregiver of a frail elderly person a break for a few hours each day or for an 
occasional weekend.
    * The best nursing homes recognize the individuality of the elderly and encourage 
their independence. 

Elder Abuse

    * The elderly are very vulnerable to abuse because they depend on others for care 
and are often confused about many things.
    * 87% of the perpetrators are family members
    * Most elderly victims endure spousal abuse for years because they are too ashamed 
to admit it and too dependent to leave. 

Key Questions - Late Adulthood: Psychosocial Development

1. What are the similarities & differences between identity theory & behavioral genetics?
2. Compare the three types of stratification in late adulthood.
3. How can continuity theory be considered a dynamic systems theory?
4. What kinds of activities do older people undertake after they retire?
5. What changes typically occur in long-term marriages in late adulthood?
6. Compare the roles of friends and family in late adulthood.
7. How does reaction to death of a spouse differ for men ad women?
8. What factors affect the ability to perform ADLs and IADLs ?
9. What accounts for the increasing prevalence of the frail elderly?
10. What problems might arise in caring for the frail elderly person?
11. In your experience what kinds of help are easiest for you to give? To receive? 
                                             Growth & Development
                                                  Robert C. Gates