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    Old age Development in developmental psychology (Full Notes)



    Defining old
    The late adulthood period as those years that encompass age 65 and beyond, Other developmental psychologists further divide later adulthood into young-old (ages 65–85) and old-old (ages 85 and beyond) stages.

    "The ageing process is of course a biological reality which has its own dynamic, largely beyond human control.

    However, it is also subject to the constructions by which each society makes sense of old age.
    In the developed world, chronological time plays a paramount role. The age of 60 or 65, roughly equivalent to retirement ages in most developed countries is said to be the beginning of old age. In many parts of the developing world, chronological time has little or no importance in the meaning of old age.

    Other socially constructed meanings of age are more significant such as the roles assigned to older people; in some cases it is the loss of roles accompanying physical decline which is significant in defining old age.

    Thus, in contrast to the chronological milestones which mark life stages in the developed world, old age in many developing countries is seen to begin at the point when active contribution is no longer possible." (Gorman, 2000)

    Today, 13 percent of the population is over the age of 65, compared with 3 percent at the beginning of this century. This dramatic increase in the demographics of older adulthood has given rise to the discipline of gerontology, or the study of old age and aging. Gerontologists are particularly interested in confronting ageism, or prejudice and discrimination against older adults.

    Aging inevitably means physical decline, some of which may be due to lifestyle, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, rather than illness or the aging process. Energy reserves dwindle. Cells decay. Muscle mass decreases. The immune system is no longer as capable as it once was in guarding against disease.

    Old age is defined as;
    Aging is a natural phenomenon that refers to changes occurring throughout the life span and result in differences in structure and function between the youthful and elder generation.”

    Gerontology is defined as
    “Gerontology is the study of aging and includes science, psychology and sociology.”


    Psycho-Social Theory

    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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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 share their reminisces with others who care, especially family.


    Eric Erikson (developed an "ages and stages" theory of human development that involved 8 stages after birth each of which involved a basic dichotomy representing best case and worst case outcomes. Below are the dichotomies and their developmental relevance:

    Prenatal stage - conception to birth.

    1. Infancy. Birth to 2 years - basic trust vs. basic distrust. Hope.

    2. Early childhood, 3 to 4 years - autonomy vs. self doubt/shame. Will.

    3. Play age, 5 to 8 years - initiative vs. guilt. Purpose.

    4. School age, 9to 12 - industry vs. inferiority. Competence.

    5. Adolescence, 13 to 19 - identity vs. identity confusion. Fidelity.

    6. Young adulthood - intimacy vs. isolation. Love.

    7. Adulthood, generatively vs. self absorption. Care.

    8. Mature age- Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Wisdom.

    This stage of older adulthood, i.e. stage 8, begins about the time of retirement and continues throughout one's life. Achieving ego integrity is a sign of maturity while failing to reach this stage is an indication of poor development in prior stages through the life course.

    Ego integrity:

    This means coming to accept one's whole life and reflecting on it in a positive manner. According to Erikson, achieving integrity means fully accepting one' self and coming to terms with death. Accepting responsibility for one's life and being able to review.

    The past with satisfaction is essential. The inability to do this leads to despair and the individual will begin to fear death. If a favorable balance is achieved during this stage, then wisdom is developed.

    1. Psychological and personality aspects:

    Aging has psychological implications. Next to dying our recognition that we are aging may be one of the most profound shocks we ever receive. Once we pass the invisible line of 65 our years are bench marked for the remainder of the game of life. We are no longer "mature age" we are instead classified as "old", or "senior citizens". How we cope with the changes we face and stresses of altered status depends on our basic personality. Here are 3 basic personality types that have been identified. It may be a oversimplification but it makes the point about personality effectively:

    1. The Autonomous
    People who seem to have the resources for self-renewal, they may be dedicated to a goal or idea and committed to continuing productivity. This appears to protect them somewhat even against physiological aging.

    2. The Adjusted people who are rigid and lacking in adaptability but are supported by their power, prestige or well structured routine.
    But if their situation changes drastically they become psychiatric casualties.

    3. The Anomic
    These are people who do not have clear inner values or a protective life vision. Such people have been described as prematurely resigned and they may deteriorate rapidly.

    ‘Stresses in old age’

    1. Retirement and reduced income
    Most people rely on work for self worth, identity and social interaction. Forced retirement can be demoralizing.

    2. Fear of invalidism and death.
    The increased probability of falling prey to illness from which there is no recovery is a continual source of anxiety. When one has a heart attack or stroke the stress becomes much worse. Some persons face death with equanimity, often psychologically supported by a religion or philosophy. Others may welcome death as an end to suffering or insoluble problems and with little concern for life or human existence. Still others face impending death with suffering of great stress against which they have no ego defenses.

    3. Isolation and loneliness.
    Older people face inevitable loss of loved ones, friends and contemporaries. The loss of a spouse whom one has depended on for companionship and moral support is particularly distressing. Children grow up, marry and become preoccupied or move away. Failing memory, visual and aural impairment may all work to make social interaction difficult.
    And if this then leads to a souring of outlook and rigidity of attitude then social interaction becomes further lessened and the individual may not even utilise the avenues for social activity that are still available.

    4. Reduction in sexual function and physical attractiveness.
    Kinsey et al, in their Sexual behavior in the human male, (Phil., Saunders, 1948) found that there is a gradual decrease in sexual activity with advancing age and that reasonably gratifying patterns of sexual activity can continue into extreme old age. The aging person also has to adapt to loss of sexual attractiveness in a society which puts extreme emphasis on sexual attractiveness. The adjustment in self image and self concept that are required can be very hard to make.

    5. Forces tending to self devaluation.
    Often the experience of the older generation has little perceived relevance to the problems of the young and the older person becomes deprived of participation in decision making both in occupational and family settings. Many parents are seen as unwanted burdens and their children may secretly wish they would die so they can be free of the burden and experience some financial relief or benefit. Senior citizens may be pushed into the role of being an old person with all this implies in terms of self devaluation.

    Major Categories of Problems or Needs:


    Income maintenance

    Interpersonal relations


    Physiological Changes:
    Catabolism (the breakdown of protoplasm) overtakes anabolism (the build-up of protoplasm). All body systems are affected and repair systems become slowed. The aging process occurs at different rates in different individuals.
    Physical Development and other changes:
    Although aging is accompanied by a general decline in functional ability, there is significant heterogeneity in this process. Loss of subcutaneous fat and less elastic skin gives rise to wrinkled appearance, sagging and loss of smoothness of body contours. Joints stiffen and become painful and range of joint movement becomes restricted, general mobility lessened.

    1. VISION

    Changes in vision and eyesight are predictable and common in older people tending to have poorer accommodation, often resulting in far sightedness. In addition, there is loss of acuity (ability to see detail), speed of adjustment to changes in light is slowed, and change in color perception, with colors at the blue end at the spectrum more difficult to distinguish. As such older people often need glasses to read and brighter light to see clearly.

    2. HEARING

    There is some impairment in hearing that starts from the age of 40 but clinically relevant impairment starts typically after age of 60. Approximately 75% of those aged 75-79 have some degree of hearing difficulty and from age of 80, 25% of speech is not heard.
    Hearing impairment is mostly caused due to isolation. Elderly people may withdraw from conversation rather than face the embarrassment of misperceiving what is said, this may cause hearing impaired individuals to become socially isolated

    3. Nervous system changes:

    There is a loss of neurons in the central nervous system with the increase of age and there is decreased deficiency of neurons that are remaining. The brain comes 10% to 15% lighter during normal aging and there are changes in electrical and neurochemical activities, sleep becomes lighter.

    4. Respiratory changes:

    Increase of fibrous tissue in chest walls and lungs leads restricts respiratory movement and less oxygen is consumed. Older people more likelyto have lower respiratory infections whereas young people have upper respiratory infections.

    Nutritive changes:

    Tooth decay and loss of teeth can detract from ease and enjoyment in eating. Atrophy of the taste buds means food is inclined to be tasteless and this should be taken into account by carers.
    Digestive changes occur from lack of exercise (stimulating intestines) and decrease in digestive juice production. Constipation and indigestion are likely to follow as a result. Financial problems can lead to the elderly eating an excess of cheap carbohydrates rather than the more expensive protein and vegetable foods and this exacerbates the problem, leading to reduced vitamin intake and such problems as anemia and increased susceptibility to infection.

    Adaptation to stress:

    All of us face stress at all ages. Adaptation to stress requires the consumption of energy. The 3 main phases of stress are:
    1. Initial alarm reaction.
    2. Resistance.
    3. Exhaustion

    And if stress continues tissue damage or aging occurs. Older persons have had a lifetime of dealing with stresses. Energy reserves are depleted and the older person succumbs to stress earlier than the younger person. Stress is cumulative over a lifetime. Research results, including experiments with animals suggests that each stress leaves us more vulnerable to the next and that although we might think we've "bounced back" 100% in fact each stress leaves it scar. Further, stress is psycho-biological meaning
    the kind of stress is irrelevant. A physical stress may leave one more vulnerable to psychological stress and vice versa. Rest does not completely restore one after a stressor. Care workers need to be mindful of this and cognizant of the kinds of things that can produce stress for aged persons.

    Work and Retirement: Age 65+

    Older adults who are still working are typically committed to their work, are productive, report high job satisfaction, and rarely change jobs. However, fewer older adults are working today than were in the 1950s. In fact, only a small portion of adults age 70 and older are in the work force. With Social Security benefits beginning as early as age 62, some companies have opted to offer early retirement incentives that permit employees to leave their positions without penalizing them before the regular retirement age. Then the companies can hire less-experienced and less-expensive employees. Other companies encourage their older workers to continue working part-time. While many older adults continue to work for pay, most retire between the ages of 65 and 70.

    Retirement is a major transition of late adulthood. The retired person must eventually accept a more leisurely life, whether desired or not. He or she must also continue to live in a worker's world, in which retirees are viewed as spent or devalued. Indeed, the psychological impact of retirement on older adults can be significant. Many must contend with feelings of depression, uselessness, and low self-esteem.

    People who are in good health, are better educated, have few or no financial worries, have adequate family and social networks, and are satisfied with life usually look forward to retirement. Retirees may choose to spend their free time volunteering for charities, traveling, taking classes, or engaging in hobbies. The least satisfied retirees are those who never planned for retirement have limited income, have few or no extracurricular activities, and who stay home day after day with nothing substantial to occupy their time.


    Habitual Behavior:

    Sigmund Freud noted that after the age of 50, treatment of neuroses via psychoanalysis was difficult because the opinions and reactions of older people were relatively fixed and hard to shift.
    Over-learned behavior: This is behavior that has been learned so well and repeated so often that it has become automatic, like for example typing or running down stairs. Over-learned behavior is hard to change. If one has lived a long time one is likely to have fixed opinions and ritualized behavior patterns or habits.
    Compulsive behavior: Habits and attitudes that have been learned in the course of finding ways to overcome frustration and difficulty are very hard to break. Tension reducing habits such as nail biting, incessant humming, smoking or drinking alcohol are especially hard to change at any age and particularly hard for persons who have been practicing them over a life time.

    The psychology of over-learned and compulsive behaviors has severe implications for older persons who find they have to live in what for them is a new and alien environment with new rules and power relations.
    Information acquisition:

    Older people have a continual background of neural noise making it more difficult for them to sort out and interpret complex sensory input. In talking to an older person one should turn off the TV, eliminate as many noises and distractions as possible, talk slowly and relate to one message or idea at a time. Memories from the distant past are stronger than more recent memories. New memories are the first to fade and last to return. Time patterns also can get mixed - old and new may get mixed.


    Intelligence reaches a peak and can stay high with little deterioration if there is no neurological damage. People who have unusually high intelligence to begin with seem to suffer the least decline. Education and stimulation also seem to play a role in maintaining intelligence.
    Intellectual impairment:

    Two diseases of old age causing cognitive decline are Alzheimer's syndrome and Pick's syndrome. In Pick's syndrome there is inability to concentrate and learn and also affective responses are impaired.
    Degenerative Diseases: Slow progressive physical degeneration of cells in the nervous system. Genetics appear to be an important factor. Usually start after age 40 (but can occur as early as 20s).

    Degeneration of all areas of cortex but particularly frontal and temporal lobes. The affected cells actually die. Early symptoms resemble neurotic disorders: Anxiety, depression, restlessness sleep difficulties.
    Progressive deterioration of all intellectual faculties (memory deficiency being the most well known and obvious) . Total mass of the brain decreases, ventricles become larger. No established treatment.

    Rare degenerative disease, Similar to Alzheimer's in terms of onset, symptomatology and possible genetic etiology. However it affects circumscribed areas of the brain, particularly the frontal areas which leads to a loss of normal affect.


    Loss of neurons in the basal ganglia. Symptoms: Movement abnormalities: rhythmical alternating tremor of extremities, eyelids and tongue along with rigidity of the muscles and slowness of movement (kinesis).

    It was once thought that Parkinson's disease was not associated with intellectual deterioration, but it is now known that there is an association between global intellectual impairment and Parkinson's where it occurs late in life.

    The cells lost in Parkinson's are associated with the neuro-chemical Dopamine and the motor symptoms of Parkinson's are associated the dopamine deficiency. Treatment involves administration of dopamine precursor L-dopa which can alleviate symptoms including intellectual impairment. Research suggests it may possibly bring to the fore emotional effects in patients who have had psychiatric illness at some prior stage in their lives.


    In old age our self concept gets its final revision. We make a final assessment of the value of our lives and our balance of success and failures.

    How well a person adapts to old age may be predicated by how well the person adapted to earlier significant changes. If the person suffered an emotional crisis each time a significant change was needed then adaptation to the exigencies of old age may also be difficult. Factors such as economic security, geographic location and physical health are important to the adaptive process.

    Need Fulfillment:

    For all of us, according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory, we are not free to pursue the higher needs of self actualization unless the basic needs are secured. When one considers that many, perhaps most, old people are living in poverty and continually concerned with basic survival needs, they are not likely to be happily satisfying needs related to prestige, achievement and beauty.
    Maslow's Hierarchy



    Belonging, love, identification

    Esteem: Achievement, prestige, success, self respect

    Self actualization:

    Expressing one's interests and talents to the full.

    Old people who have secured their basic needs may be motivated to work on tasks of the highest levels in the hierarchy - activities concerned with aesthetics, creativity and altruistic matters, as compensation for loss of sexual attractiveness and athleticism. Aged care workers fixated on getting old people to focus on social activities may only succeed in frustrating and irritating them if their basic survival concerns are not secured to their satisfaction.


    Social aging according to Cumming, E. and Henry, W. (Growing old: the aging process of disengagement, NY, Basic 1961) follows a well defined pattern:

    1. Change in role. Change in occupation and productivity. Possibly change
    in attitude to work.

    2. Loss of role, e.g. retirement or death of a husband.

    3. Reduced social interaction. With loss of role social interactions are diminished, eccentric adjustment can further reduce social interaction, damage
    to self concept, depression.

    4. Awareness of scarcity of remaining time. This produces further curtailment of
    activity in interest of saving time.

    Havighurst, R. et al (in B. Neugarten (ed.) Middle age and aging, U. of Chicago, 1968) and others have suggested that disengagement is not an inevitable process. They believe the needs of the old are essentially the same as in middle age and the activities of middle age should be extended as long as possible. Havighurst points out the decrease in social interaction of the aged is often largely the result of society withdrawing from the individual as much as the reverse. To combat this he believes the individual must vigorously resist the limitations of his social world.


    The fear of the dead amongst tribal societies is well established. Persons who had ministered to the dead were taboo and required observe various rituals including seclusion for varying periods of time. In some societies from South America to Australia it is taboo for certain persons to utter the name of the dead. Widows and widowers are expected to observe rituals in respect for the dead.

    Widows in the Highlands of New Guinea around Goroka chop of one of their own fingers. The dead continue their existence as spirits and upsetting them can bring dire consequences.

    Wahl, C in "The fear of death", 1959 noted that the fear of death occurs as early as the 3rd year of life. When a child loses a pet or grandparent fears reside in the unspoken questions: Did I cause it? Will happen to you (parent) soon? Will this happen to me? The child in such situations needs to re-assure that the departure is not a censure, and that the parent is not likely to depart soon. Love, grief, guilt, anger are a mix of conflicting emotions that are experienced.


    Our culture places high value on youth, beauty, high status occupations, social class and anticipated future activities and achievement. Aging and dying are denied and avoided in this system. The death of each person reminds us of our own mortality.
    The death of the elderly is less disturbing to members of Western society because the aged are not especially valued. Surveys have established that nurses for example attach more importance to saving a young life than an old life. In Western society there is a pattern of avoiding dealing with the aged and dying aged patient.

    Stages of dying

    Elisabeth Kubler Ross has specialized in working with dying patients and in her "On death and dying", NY, Macmillan, 1969, summarized 5 stages in dying.
    1. Denial and isolation. "No, not me".

    2. Anger. "I've lived a good life so why me?"

    3. Bargaining. Secret deals are struck with God. "If I can live until...I promise to..."

    4. Depression. (In general the greatest psychological problem of the aged is depression). Depression results from real and threatened loss.

    5. Acceptance of the inevitable.

    Kubler Ross's typology as set out above should, I believe be taken with a grain of salt and not slavishly accepted. Celebrated US Journalist David Rieff who was in June '08 a guest of the Sydney writer's festival in relation to his book, "Swimming in a sea of death: a son's memoir" (Melbourne University Press) expressly denied the validity of the Kubler Ross typology in his Late Night Live interview (Australian ABC radio) with Philip Adams June 9th '08. He said something to the effect that his mother had regarded her impending death as murder. My own experience with dying persons suggests that the human ego is extraordinarily resilient.

    I recall visiting a dying colleague in hospital just days before his death. He said, "I'm dying, I don't like it but there's nothing I can do about it", and then went on to chortle about how senior academics at an Adelaide university had told him they were submitting his name for a the Order of Australia (the new "Knighthood" replacement in Australia). Falling in and out of lucid thought with an oxygen tube in his nostrils he was nevertheless still highly interested in the "vain glories of the world". This observation to me seemed consistent with Rieff's negative assessment of Kubler Ross's theories.


    1.The aged share with the young the same needs: However, the aged often have fewer or weaker resources to meet those needs. Their need for social interaction may be ignored by family and care workers.

    2.Family should make time to visit their aged members and invite them to their homes. The aged like to visit children and relate to them through games and stories.

    3.Meaningful relationships can be developed via foster-grandparent programs. Some aged are not aware of their income and health entitlements. Family and friends should take the time to explain these. Some aged are too proud to access their entitlements and this problem should be addressed in a kindly way where it occurs.

    4. It is best that the aged be allowed as much choice as possible in matters related to living arrangements, social life and lifestyle.Communities serving the aged need to provide for the aged via such things as lower curbing, and ramps.

    5. Carers need to examine their own attitude to aging and dying. Denial in the carer is detected by the aged person and it can inhibit the aged person from expressing negative feelings - fear, anger. If the person can express these feelings to someone then that person is less likely to die with a sense of isolation and bitterness.

    After all factors discussed above, it is concluded that old age is the last stage of a human being’s life. And many changes occur in his/her personality, views, opinions, cognitive processes and many more. The main role is played by the life experiences of a person that how he copes with his last stage to travel towards the death. It’s the stage of decline in almost all aspects of human being.

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  3. #2
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    Dec 2012
    this is really good informative post.

  4. #3
    Senior Member

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    Dec 2012
    Islamabad, Pakistan
    Thankoo Mr Rehman

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