Chapter Twenty-Five Late Adulthood: Psychosocial Development

Late Adulthood:
Psychosocial Development
PowerPoints prepared by Cathie Robertson, Grossmont College
Revised by Jenni Fauchier, Metropolitan Community College
Theories of Late Adulthood
• Three Types of Theories
– self theories
– stratification theories
– dynamic theories
Self Theories
• Based on premise that adults make
choices, confront problems, and
interpret reality to be themselves
as fully as possible
– people begin to self-actualize, as Maslow
described it
– each person ultimately depends on himself
or herself
Integrity Versus Despair
• Erikson’s eighth and final stage—
Integrity vs. Despair
– older adults seek to integrate their unique
experience with their vision of community
• Ideally, reality of death brings “lifeaffirming involvement” in present
• The more positively a person feels about
him- or herself, the less depression or
despair is felt
Identity Theory
• Identity Challenged in Late Adulthood
– as health, appearance, employment, crumble
• Two Extremes of Coping
– identity assimilation—new experiences incorporated
into stable sense of identity
• distortion of reality and denial anything major
– identity accommodation—altering self-concept to
adapt to new experiences
• viewed as an over-adjustment
Selective Optimization
• Older person chooses to cope
with physical and cognitive losses
• Older person makes selective
changes to cope with losses
• This readiness to make changes is
a measure of strength of the self
Support From Behavioral
• Behavioral genetics support self theories
– twin studies: some inherited traits more apparent in
later adulthood
• Power of genetics extends beyond the
environments we seek
– even self-concept, including assessment of abilities,
partly genetic
– but environment always plays major role
Stratification Theories
• Social forces limit individual
choice and direct life at
every stage, especially late
Stratification By Age
• Disengagement Theory vs. Activity
• Disengagement theory—aging increasingly
narrows one’s social sphere, resulting in
role relinquishment, withdrawal, passivity
• Activity theory—elderly people need to
remain active in a variety of social
spheres—with relatives, friends, and
community groups. If elderly withdraw,
they do so unwillingly due to ageism
– dominant view now supports activity theory
Stratification by Gender
and Ethnicity
• Sexual Discrimination
• Feminist theory draws attention
to gender divisions
– demographics make aging women’s issue
– because most social structures and
economic policies have been established
by men, women’s perspectives and needs
not always given a high priority, or even
Stratification By Gender and
Ethnicity, cont.
• Many older women impoverished because
of male-centered economic policies
– pension plans based on continuous employment;
more unlikely to be situation for women with
– medical insurance pays more for acute illness (more
common in men) and less for chronic disease (more
common in women)
– women more likely to be caregivers for frail
relatives, often sacrificing their independence and
Stratification By Gender and
Ethnicity, cont.
• Critical race theory views ethnicity and
race as social constructs whose
usefulness is determined by one’s society
or social system
• Ethnic discrimination and racism cause
stratification, shaping experiences of
both minorities and majorities
– minority elderly more likely to be poor
and frail
– less access to senior-citizen centers,
clinics, etc.
Better Female,
Non-European, and Old?
• Positive Effects of Non-European
American’s Strong Familism:
– fewer elderly in nursing homes
– elderly feel more respected
– elderly feel more appreciated by
– in one study, minority women outlived
majority women who were economically
better off but had less family support
Better Female, Non-European, and
Old?, cont.
• Current stratification effects may not
apply to cohort shift happening now
– more women are working
– younger African-Americans less strongly tied to
church and family and have fewer children
• To better understand stratification
theory, we need to take a multicultural
Dynamic Theories
• Dynamic theories—emphasize change and
readjustment rather than either the
ongoing self or legacy of stratification
• Continuity theory—each person
experiences changes of late adulthood
and behaves towards others in much the
same way as he or she did earlier in life
– adaptive change
– dynamic response
Keeping Active
• Reality of older people’s lives
does not correspond exactly with
either disengagement or activity
Chosen Activities
• Employment has many advantages, but
it is not typically something person
has a choice about doing
• One positive aspect of retirement:
allows freedom to be one’s own
person—to choose one’s main
– e.g., in areas of education, helping others,
religion, politics
Continuing Education
• Elderhostel—program in which people
aged 55 and older live on college
campuses and take special classes
– usually during college vacation periods
• Around the world, thousands of learning
programs filled with retirees
• Many elderly hesitate to take classes
with mostly younger students
– if they overcome this fear, typically find they earn
excellent grades
Volunteer Work
• Higher percent of elderly adults have
strong commitment to their community
and believe they should be of service
– older adults especially likely to volunteer to assist
the young, very old, or sick
• 40 percent of the elderly are involved in
structured volunteering
– many of the other 60 percent volunteer informally
• elderly benefit, but not if forced to
Religious Involvement
• Religious faith increases with age
– increase in prayer and religious practice
• Research shows religious
institutions are particularly
important to older Americans who
may feel alienated from overall
Political Activism
• Elderly more so than any other age group
• Know more about national and local issues
• Political participation translates into
– ARRP—major organization representing elderly, is
largest U.S. special interest group
• Most elderly are interested in wider
social concerns—e.g., war, peace, the
Home, Sweet Home
• Many busy maintaining home and yard
• Some move, but most want to age in
place, even if adult children have
moved far away
– naturally occurring retirement community
(NORC) created when they stay in neighborhood
they moved into with young children
• One result of aging in place is that
many elderly live alone
The Social Convoy
• Social Convoy—collectively, the family
members, friends, acquaintances, and
even strangers who move through life
with an individual
– We travel our life in the company of others
– Special bonds formed over lifetime help in good
times and bad
– People who were part of a person’s past help
him or her to maintain sense of identity
Long-Term Marriages
• Spouse buffers many problems of
old age
• Married elders generally are
– healthier
– wealthier
– happier
Long-Term Marriages, cont.
• Nature of long-lasting
– tends to get better over time
– sharing of accumulated experiences
– affectionate acceptance of each
other’s frailties with feelings of
– passionate love still exists
Losing a Spouse
• Divorce is rare in late adulthood
• Widowhood is common
• Death of a spouse eventually occurs
for half of all older married people
• Adjustment to loss varies depending
on sex of surviving partner
• Many older widows come to enjoy
their independence
• 4 x as many widows as widowers
• Because women take better care of
their health, they live longer than men
• Husband’s death is never easy
• Death can mean loss of close friend,
social circle, income, and status
• Widows do not usually seek another
• Living without a spouse is more
difficult for men
• Widowers often lack social support
• Historical gender differences make
adjustment more difficult
– have restrictive notions of masculine
Widowers, cont.
• Over course of marriage, tend to
become increasingly dependent on
wives for social support of all kinds
• After death of spouse, more likely to
be physically ill than widows or married
people of their age
• Many widowers prefer not to remarry,
but with favorable gender ratio and
loneliness, often find themselves more
likely to remarry than widows
Differences in Loneliness
• Men are lonelier than women
• Those without partners are lonelier
than those with partners
• Divorced or widowed are lonelier
• Recent losses heighten loneliness
• The more partners lost, the lonelier
one is
• 4 percent of people over 65 have never
– most married cohort in U.S. history
• Never marrieds quite content
– contentment is linked more to friends than family
• Older women do more befriending
• Even oldest adjust to changes in social
• Many elderly keep themselves from being
socially isolated
Younger Generations
• Typical older adult has many
family members of many ages
• As more families have only one
child, that child grows up with no
aunts, uncles, siblings, etc.
– relationship across generations may
become more important
Younger Generations, cont.
• Relationships with younger generations
generally positive, but can include
tension or conflict
– Few older adults stop “parenting”
– Mother-daughter relationship is close but also
• Assistance arises from both need and
ability to provide it
• Personal contact depends mostly on
geographic proximity
Younger Generations, cont.
• Affection is influenced by a family’s past
history of mutual love and respect
• Sons feel strong obligation, while
daughters feel stronger affection
• Cultures and families vary markedly—
there is no right way for generations to
• Assistance typically flows from older
generation to their children
The Frail Elderly
• Defined as—over 65, physically
infirm, very ill, or cognitively
• Activities of daily life (ADLs)
– bathing, walking, toileting, dressing,
and eating
– inability to perform these tasks sign
of frailty
The Frail Elderly, cont.
• Instrumental activities of daily
life (IADLs)
– vary from culture to culture
– require some intellectual competence
– in developed countries: phone calls, paying
bills, taking medication, shopping for
– in rural areas of other nations: feeding
chickens, cultivating the garden, getting
water from the well
Increasing Prevalence of
Frail Elderly
• At any moment, no more than 2 percent
of world population are frail elders
• Increasing number for 4 reasons
– more people reach old age
– medical establishment geared toward death
prevention rather than life enhancement
– medical care now prolongs life
– measures that could prevent or reduce impairment
often unavailable to people with low incomes
Age and Self-Efficacy
• Active drive for autonomy, control, and
independence best defense against
becoming dependent
• Loss of control invites further weakness
• Both one’s attitudes and social structures
influence outcomes
• Cultural forces become more important
• Protective buffers help
Caring for the Frail Elderly
• Most are cared for by relatives
– In North America, 60 percent, by family
and friends
– Other 40 percent, combination of family,
friends, and professional care
– Current U.S. trend: husbands and wives
care for each other until this becomes
The Demands of Family Care
• Toll of home caregiving is heavy
– caregiver’s physical health suffers and
depression increases
– caregiver often has to give up other
– when caregiver is appreciated by others
for efforts, he or she may feel fulfilled
by the experience
Demands of Family Care, cont.
• Caregivers may feel resentful
– if only one person is giving care while
others do little or nothing
– when caregiver and receiver often
– if dealing with public agencies, which
rarely provide services until the need is
so great that it may be too late
Elder Abuse
• When caregiver has feelings of
resentment and social isolation, he or she
– typically experiences stress, depression,
and poor health
– may be more likely to be abusive if he or
she suffers from emotional problems or substance
abuse that predate the caregiving
– other risk factors: victim’s social isolation, household
members’ lack of education and/or poverty
Elder Abuse, cont.
• Maltreatment usually begins benignly but
can range from direct physical attack to
ongoing emotional neglect
• Frail elderly particularly vulnerable to
• Most abuse is perpetrated by family
• Simplest form is financial—a relative or
stranger gets elderly to sign over life
savings, deed to house, or other assets
Nursing Homes
• Most elderly want to avoid them at all
– believe they are horrible places
• In U.S., the worst tend to be those run
for-profit, where patients are mostly on
Medicare and Medicaid
– But, overall, abuse has been reduced
• In the United States and Europe, good
nursing-home care available for those who
can afford it