Late Adulthood

Late Adulthood

(Ages 65 and Beyond!)


Physical Development


As we all know everyone develops and ages differently.  That is why using chronological age to determine a person’s actual competence and performance, also known as functional age is an imperfect indicator.  People age differently biologically, for example, some 65 year olds may seem old, but some 80 year olds may seem young.  “So much variation exists between and within individuals that researchers have not yet identified any single biological measure that predicts the overall rate at which an elderly person will age.”(Berk, 443)


Life Expectancy


Here’s a kind of scary question everyone asks themselves at one or more points in their life:  How many years do I have left on this world?  This question has to do with a person’s life expectancy.  The average life expectancy is the amount of years that a person born in a particular year can expect to live, starting at any given age and there have actually been dramatic gains in the average life expectancy.  The following factors provide powerful support for slowing down biological aging:  Improved nutrition, sanitation, medical treatment and safety. 

The average life expectancy of a baby born in 1900 in the U.S. was just under 50 years.  In 2008, this number reached 78.1, which was 75 years old for men and 81 for women.  “Twentieth-century gains in life expectancy were extraordinary—equal to those of the previous 5,000 years!!”(Berk, 444)  The major reason for this happening is the steady decline of infant mortality rates and also death rates among adults have decreased too, mostly because of the advances in medical treatment.  


This link gives you more information on how to extend your life expectancy:



Physical Changes


When we head into late adulthood physical declines become more apparent.  More organs and systems of the body are affected.  Despite that, most body structures can last into our eighties and even past that if we take good care of ourselves. 


There was a woman named Jeanne Louise Calment who lived to be 122 years old!  Can you believe it?!  Although heredity may have contributed to her longevity, because her parents lived to age 94 and 86, she also stayed active throughout her life and said laughter is the best recipe for a long life. Wow!


Sensory Systems


Late in life changes in sensory functioning becomes more and more noticeable.  Older folks can’t see and hear as well as they used.  Their smell, taste and touch sensitivity also decline. 




I stated in the middle adulthood section that there are structural changes that happen to the eyes that make it harder to focus on nearby objects, perceive color and see in dim light.  In late adulthood the vision diminishes even more.  The clear covering of the eye called the cornea becomes more translucent and scatters light.  This causes the blurring of images and increases the sensitivity to glare.  The lens also continues to yellow, which leads to more impairment of in color discrimination. Cataracts increases tenfold from middle to late adulthood as well.  Cataracts is the cloudy areas in the lens that result in foggy vision and eventual blindness if not taken care of with surgery.  It affects 25% of people in the 70s and 50% of those in their 80s. 


What increases the risk of cataracts?  Well besides biological aging, sun exposure, cigarette smoking, heredity and certain diseases like diabetes.  Luckily, with removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens implant or using corrective eyewear restoring vision is highly successful. 


“Impaired eyesight in late adulthood largely results from a reduction in light reaching the retina and from cell loss in the retina and optic nerve.”(Berk, 447)  Also dark adaptation, which is moving from a brightly lit to a dim environment, like a movie theater, becomes more difficult.   Older adults may develop macular degeneration as well.  This is when central vision blurs and slowly is lost when the light-sensitive cells in the central region of the retina, the macula, break down.  Actually, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults.  Just like with cataracts, heredity increases the risk of macular degeneration, even more so when combined with obesity and cigarette smoking. 




Hearing impairments are more common late in life than visual impairments, especially in men.  The issues that begin to cause hearing loss in middle adulthood continue along with the stiffening of membranes, like the eardrum.  “As hearing declines, the elderly report lower self-efficacy, more loneliness and depressive symptoms, and a smaller social network than their normally hearing peer.”(Berk, 448)  Out of all the hearing difficulties, the age related decrease in speech perception has the biggest impact on life satisfaction.  After the age of 70, the ability to distinguish the content and emotionally expressive features of conversation declines, especially when in noisy settings.  Just a little tip for those people that have older adults in their lives that can’t hear as well as they used to, please be patient with them.  Try not to get irritated if you have to repeat yourself to them, because it’s harder for them not to be able to hear things like they used to than it is for you to repeat yourself.  Don’t leave them out of conversations because you don’t want to deal with talking louder or repeating things either, just put yourself in their position and see how you would feel if you couldn’t hear as well.  Fortunately, like with vision, most older folks don’t suffer from hearing loss great enough to disrupt their normal daily lives.  And for those older adults that do suffer, hearing aids and minimizing background noise help these adults hear better. 


Taste and Smell



A reduced sensitivity to the four basic tastes—sour, sweet, bitter and salty can be evident in a lot of adults after the age of 60.  So if you see good ol’ Papa Jimmy Jam pouring a bunch of salt and pepper on his food that is probably why.  Older adults have a harder time recognizing familiar foods by taste alone too.  There is no change in the number or distribution of taste buds though, so the drop in taste sensitivity might be caused by factors other than aging.  Like all those years Papa Jimmy Jam smoked like a chimney is what probably affected his taste.  Dentures, medications and environmental pollutants can also affect taste perception.  If taste is difficult to detect than food becomes less enjoyable and increases the likelihood of deficiencies in an elderly person’s diet, but flavor additives can make food more appealing. 



Besides making food more enjoyable, it has a self-protective function.  “An aging person who has difficulty detecting rancid food, gas fumes or smoke may be in a life-threatening situation.”(Berk, 448) After the age of 60 there is a decrease in the amount of smell receptors, which contributes to decreases in odor sensitivity. 




After the age of 70, almost all older folks experience a decline in tough perception on the hands, especially their fingertips.  It is believed that the reason is the loss of touch receptors in particular areas of the skin and sowing of blood circulation to the extremities. 


This article goes into even more detail about what happens to the senses in the elderly and what signs caregivers such as the person’s children should look for and the behavioral approaches for caregivers to help deal with the decline of those senses:,-Smell-and-Touch---Behavioral-Approaches-for-Caregivers&id=1099819



Health and Fitness!!


Hey you may be old, but you ain’t dead yet stay active, stay alive!


Health is vital to the psychological well-being in late life.  “Most elders rate their health favorably and, with respect to protecting it, have a high sense of self-efficacy.”(Berk-471) 


What factors contribute to good health in late adulthood?


Excellent question me.  Here’s the list:


Self-efficacy- Caring about one’s self and protecting and controlling their health


SES- Those that live are poor and live in poverty have a high risk of numerous health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.  Plus those that are low SES elders are less likely than their higher SES counterparts to seek medical treatments.  This is mostly because the low-SES elders feel less in control of their health and they are less optimistic that any treatment will work. 


Sex differences- Men are more susceptible to fatal diseases.  Women are more prone to non-life threatening disabling conditions.  As people head into very old age, which is 80 years and beyond, it is the women that seem to be more impaired than the men, “because only the sturdiest men have survived.”(Berk, 453) 


Nutrition- As the body goes through physical changes late in life this leads to an increased need of particular nutrients.  Vitamin D and calcium is needed to protect bones.  Zinc and vitamin B6, E and C protect the immune system.  Along with Vitamin C and E, vitamin A is needed to prevent free radicals.  There are several studies that show a daily vitamin-mineral tablet can result in an enhanced immune response, plus a 50% drop in the days of infectious illness.  But as great as the vitamin-mineral supplements may be for you they don’t protect against cancer or cardiovascular disease.  Having a healthy diet though can so no matter how old you get you still need to have a healthy diet.

This website gives us great nutrition tips for seniors.  It’s pretty handy:


Exercise- Even in old age it continues to be a powerful health intervention.  Even though a person should be active and exercising throughout their whole life, it is never too late to start exercising.  “Sedentary healthy older adults up to age 80 who begin endurance training (walking, cycling, aerobic dance) show gains in vital capacity that compare favorably with those of much younger individuals. And weight-bearing exercise begun in late adulthood—even as late as age 90—promotes muscle size and strength.”(Berk, 454) Wow! So this turns into improved walking, balance, posture, speed and the ability to carry out everyday tasks.  Also exercise increases blood circulation to the brain and that helps preserve the brain structures and behavioral capacities.


This site gives you exercises that elderly people can do at home:



**Getting older isn’t easy for a lot of people and as we start to get into our later years we can actually become quite depressed.  This site talks about depression in older adults and the elderly, the causes and what can help them and their loved ones deal with it:


This video gives you tips on how to engage the elderly.  Some people may not know how they should act toward those with more, shall I say, years of experience in life:  

YouTube Video


Ok this video is just too cute!  I hope I can be as cool and active as this grandma when I’m older.  This cool chick is 97 years old!  This is why you should stay active throughout your life:


YouTube Video



(Source: Berk, Laura. Exploring Lifespan Development.  Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. Print.)