Age: Chronological age is a imperfect indicator of functional age, or actual competence and performance. Because people are biologically at different rates, some 80 year olds may seem younger than some 65 year olds (Berk 443). Dramatic gains in average life expectancy provide powerful support for the multiplicity of factors considered previously that slow biological aging. Average life expectancy is the number of years that an individual born in a particular year can expect to live (Berk 444).
Sensory Functioning: In late adulthood vision diminishes. The cornea becomes more translucent and scatters light which blurs images. The number of individuals with cataracts increases by a tenfold! Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens, resulting in foggy vision and eventually blindness (Berk 447). When light sensitive cells in the macula break down, older adults may develop macular degeneration, in which central vision blurs and is eventually lost. Reduced blood supply and natural cell death in the inner ear cause hearing to decline in late adulthood. In addition responsiveness to startling noises lessens and discriminating complex tone patterns becomes harder (Berk 448). Reduced sensitivity to the four basic tastes, bitter, sour, sweet, and salty, is evident in many adults after the age of 60. Cigarette smoking, dentures, medication, and pollutants can also increase deficiencies. After age 70 nearly all elders experience a decline in touch perception on the hands.
Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Immune System: As the years pass, the heart muscle becomes more rigid and some of its cells die leading the walls to thicken. Artery walls stiffen and accumulate plaque build up due to normal aging. As the immune system ages the T cells become less effective. In addition the immune system is more likely to malfunction by turning against normal body tissues in an autoimmune response (Berk 449).
Physical Appearance: Creasing and sagging of the skin extends into old age. In addition oil glands become less active leading to dryness. Moles and other small skin growths may also appear (Berk 250). Blood vessels can be seen beneath the more transparent skin because it has lost its fatty support. Great diversity exists in how people adapt to these changes. People who are more anxious fr this time in their lives are more self conscious.
Health and Fitness: SES and ethnic variations in health diminish later in life. Men are more prone to fatal diseases, where women more prone to non life threatening disabilities. Ideally as life expectancy extends we want the average period of diminished vigor before death to decrease, a public health goal called compression of morbidity (Berk 453). The physical changes leas to an increased need in certain nutrients, but because the decrease of smell, taste and ease in chewing decreases, the quantity and quality of food eaten deceases. Later in life we use the same application: Good sex in the past predicts good sex in the future (Berk 454). Even at the most advanced ages, there is more to sexuality than the actual sex act, feeling sensual, enjoying close companionship, and being loved and wanted.
Physical Disabilities: Arthritis is a common disability in late adulthood. Osteoarthritis is the most common type which involves deteriorating cartilage on the ends of bones of frequently used joints. Rheumatoid arthritis involves the whole body. An autoimmune response leads to inflammation of connective tissue resulting in overall stiffness, inflammation, and aching. The result is deformed joints and often serious loss of mobility (Berk 456). After age 65, the death rate from unintentional injuries is at an all time high. These include motor vehicle accidents and falls.
Mental Disabilities: Dementia refers to a set of disorders occurring almost entirely in old age in which many aspects of thought and behavior are impaired and everyday activities are disrupted (Berk 457). Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. In cerebrovascular dementia, a series of strokes leaves areas of dead brain cells, producing a step by step degeneration of mental ability (Berk 460).
Problem Solving: Problem solving is another cognitive skill that illustrates how aging brings deterioration and adaptive changes. Problem solving in the laboratory declines in late adulthood. Older adults memory limitations make it hard to keep all relevant facts in mind when dealing with a complex problem (Berk 467).
Ego Integrity VS Despair: The final psychological conflict of Erikson's theory, ego integrity versus despair, involves coming to terms with one's life. Adults who arrive at a sense of integrity feel whole, complete, and satisfied with their achievements (Berk 474). The capacity to view ones life in the larger context of all humanity, as the chance combination of one person and one segment in history, contributes to the serenity and contentment that accompany integrity (Berk 474).
Reminiscence: We often think of the elderly as engaged in reminiscence, telling stories about people and events from their past and reporting associated thoughts and feelings. Research indicates that that reflecting on the past can be positive and adaptive. Life review is calling up past experiences with the goal of achieving greater self understanding (Berk 476). Most older adults engage in life review as a part of attaining ego integrity. Research indicates that older adults who participate in counselor led life review report in increased self esteem, greater sense of importance, and reduced depression(Berk 476).
Spirituality and Religiosity: Spirituality is not the same as religion: An inspirational sense of life's meaning can be found in art, nature, and social relationships. But for many people religion provides beliefs, symbols, and rituals hat guide this quest for meaning (Berk 478). Women are more likely than men to participate in religious activities, although all SES and ethnicities tend to participate in religious activities in late adulthood.
Social Lives and Adjustment: The majority of senior citizens reside in suburbs. The have higher incomes and better health than inner city citizens. Elder's housing preferences reflect a strong desire for aging in place, remaining in a familiar setting where they have control over their life (Berk 484). For the majority of elders, staying in their homes affords the greatest possible personal control. About 15% of senior citizens live in residential communities. Congregate housing is an increasingly popular long term care option that provides a variety of support services including meals, and watchful oversight of residents. Life care communities offer a range of housing alternatives. For a large initial payment and additional monthly fees, life care guarantees that elder's changing needs will be met within the same facility as they age (Berk 485).
Relationships & Friendships: The social convoy is an influential model of changes in our social networks as we move through life. One in every four marriages is expected to last at least 50 years. Marital satisfaction rises from middle to late adulthood, when it is at its peak (Berk 487). Most elderly gays and lesbians in log term partnerships report happy, high fulfilling relationships. Because of continuing prejudice, aging gays and lesbians face unique challenges together. Most elders live within 100 miles of their siblings and communicate regularly (Berk 490).
Helpful Website for Further Information:
Alzheimer's Disease: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001767/
Integrity VS Despair: http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/Development-in-Late-Adulthood.topicArticleId-25438,articleId-25386.html
What is Aging?: http://www.senescence.info/definitions.html