Late adulthood is generally considered to begin at age 6S-which formerly was referred to as the “normal” retirement age. However. with changes in Social Securityregulations that provide for full retirement benefits to be paid only after a person reaches 66 or 67 years of age (based upon the individuals year of birth). many older persons have chosen to retire alter the traditional age of 65. Retirement s the institutionalized separation of an individual from an occupatic nal position, with continuation of income through a retirement pension based on prior years of service (Atchley and Barusch, 2004). Retirement means the end of a status that has
long been a source of ~ICOl11eand a means of personal identity. Perhaps the oss of a valued status explains why many retired pc sons Introduce themselves bysaying “I’m retired now, but I was a (banker. lawyer. plumber, supervisor. and so on) for forty years.” As shown by ~ Map 12.1. the percentage of the population age 65 and above varies from state to state. with Florida. Pennsylvania, and West Virginia having the highest proportion of people age 65 and over. Some gerontologists subdivide late adulthood into three categories: (1) the “young-old” (ages 65 to 74),
(2) the “old-old” (ages 75 to 85), and (3) the “oldestold” (over age 85) (see Moody, 2002). Although these are somewhat arbitrary divisions, the “young-old” are less likely to suffer from disabling illnesses, whereas some of the “old-old” arc more likely to-suffer such illnesses (Belsky, 1999). However, one study found that the prevalence of disability among those 85 and over decreased during the 1980s due to better health care. In fact, it was reported that Jeanne Calment of Paris,France, who died in 1997 at age 122,rode a bicycle until she was 100 (Whitney, 1997). 111erate of biological and psychological changes in older persons may be as important as their chronological age in determining how they are perceived by themselves and others. As adults grow older, they actually become shorter, partly because bones that have
become more porous with age develop curvature. A loss of three inches in height is not uncommon. As bones become more porous, they also become more brittle; simply falling may result in broken bones that take longer to heal. With age, arthritis increases, and connective tissue stiffens joints. Wrinkled skin, “age . spots,” gray (or white) hair, and midriff bulge appear; however, people sometimes use Oil of Olay, Clairol, or Buster’s Magic Tummy Tightener in the hope of avoiding looking older (Atchley and Barusch, 2004). Older persons also have increased chances of heartattacks, strokes, and cancer. and some diseases affect virtually only persons in late adulthood. Alzheimer’s disease (a progressive and irreversible deterioration of brain tissue) is an example; about 55 percent of all organic mental disorders in the older population are caused by Alzheimer’s (Atchley and Barusch, 2004). Persons with this disease have an impaired ability to function in everyday social roles; eventually, they cease to be able to recognize people they have always known and lose all sense of their own identity. Finally, they may revert to a speechless, infantile state such that others must feed them. dress them, sit them on the toilet, and lead them around. The disease can last up to 20 years; currently, there is no cure. Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 3 percent of people over 65, and nearly half of those over age 85 may have the disease (Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, 2005). Fortunately. most older people do not suffer from Alzheimer’s and are not incapacitated by their physical condition. Only about 5 percent of older people live in nursing homes, about 10 percent have trouble walking. and about 30 percent have hearing problems. Although most older people experience some decline.