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 ~ICOl11 and a means of personal identity. Perhaps the oss of a valued status explains why many retired pc sons Introduce themselves by saying “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. withFlorida. 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 sometime s use Oil of Olay, Clairol, orBuster’s Magic Tummy Tightener in the hope of avoiding looking older (Atchley and Barusch, 2004).
Older persons also have increased chances of heart attacks, 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 o 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 no 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 .
in strength. flexibility. stamina, and other physical capabilities. much of that decline does not result simply from the aging process and is avoidable; with proper exercise, some of it is even reversible. With the physical changes come changes in the roles that older adults are expected (or even allowed) to perform. For example, people may lose some of the abilities necessary for driving a car safely, such as vision or reflexes. Although it is not true of all older persons, the average individual over age 65 does not react as rapidly as the average person who is younger than 65 (Lefrancois, 1999). In 2007 the issue of elderly drivers was widely debated in the media and political arenas after several incidents in which drivers over 80 years of age caused accidents in which other people were killed or injured (see Box) 2.2).
The physical and psychological changes tha come with increasing age can cause stress. According to Erik Erikson (1963), older people must resolve a tension of
“integrity versus despair. They must accept that the life cycle is inevitable. that their lives are nearing an end. and that achieving inner harmony requires accepting both one’s pas I accomplishments and past disappointments. As Hardy Howard. Sr.• an 86-year-old African American man. explains.
feel good to be as old as I am, and when I think back I never had any problem walking or going up stairs. no false teeth or hearing aids. no nothing like that. … You
know. what you get out oflife is what you put in. Measure unto others as I would have them measure unto me. Anybody I can help. ) don’t care if they’re white,
black, green. or gray-anything you want, if I can do you a favor. I’ll do it. And this has been my Jogic since I was a little boy. and r haven’t changed from it even
today. (qtd. in Mucciolo, 1992: 91-92) like many older people. Howard has worked to maintain his dignity and autonomy. In fact. a lot of older people are able to maintain their activities for many years beyond when younger people think it might be possible .
A survey conducted for the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) found that more than half of u.s. people age 45 or over believed that they had satisfactory sex lives but that sexual activity and contentment diminished with age (Toner, ) 999). The most frequent reasons for lack ofsexual fulfillment were declining health and lack of a sexual partner. The partner gap was widest for women age 75 or older. Among women and men age 75 and up who did have partners. more than a fourth reported that they had sexual intercourse once a week (Toner. 1999). Other recent surveys of people age 100 and over found that most centenarians have a sense of IHIVing “enjoyed the journey to 100” (L. Ramirez. 1999: A4). For example. Ben Levinson. age ) 00. who regularly
worked out at a gym and set a world record for the shot put in the Nike World Masters Games. appeared on The Tonight Show and other television programs
talking about his longevity. Masters games and masters athletes are terms referring to the growing number of adults who are past the average peak performance age
of 35 in sporting events but who continue to train with high intensity and compete at various levels (Morgan and Kunkel. 1998).
Will the life stages as we currently understand them accurately reflect aging in the future? Research continues to show that there are limited commonalities between
those who are age 65 and th se who are centenarians; however. many people tend to place everyone from 65 upward in categories such as “old,” “elderly;’ or “senior citizen:’ In the future. we will probably see such categorizations revised or deleted as growing numbers of older people reject such labels as forms of “ageism.” Some analysts believe that the existing life-course and life-stages models will be modified to reflect a sense of “old age” beginning at age 75 or 80 and that new stages will be added for those who reach nge 90 and 100 (Morgan and Kunkel, 1998).