Features of Late Adulthood and the Psychosocial Factors that Impact Individuals at this Developmental Stage
A number of psychologists such as Erikson, Levinson and Kohlberg and others have suggested that most humans develop along certain developmental stages during their lives, during which certain key features emerge and various challenges and obstacles must be overcome in order to successfully advance to the more advanced stages (Shaver & Tarpy, 1994). While the authorities may not agree of the precise components of the various stages, it would seem that most people do in fact experience a number of developmental features that provide for some fairly accurate generalizations; these issues as they apply to the key features of late adulthood and the impact of psychosocial factors during this period of life are discussed further below.
Key Features of Late Adulthood. According to Erik Erikson’s stages of development, late adulthood occurs during the seventh stage, generativity (the need to show the next generation the way at the expense of one’s own self-interest) versus a sense of stagnation (this occurs if the generativity component is unfulfilled) (Austrian, 2002). This author points out that late adulthood “is a time of significant development and a major turning point. The tasks are to conclude the efforts of middle adulthood and prepare for the next phase of life” (Austrian, p. 205). Physiologically, late adulthood is characterized by diminishing physical and cognitive abilities, less income compared with previous years, and the general maladies and frailties typically associated with getting older; however, physical impairments are not the only risks that are associated with disabilities and increasing frailty in the elderly. “Attention must also be paid to the impact of mental health problems,” Cox says, “particularly depression, on the functioning of older adults” (1993, p. 7). Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs working in reverse, when people reach late adulthood, they tend to concentrate their efforts on satisfying their fundamental needs such as adequate food, shelter and clothing, even when sufficient resources exist otherwise to ensure these needs are addressed. During late adulthood, people’s lives also tend to become more concentrated in certain rooms of their homes that are used to satisfy these needs such as the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and dining room; all other rooms tend to be excluded. According to Adams-Price (1998), “In contrast to other points in the life span, where creativity in academic, workplace or leisure contexts may be more important, practical creativity in later adulthood may be increasingly focused on dealing with the challenges of daily life” (p. 74).
Impact of Psychosocial Factors during Late Adulthood. According to Coupland and Nussbaum (2004), older men and women alike continue to value close relationships during their later years, although there are some distinct differences involved. For example, while both American men and women consider the key features of their marriage that they found important during their early years together equally important during their later years as well, men were much less likely than women to have a number of close friends they could use as confidants in later life; by sharp contrast, older women were found to enjoy a wider range of relationships, and remain connected to past relationships that were outside of the marriage (Coupland & Nussbaum, 2004). The authors conclude that this means that wives assume a more important role in their husbands’ lives during later years since they rely on their wives more than they did when they were younger compared to their wives who remain fairly active outside of the marriage during late adulthood. Finally, Adams-Price (1998) points out that there are serious challenges involved in taking care of a spouse who becomes cognitively or physical disabled, and many marriages during later adulthood are profoundly affected by this deterioration in the quality of the relationship and the ability of the other spouse to contribute to the basic livings needs of the couple.
Adams-Price, C.E. (1998). Creativity and successful aging: Theoretical and empirical approaches. New York: Springer.
Austrian, S.G. (2002). Developmental theories through the life cycle. New York: Columbia
Coupland, J., & Nussbaum, J.F. (2004). Handbook of communication and aging research.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Cox, C. (1993). The frail elderly: Problems, needs, and community responses. Westport, CT:
Shaver, K.G. & Tarpy, R.M. (1993). Psychology. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.
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