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Development in Late Adulthood. Theories of Socioemotional Development. Theories Related Adult Development: Erikson’s stage: “integrity versus despair” — those in late adulthood reflect on past efforts or do a life review, evaluating and then reinterpreting their lives.

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Development in Late Adulthood

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Development in

Late Adulthood





Theories Related Adult Development:
    • Erikson’s stage: “integrity versus despair”—those in late adulthood reflect on past efforts or do a life review, evaluating and then reinterpreting their lives.
Activity Theory states that older adults become more active and productive in society; aging successfully makes them more satisfied in society.
  • Socioemotional Selectivity Theory claims older adults seek higher emotional satisfaction as they age by being more selective about their type of social networks—focus is on goals.
  • Selective optimization with compensation theory claims successful aging is linked to 3 main factors:
    • Selection.
    • Optimization.
    • Compensation.
In research that compares older and younger adults from diverse samples, older adults report:
    • Better control of their emotions.
    • More mellowing of feelings.
    • Fewer negative emotions.
    • Positive connections with friends and family.
Exploration of the self includes focusing on changes in:
    • Self-esteem: in men appears to be higher than in women through most of adult years, but converges at age 70–80.
    • Self-acceptance: more realistic about the future and accepting of the past.
    • Personal control: perceptions of having internal locus of control appears to decrease with age.
    • Ability to control personal life outcomes declines in late adulthood but varies among individuals.







Mean self-esteem score

















Self-Esteem Across the Life Span

Fig. 20.5










Mean self-acceptance score


Young adult

Middle adult

Older adult

Changes in Self-Acceptance Across the Adult Years

Fig. 20.6

Older adults in society are often stereotyped.
  • Ageism is a negative form of prejudice.
  • Some social policies contribute to stereotyping.
  • Some families reject their older members.
  • Older members of action groups have gained political clout and lobbying power.
  • Social issues associated with aging include:
    • Social security and economic stability.
    • Medicare and health-care costs.
Being an older adult has many positive aspects.
  • Older adults’ functioning is the result of better health habits such as:
    • Eating a proper diet.
    • Having an active lifestyle.
    • Engaging in mental stimulation and flexibility.
    • Having positive coping skills.
    • Having good social relationships and support.
    • Avoiding disease.
  • Successful aging involves having a sense of self-efficacy and a perceived control of environment.
Defining Death




Brain death occurs when all electrical activity in the brain ceases.
  • Higher portions of the brain die sooner than the lower portions.
  • There is controversy over what medical experts should use as criteria for death.
  • When does intelligence and personality end?
Termination of medical treatments is controversial:
    • Dying patients in comas need living wills.
    • Physicians have concerns over malpractice suits in the absence of a living will or defining laws.
    • Euthanasia is often called mercy killing:
      • Passive euthanasia—treatment is withheld.
      • Active euthanasia—death deliberately induced.
    • Euthanasia evokes a variety of emotions among health-care professionals and family members.
The hospice movement:
    • Is a new kind of medical institution.
    • Began in London at the end of the 1960s.
    • Is dedicated to reducing pain and helping patients die with dignity, known as palliative care.
    • Makes every effort to include the dying patient’s family members.
    • Includes home-based programs today, supplemented with care for medical needs and staff.
Causes of death vary across the life span:
    • Prenatal death through miscarriage.
    • Death during birth or shortly afterwards.
    • Accidents or illness cause most childhood deaths.
    • Most adolescent deaths result from suicide, homicide, or motor vehicle accident.
    • Deaths among young adults are increasing due to AIDS.
    • Middle-age and older adult deaths usually
    • result from chronic diseases.
Attitudes toward death vary at different points in the life span:
    • Young children use illogical reasoning to explain death, believing magic or treatment can return life.
    • Others claim separation anxiety is an indicator of a child’s awareness of separation and loss.
    • Those in middle and late childhood have more realistic perceptions of death—that it is a finality.
Children and youth can reexperience grief as they age, and it may affect future relationships.
  • Many strategies, including honesty, should be adopted when discussing death with children:
    • Extent of explanations will vary according to a child’s age.
  • Most adolescents:
    • Avoid the subject of death until a loved one or close friend dies.
    • Describe death in abstract terms and have religious or philosophical views about it.
Concerns about death increase as one ages:
    • Awareness usually intensifies in middle age.
    • Older adults are more often preoccupied by it and want to talk about it more.
    • One’s own death usually seems more appropriate in old age, possibly a welcomed event, and there is an increased sense of urgency to attend to unfinished business.
Knowledge of death’s approach forces the dying person to change their attitudes and behaviors.
  • Kübler-Ross identified 5 stages in dying:
    • Denial and isolation – “It can’t be!”
    • Anger – “Why me?”
    • Bargaining – “Just let me do this first!”
    • Depression – withdrawal, crying, and grieving.
    • Acceptance – a sense of peace comes.
  • In facing their own deaths, some people struggle desperately until the end.
The quality of one’s life is linked to how death will be approached:
    • Meaning and purpose bring peaceful acceptance.
    • An unfulfilled life brings distress and despair.
  • Perceived control and denial may be adaptive strategies for remaining alert and cheerful.
  • Denial insulates and allows one to avoid coping with intense feelings of anger and hurt.
  • In the U.S., most people die in hospitals, and fewer die in nursing homes or a hospice.
Coping with

the Death of

Someone Else

No loss is greater than that of a loved one.
  • Open communication with a dying person is very important because it gives them:
    • A chance to plan activities for the time left.
    • An opportunity to reminisce.
    • A chance to examine what is happening to them.
  • Effective strategies for open communication vary and should be directed toward internal growth.
Grief is not a simple emotional process and may not end anytime soon after the loss.
  • A variety of cognitive factors influence the severity of the grief process.
  • Good family communications and grief counselors can help grievers cope with feelings of separation and loss.
  • Cross-culturally, people in some societies forget the deceased as quickly as possible, while in other societies they try to hold on.
Grieving forces one to try and make sense of the world—reliving one or more events over and over.
  • Finding meaning may enhance or ease the ability to cope.
  • Researchers have identified 3 types of meaning-making coping:
    • Personal – cognitive acceptance is sought.
    • Family – members search for common factors.
    • Community – a broader level of loss.
Women feel the loss of a life partner more than men because:
    • Widows outnumber widowers 5 to 1, because they live longer than men.
    • A widowed man is more likely to remarry.
    • Widows usually marry older men.
  • Cross-culturally, many widows fall into poverty after the loss of a life partner.
  • Impact on one’s physical and psychological health is linked to how long one grieves and remains widowed.
Funerals are an important aspect of mourning and a source of closure in many cultures.
  • Forms of mourning include:
    • Making some type of funeral arrangement.
    • Deciding on burial or cremation for the body.
    • Holding ceremonies after the funeral—in some cultures.
    • Being supported as a family by the community.
    • Dividing the mourning into time periods.
    • Designating one time frame for mourning.