Late Life Development2018-02-11T19:40:52+00:00

Development in the middle and later years of adulthood is best conceived as a biopsychosocial process. (Whitbourne & Whitbourne, 2014). Physical changes occur at varying rates through the body’s major systems depending, at least in part, on the extent to which the individual engages in health-promoting behaviors. Normal aging, which should be distinguished from impaired aging, involves progressive changes that can be slowed substantially by physical exercise, dietary control, and elimination of harmful habits such as a sedentary lifestyle, cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (Kamimoto, Easton, Maurice, Husten, & Macera, 1999).

Psychologically, attention and working memory are the cognitive systems that experience the most significant changes (Craik & Rose, 2012). However, not everyone experiences memory loss to the same degree. Reflecting the plasticity of the nervous system, older adults who actively engage their mental abilities are able to stave off or delay cognitive declines (Daffner, 2009). In normal aging, furthermore, many cognitive functions remain preserved or even improve. Research on aging and intelligence shows that such abilities as semantic memory and factual knowledge are maintained into the 70s and beyond in certain individuals. Lifestyle factors and personality in particular are important influences on intellectual development (Schaie & Zanjani, 2006). For example, people who are engaged in mentally challenging work or leisure activities have superior executive functioning well into their later years (Verghese, Wang, Katz, Sanders, & Lipton, 2009). Emotionally, individuals who experience normal aging often show improved self-regulation, being able to optimize positive and minimize dysphoric affect (Isaacowitz, 2012). In terms of identity, the majority of older adults view themselves in a favorable manner and are able to reflect back on their life accomplishments in a way that allows them to gain self-acceptance (Susan Krauss Whitbourne & Sneed, 2002).

Sociocultural factors interact substantially with physical and psychological changes. Midlife and older adults afforded better levels of education, income, and occupational prestige are in better health than are those who are economically disadvantaged (Jang, Choi, & Kim, 2009). In part, this is because higher levels of education and income give older adults better access to health care (Friedman, Williams, Singer, & Ryff, 2009). However, the benefits of higher social class also reflect a lifelong pattern of greater attention to diet, exercise, and cognitive stimulation. Gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity also interact with age-related changes in functioning. In addition to facing the common threat of ageism, older adults of minority status must cope with multiple sources of discrimination that take their toll on mental and physical health (Ferraro & Farmer, 1996). Intergenerational family relationships, however, provide vital sources of support for older individuals, the majority of whom are close to one or more family members (Blieszner, 2009).

Despite the challenges that they encounter, current cohorts of older adults have lower rates of psychological disorder, including depressive, anxiety, addictive, and personality disorders (Whitbourne & Meeks, 2010). Indeed, many older adults live independently, even with disability, and remain engaged in their families and communities (Vahia, Thompson, Depp, Allison, & Jeste, 2012). People in later life appear not only to manage to feel satisfied with their lives but also to be able to achieve new forms of creative expression, productivity, and vital involvement.

Written by Susan K. Whitbourne, PhD, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Blieszner, R. (2009). Who are the aging families? In S. H. Qualls & S. H. Zarit (Eds.), Aging families and caregiving. (pp. 1-18). Hoboken, NJ US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Blieszner, R. (2009). Who are the aging families? In S. H. Qualls & S. H. Zarit (Eds.), Aging families and caregiving. (pp. 1-18). Hoboken, NJ US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Craik, F. I. M., & Rose, N. S. (2012). Memory encoding and aging: A neurocognitive perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(7), 1729-1739.

Craik, F. I. M., & Rose, N. S. (2012). Memory encoding and aging: A neurocognitive perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(7), 1729-1739.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Daffner, K. R. (2009). Promoting successful cognitive aging: A comprehensive review. Journal of Alzheimers Disease.

Daffner, K. R. (2009). Promoting successful cognitive aging: A comprehensive review. Journal of Alzheimers Disease.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ferraro, K. F., & Farmer, M. M. (1996). Double jeopardy, aging as leveler, or persistent health inequality? A longitudinal analysis of white and black Americans. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 51(6), S319-328.

Ferraro, K. F., & Farmer, M. M. (1996). Double jeopardy, aging as leveler, or persistent health inequality? A longitudinal analysis of white and black Americans. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 51(6), S319-328.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fingerman, K., Berg, C., Antonucci, T. & Smith, J. [Eds.] (2011). Handbook of Lifespan Development. New York: Springer.

Fingerman, K., Berg, C., Antonucci, T. & Smith, J. [Eds.] (2011). Handbook of Lifespan Development.  New York: Springer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Friedman, E. M., Williams, D. R., Singer, B. H., & Ryff, C. D. (2009). Chronic discrimination predicts higher circulating levels of E-selectin in a national sample: The MIDUS study. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23(5), 684-692.

Friedman, E. M., Williams, D. R., Singer, B. H., & Ryff, C. D. (2009). Chronic discrimination predicts higher circulating levels of E-selectin in a national sample: The MIDUS study. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23(5), 684-692.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Isaacowitz, D. M. (2012). Mood regulation in real time: Age differences in the role of looking. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(4), 237-242.

Isaacowitz, D. M. (2012). Mood regulation in real time: Age differences in the role of looking. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(4), 237-242.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Jang, S.-N., Choi, Y.-J., & Kim, D.-H. (2009). Association of socioeconomic status with successful ageing: Differences in the components of successful ageing. Journal of Biosocial Science, 41(2), 207-219.

Jang, S.-N., Choi, Y.-J., & Kim, D.-H. (2009). Association of socioeconomic status with successful ageing: Differences in the components of successful ageing. Journal of Biosocial Science, 41(2), 207-219.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Kamimoto, L. A., Easton, A. N., Maurice, E., Husten, C. G., & Macera, C. A. (1999). Surveillance for five health risks among older adults — United States, 1993–1997. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, 48(SS08), 89-130.

Kamimoto, L. A., Easton, A. N., Maurice, E., Husten, C. G., & Macera, C. A. (1999). Surveillance for five health risks among older adults — United States, 1993–1997. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, 48(SS08), 89-130.

Posted in reference | Tagged | Leave a comment

Lerner, R. M. & Overton, W. F. (Eds.) (2010). Handbook of life-span developmental psychology. (Vol. 1). New York, NY: John Wiley.

Lerner, R. M. & Overton, W. F. (Eds.) (2010). Handbook of life-span developmental psychology. (Vol. 1). New York, NY: John Wiley.

Posted in reference | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment