While at one hand an old man in his 60s would cherish the past years of his life sharing experiences about college sports, dating spots and holiday fun, an elderly woman would act grumpy showing discontent on every dish being served at a dinner. Such scenarios are commonly noticed in day-to-day life which surrounds people in their late adulthood; a period in 60s where according to Erik Erikson (1963), individuals aim at finding satisfaction in their lives instead of becoming disillusioned. Hence, the transition to late adulthood is a time marked with physical, social and emotional challenges which are usually faced by almost every person.
Life is divided into different phases where a child eventually grows up and is faced by the reality of life. With time, he has school, parties and fast food revolving around him when suddenly this is replaced with moving away from family, searching for a job and choosing a spouse. After passing this stage, individuals enter middle adulthood where apart from working upon their own family ties, they feel the need to do something for the society and younger generations. While reflecting back on their past, individuals have gradually entered the last stage of their life. The phase of transitioning from middle to late adulthood is characterized by physical, cognitive and psychosocial changes. The process of aging is characterized by the decline of sensory ability, the skin eventually loses elasticity, bones and muscles become weak, immunity goes down and sexual activity lowers. Similarly, the emergence of late adulthood eventually encounters a deteriorating memory whereas intelligence is often seen to remain intact regardless of the aging process.
Similarly, the transition to late adulthood is a time which according to Erikson (1963) and other theorist is a stage where old adults have to deal with the challenge of ego integrity and despair and where depression is often seen to dwell around elder individuals. Therefore, the time when a person decides to retire from his job, when he becomes eligible for social security and starts to enjoy other benefits, is the period where he enters late adulthood. Society generally expects such people to have fewer responsibilities, lower level of energy and little independence. Although such expectations discourage the elder individuals, many continue to maintain their strength and level of activities.
Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial stages of Development
Erikson (1963) is famous for producing the psychosocial stages of development which divides the development of individuals into different phases in association with their age. In his theory, Erikson has characterized people over 65 to belong to the stage of late adulthood. Like every other stage, this phase is also marked with a conflict. In other words, people in their late adulthood are subject to integrity or despair. According to Erikson (1963), people over 65 years tend to look back at their life and reflect. If they come across healthy incidents; getting away with the little disappointments and generally being happy with the past accomplishments, they would develop a sense of integrity. On the other hand, while reflecting back, those individuals who are regretful of the previous life tend to experience the feeling of despair which leaves them with anger and discontent. These stages have been also explained and referred by other researchers who have based their entire studies on the stages of psychosocial development. In this regard, people who have achieved a sense of integrity tend to experience satisfaction and wholeness.
These adults have accepted the disappointments met earlier in life and adapt to these changes considering them vital for life. Studies have revealed a coherent link between ego integrity and psychosocial well being among individuals in the phase of late adulthood (Zarrett, 2007).
On the other hand, the negative outcome of this psychosocial stage is despair. Adults who feel that they have made bad decisions in their past experience despair. Consequently, they find it difficult to accept the reality of death and become hopeless and defeated. Such an attitude is demonstrated through anger and contempt towards others.
Theory of Robert Peck
Robert Peck (1968) has further explained the term of ego integrity as put forward by Erikson. Peck (1968) talks about a number of tasks which are briefly discussed below:
ego differentiation is a task accomplished by people who have invested in their careers and whose self-worth is defined by family, peers and the surrounding.
Another task of ego integrity is body transcendence which is the act of compensating physical weakness by excelling in social, emotional and the cognitive realm.
Ego transcendence according to Peck (1968) is the acceptance of death and the measures taken by people to secure the younger generations. Research reveals that the latter two tasks are seen to be strengthened in late adulthood (Brown & Lowis, 2003).
Theory of Labouvie-Vief
According to Labouvie-Vief (2003), regardless of the deteriorating health, memory, loss of loved ones, old people are generally seen to dwell in optimism. Not only this, it is also conspicuous that most of the middle aged and elderly individuals are seen describe the previous experiences with greater emotions and feeling of attachment. In this way, the old adults tend to regulate the negativities of life by using a coping mechanism which revolves around emotions.
It is quite common to observe elderly individuals to be highly involved in reminiscence. They are often seen to tell stories and talk about the past life events and such a behavior if often seen as an escape from the reality of life. In contrast, the current studies conclude that a reflection on past activites is instead positive and important. As a matter of fact, reminiscence is a focused activity which reduces the bitterness of life and keeps the man busy. . In contrast, there are many elders whose reminiscence is marked with a social focus such as the thoughts revolving around family and friends. Such individuals also look at their past and discover problem solving methods thereby teaching the youth as to how to deal with such situations (Cappeliez & Rourke, 2011).
While talking about the period of late adulthood, it is also important to shed light on the personality characteristics and attitude of the elderly. Studies suggest that individuals tend to become more agreeable and generous in their late life. Moreover, people in this phase of life are seen to be more involved in their own family and friends because of whom their social contacts are automatically narrowed down.
In contrast to these characteristics observed in the majority of the elders, some are also seen to be dissatisfied and short tempered which in turn affects their health (Mroczek & Spiro, 2009). Elders are seen reflect upon their past, deal with their health conditions and the pain of losing loved ones, and are also seen to be content and satisfied. This raises a question as to how can they be distressed and satisfied at the same time? The answer lies in the aspect of spirituality as mentioned by Peck and Erikson.
Role of spirituality and religion in Late Adulthood
Spirituality is different from religion as it is inspiration which can be derived through art, music, prayers, relationships and more. However, religion provides meaning and sense of self which directs the life of many. As a matter of fact, older people are seen to consider religion very important. The results of a national survey depict that majority of the Americans above 65 years of age say that religion is essential for them (Gallup News Service, 2006). Many of them are busy attending religious services, praying and watching religious shows. Being involved in the religious practices is associated with a number of advantages such as psychological as well as physical fitness, and increased generativity. In this regard, research shows that the religious participation results in a longer survival of the old adults (Strawbridge, 2001). Studies have therefore focused on finding out the associating between religion and life satisfaction and integrity which is a key determinant of psychosocial well being; a vital aim of the phase of old adulthood. Also some researches like the one conducted by Wink & Dillon (2001), propose that the earlier interest toward religious activities ensure religiousness in the late adulthood as well.
As a matter of fact, the role of religion in late adulthood is seen by the link between generativity and psychosocial well being. In other words, studies demonstrate that people who are religious are seen to attend church and actively participate in the congregation. Moreover, these individuals also act on similar religious principles which are shown through their daily routine activities. Since Erikson (1963) talks about generativity as the concern for others, the aspect of religion adds a meaning to the life of old adults who automatically become the role model for the younger generation. In this way, religiousness promotes the psychosocial well-being among people in the phase of late adulthood.
The Psychosocial challenges in Late Adulthood
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