Chapter 12: Late Adulthood
Cultural Beliefs about Late Adulthood
How old is Old?
CULTURAL VARIATIONS IN CONCEPTIONS OF LATE ADULTHOOD
- Many studies in Western countries have found that older adults after encounter ageism, which is
prejudice & discrimination based on age.
- Attitudes toward older adults are generally more negative than toward younger adults in a variety of
respects, from competence at work-related tasks to physical attractiveness.
- Older adults applying for jobs are often assumed to be on the decline, & lacking in cognitive sharpness &
- In many Asian, African & Latin American cultures, the view of late adulthood is favorable.
Example: In Japan, there is an annual Respect for the Aged Day, which is a national holiday.
The transition from middle to late adulthood is marked by a ritual called, kanreki, usually held
around a persons 60 birthday.
The ritual symbolizes the persons freedom from previous responsibilities of childcare &
household responsibilities & elevation to a new respected status as an elderly of the family +
SUBSTAGES OF LATE ADULTHOOD
- Period of late adulthood is divided into 3 Substages:
The young-old are persons aged 65 74
The old-old are persons aged 75 84
The oldest-old are persons aged 85 & up
- Declines in functioning are fairly mild for the first two groups, but much steeper among the oldest-old.
- The oldest-old are at high risk of problems like physical & cognitive disabilities, social isolation, &
psychological disorders like depression.
They are far more likely to have difficulties performing activities of daily living (ALDs) such as
bathing, dressing, and food preparation, eating, housekeeping & paying bills.
- Gerontologist: Researchers on aging
- Functional Age: Age that indicates the actual competence & performance of older adults; may be higher
or lower than chronological age.
Global Aging Patterns: The Worldwide Boom in Older Adults
- One thing is certain about older adults: There will be a lot more of them in the future than there are now.
- Populations are aging as birth rates decline & older adults live longer.
- Important in terms of how late adulthood is likely to change in the decades to come is the ratio of adults
65 & over to younger adults, which is called the old-age dependency ratio (OADR).
The ratio is represented as a percentage and calculated as follows;
- In nearly every country, most persons aged 20 -64 are in the work force, generating economic activity &
paying taxes into the Government systems that provide social services, including old-age pensions +
medical care for older adults.
- As populations decline due to fertility rates below 2.1, the # of persons in the workforce gradually falls
while the # of persons in pension & health care programs gradually rises as life expectancy increases.
1 | P a g e - Developed countries are faced w/ difficult challenges in the decades ahead due to rising OADR. Most
serious are the challenges facing countries w/ especially low fertility rates such as Japan, South Korea,
Spain, Italy & Greece, all of which have had birth rates around 1.1 1.3 for many decades.
- The US & Canada have a less immediate problem b/c their total populations are still growing due to
immigration & are expected to continue growing in the 21 century.
- Primary Aging: Inevitable biological aging that takes place in all living organisms
- Secondary Aging: Decline in physical functioning that takes place due to lifestyle behaviors such as
unhealthy diet, insufficient exercise, & substance use, as well as environmental influences such as
- We all are subject to primary aging, but secondary aging can be minimized or avoided.
Changes in Appearance
- Hair continues to become grayer & thinner in both men & women. It actually loses the pigments that
made it appear to be other colors.
- Skin continues to wrinkle & sag. Bones continue to thin in women, & it contributes to stooped posture.
- New signs of aging also appear, as hair becomes thinner on the head, it may sprout for the first time in
the ear (men) and on the chin (women).
- Many people develop age spots (pools of dark pigment) on the skin. These age spots are due to
accumulation of decades of exposure to sun, and are most likely to develop on light-skinned people & on
parts of body receiving most sun exposure (face, arms & hands).
- More moles develop on skin, and veins become more visible as fat layers in skin become thin, especially in
- Height slowly declines, about 1 inches for men and 2 inches for women after age 60, due to loss of bone
mass in the spinal column.
Loss of bone mass in the jaw makes the face look thinner.
- Body weight declines from its middle adulthood peak, mainly b/c people eat less due to changes in
hormone levels that regulate hunger.
- Teeth become yellower due to loss of enamel from their surface along w/ accumulated effects of some or
all of their teeth by late adulthood; even today about 20% Americans over 65 have lost all their natural
- In late adulthood, as in previous stages, many people dye their hair, rub creams on their skin to conceal
aging & place dentures in their mouth in place of teeth that fell out.
- To slow the appearance of aging, regular exercise & healthy diet must be followed.
Changes in the Senses
CHANGES IN VISION
- Declines take place in late adulthood in the functioning of all main parts of the visual system: cornea, lens,
retina, & optic nerve.
- CORNEA: Surface of the eye becomes lazier leading to lower visual acuity & higher sensitivity to lights.
- LENS: Become thicker + yellower, continuing the process that began in middle adulthood.
Older people develop cataracts, a progressive thickening of the lens causing vision to become
cloudy & distorted.
Biological aging is the main reason cataracts develop, but smoking & sun exposure increase the
There is no remedy for the decline in functioning of Cornea, but lens can be replaced w/ an
- In the retina, aging affects the macula, the center of retina where vision is normally clearest. As the cells
in the region deteriorate, older adults may develop macular degeneration, the loss of clarity in the center
of the visual field. If it is not treated w/ laser surgery may lead to blindness.
- OPTIC NERVE: Gradually transmits visual information to the brain less efficiently w/ age.
2 | P a g e Glaucoma: caused by fluid buildup in eye & pressure from it damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma
causes loss of peripheral vision. It can be treated w/ medicated eye drops, but if untreated may
lead to blindness.
CHANGES IN HEARING
- Hairs in the inner ear that transmit sound, called cilia, thin out w/ age. The structures of the inner ear
become less flexible & efficient.
- Auditory nerve that transmits info from the ear to the brain begins to deteriorate. Hearing acuity
diminishes first for high-pitched sounds, then for detecting f=differences in sound patterns.
- Some older persons have tinnitus, which involves hearing a ringing or buzzing sound w/ no external
- Most hearing loss is due to primary aging; however it could be a result of smoking or a side effect of
medication that many diabetics take.
- Hearing loss is associated w/ loneliness & depression.
- Hearing devices help many people to hear well.
CHANGES IN TASTE & SMELL
- After age 60, the # of taste buds on the tongue declines, the cells in the smell receptors of the nose
diminish, & the olfactory bulbs in the brain (which process smells) start to shrivel. This may be due to
smoking and could also be side effect of medications.
- Impairments in taste & smell lead to malnutrition in older adults who eat too little b/c they do not enjoy
their food which they did before when they could taste & smell.
- There is also increased danger as old adults are unable to detect smells that signifies danger like gas
fumes 7 smoke from household fires.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
- Many people take longer to fall asleep & wake up more often during the night.
- Most people sleep less deeply w/ age.
- Amount of time spent in Stage 1, the lightest sleep increase & time in deepest sleep of Stage 4 & REM
- W/ age most people prefer an earlier bedtime as well as an earlier wake up time.
They develop increased preference for morningness over eveningness.
- Sleep Apnea: It is a sleep-related respiratory disorder. Breathing actually stops for 10 seconds or more