Social Gerontology

successful aging. What do you think are its positive and negative features?

Generally, contemporary gerontologists and psychologists consider "successful aging" to be acceptance of the practical limitations of the many social, physical, and other consequences of advancing age that allows the individual to experience a satisfying life into the period of life ordinarily marked by retirement (Bearon, 1996). In principle, the contemporary theory of successful aging emphasizes the importance of relinquishing connections to areas of life that previously occupied the bulk of the individual's professional life and that, more often than not, played significant roles in the person's psychological identity. Other aspects of successful aging in the contemporary view include developing new interests that are not as limited by advancing age as well as finding new avenues for social outlets and relationships that provide some of the same personal psychological benefits as those activities and relationships that typically must be relinquished in the twilight age (Birren & Schaie, 2006).

That concept of successful aging is applicable to individuals who have achieved the necessary maturity and psychological development to follow that general scenario. In that regard, individuals who have achieved professional or community goals prior to their elderly years and who have always been successful at establishing healthy relationships are much more likely to negotiate old age successfully. However, the standard model of successful aging seems to presuppose a degree of personal psychological development that is not generally achieved by a high percentage of the population. Therefore, it may not be especially helpful or predictive for a substantial portion of the aging population simply by virtue of typical rates of psychological contentment in society (Bearon, 1996).

2. Describe three daily living tasks for community-dwelling elders that are heavily dependent upon attentional functioning. How specifically would attention play a role in each of them? How might difficulties be addressed so that the person could continue living in the community?

The gradual deterioration of attentional functioning in the elderly is attributable to the characteristic changes in neurological architectural structure and related brain changes associated with the normal physiology of aging (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008; Pinker, 2002). Many of those changes necessitate behavioral coping for the individual to maintain ordinary day-to-day life. To a large extent, the major distinction between the portion of old age that continues to be psychologically and emotionally fulfilling and the portion of old age that often becomes marked by depression, anxiety, and loneliness is a function of the individual's ability to successfully overcome the practical limitations caused by natural physiological cognitive changes (Birren & Schaie, 2006).

For many in the elderly population, the ability to continue living independently is the most important aspect of successful aging, particularly in connection with the ability to function well enough to live autonomously in the same home in which they have always lived. In that regard, certain types of daily living tasks are crucial because they are functional prerequisites to continuing to live independently in the same community. Typical examples of those tasks would include awareness of dates, days of the week, and time of day; the ability to manage personal finances such as paying bills and maintaining checking accounts; conducting necessary chores such as basic home or apartment maintenance; and meeting one's nutritional needs which includes periodic shopping and food preparation. To a certain extent, gradually increasing difficulties can be overcome by effective planning and the coordination of assistance from friends and family. Generally, the longer those strategies succeed the better for the aging individual.

3. Erikson said in his later life that he would have crafted his theory somewhat differently had he known he'd live to be an old man. What weight would you give to generativity (initially classed as a midlife function) in late life and how do you think it could be expressed?

Erikson's observation is likely a function of the fact that the Generativity concept does not necessarily come to an end merely because the individual reaches the stage of life that marks the transition from middle age to old age. It is likely that those individuals who were particularly involved in the betterment of their community and in securing the welfare of their families during middle age continue those sentiments well into old age and, subject only to their physical and cognitive ability, for the duration of their lives.

It may be more accurate to consider Generativity as a feature that is somewhat less dependent on chronological age and much more a function of individual perspective throughout life. Moreover, there are many indications that the types of attitudes and values that Erikson considered within the concept of Generativity are equally present among young adults. In that sense, people who are inclined to derive satisfaction by doing for others tend to express that and begin to live that way even before middle age and to continue that perspective well into their twilight years (Birren & Schaie, 2006).

The other potential flaw in that aspect of Erikson's theory of adult development is that is presumes sentiments and tendencies that are simply not characteristic of many individuals, such as those who do not experience much satisfaction from beneficence at any point in their lives. One way of expressing Erikson's concept more accurately might be that old age is a period where those who have previously derived satisfaction from Generativity earlier in life tend to continue that approach; meanwhile, some of those who never did remain contentedly selfish while others who never did much for others earlier in life may experience regret over their selfishness in their latter years (Bearon, 1996).

4. Craft a brief portrait of someone in late life having great difficulty handling the tasks of Erikson's integrity stage. What does this person's daily life look like? What would be some of the person's reflections?

The individual who is unsuccessful tends to be preoccupied with maintaining artificial sources of self-worth and replacing old ones with new ones and is likely to live in a perpetual state of depression, despair, and resentment of those who are still young enough not to have to worry about the end of life. In many cases, individuals who suffer from low self-esteem manage to overcome the immediate consequences by overcompensating in some way with varying degrees of success (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008). For example, the individual whose early experiences infused him with feelings of inadequacy may work extremely hard to excel in some profession or other behavioral manifestation that is likely to hold him in high regard in the community (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008).

In principle, almost any laudable human endeavor (whether becoming a physician, a policeman, or a successful professional entertainer) can be pursued in a healthy manner and principally because of the value that the achievement represents or in a manner that is more reflective of personal psychological shortcomings to overcompensate for inner self-doubts (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008). The individual whose middle years are largely devoted to overcompensating for lack of genuine self-esteem is likely to experience great difficulty relinquishing those crutches. Consequently, he may spend his twilight years "living in the past," continually announcing and recounting his past achievements or by seeking new avenues to excel at something (such as golf, or checkers, or bingo). This person's reflections are likely to focus on artificial achievements and external sources of pseudo self-esteem (Birren & Schaie, 2006).

5. Craft a brief portrait of someone in late life successfully negotiating the tasks of Erikson's integrity stage. What does this person's daily life look like? What would be some of the person's reflections?

Generally, individuals who reach their latter years and who negotiate Erikson's integrity stage of life successfully manage to relinquish some of the artificial sources of self-esteem and self-worth (Birren & Schaie, 2006). For example, an aging business executive who is successful at making this transition will be able to distance himself from his vocational identity and his professional success as his primary source of personal identity. By contrast, his colleague who never developed psychologically because he used his vocational identity as a substitute for genuine self-esteem and self-worth will be comparatively lost once he retires (Bearon, 1996; Birren & Schaie, 2006).

The individual who is successful handling Erikson's integrity stage of adult psychological development reaches a perspective where he or she fully understands that (among other things) human life is always of finite duration; individual lives are comparatively unimportant in the overall scheme of the universe; the value and worth of human life is largely a function of what the individual has managed to do to benefit other human beings or society as a whole; and that once one's most productive years are over, one can continue contributing positively, albeit perhaps in smaller ways; and that when the end of life comes, it is not a tremendous personal tragedy. That individual's life is likely to include appreciating small pleasures and positive human relations as well as attempts to share the benefit of 20/20 hindsight with friends and family members who…