We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Major Changes in Late Adulthood

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now


Late adulthood is seen as the last period in individual cycle of life. It begins from the age of 65 till death. Late adulthood is one of the most challenging periods in life as individuals tends to lose most of the physical, cognitive and social development that have been gained throughout life. Few individuals make it through late adulthood without the support of other and like childhood, late adulthood has also been described as a dependency period. In Erickson stages of life, late adulthood is a period of resolving conflict between integrity vs. despair. The three main theories describing the aging process include disengagement theory and activity theory. There are different physical, cognitive, and social changes that take place in the individual signing the offset of late adulthood.  This paper will explore in details the different physical, cognitive and social changes and the major process that contribute to aging process in late adulthood.

Late adulthood period

Late adulthood is also known as old age.  This is the last stage in individual life that begins at age 65 (Cliff Notes, 2009). According to Erik Erickson, this is a period when individuals should find meaning and satisfaction in life instead of becoming bitter and disillusioned. This means that late adulthood periods is marked by bitterness and disillusion when individuals find that they cannot accomplish what they used to accomplish in their early stages in life.  Erickson asserts that during this period, individuals should be more concerned with resolving the conflict of integrity vs. despair which is major cause of bitterness and disillusion in old people.  It has been estimated that by 2030, America will have more than 20% of its population made up of old individuals over the age of 65 (Cliff Notes, 2009).  Many people have a misconception that aging process comes with substantial loss in mental and physical health. However, different studies have found out that this is not always the case as some individuals in late adulthood have shown greater mental and physical health same as individuals in their middle life (Broderick and Blewitt, 2003).  Many old people live a happy life and are engaged in various activities especially in community service work.

There are three main theories describing the process of aging.  These include disengagement theory and activity theory. According to disengagement theory, people withdraw from the mainstream society as they get old.  This is assumed to be a normal process that is desirable as it relieves aging individuals   from the responsibilities and the roles that continuously become difficult for them to accomplish (Cliff Notes, 2009).  The disengagement theory has also been shown to open up more opportunities for young people and therefore the society is more likely to benefit as young people takes up their respective roles.

On the other hand, activity theory asserts that activity is important in order to maintain quality life. This theory contends that at one time in life individual lose the vigor to carry out activities and hence those who remain active in physical, mental and social aspects are more likely to have a smooth transition process to aging than those who remain inactive (Cliff Notes, 2009). This theory therefore asserts that the activities which were carried out in the previous years should be maintained by individuals even after entering late adulthood period.

Major changes in late adulthood

At any stage in life, there are many changes that occur in the individual. The same process happens in late adulthood where there are different characteristic changes in physical, cognitive, and social life of the individuals. The following are the main changes that occur in physical, cognitive and social life of the aging individuals.

  1. Physical changes

In the normal human cycle of growth, individuals reach their greatest physical wellbeing in their twenties and then from there, the physical well being deteriorates gradually.  By the time individuals reach their late adulthood, there are different physiological changes that occur (Cliff Notes, 2009). There is a higher degree of atrophy of the brain and this decrease the neural process at a faster rate.  For example the major health problem that has been attributed to late adulthood period is dementia which is attributed to deterioration of brain.  There are also major changes that occur in respiratory and circulatory process. They become less efficient and individual may experience breathing problems. There are also changes in the gastro intestinal tract which may lead to increased rate of constipation. Due to changes in the gastrointestinal tract, aging individuals may find it difficult to digest fat, milk and others foods.

Physical changes in late adulthood also witness increased loss of bone mass especially for women due to years of breastfeeding and consequent loss of calcium. This leads to increased cases of bone diseases like osteoporosis (Cliff Notes, 2009).  Body muscles also become weaker unless there is a strict program that is followed even in late adulthood. The skin becomes dry and less flexible. In both sexes, there is also a high rate of hair loss.  There are major changes in the olfactory senses marked with decrease in sensory modalities.  This means that there is decrease sense of taste, touché, smell, hearing, and vision.

  1. Cognitive changes

Cognitive changes during late adulthood are complex and have a lot of effects on quality of life.  Cognitive changes have the most deteriorating effects on quality of life of the individual (Cliff Notes, 2009).  The most important cognitive changes notable among individuals in this age blanket is decline in neural and motor response speed.  This leads to major physical changes that had been reviewed earlier like decline in olfactory functions, eyesight, hearing, and many others.  Researchers have shown that decline in working memory leads to dementias. Reduction in brain function is perhaps the most noticeable factor underlying poor performance of cognitive tasks among the elderly.

Cognitive changes among the elderly can be understood in two perspectives including intellectual changes and dementia. Let us review these closely:

Research has shown that intellectual changes in elderly does not always lead to reduced ability to perform different tasks (Bly, 1988).  It has also been shown that fluid intelligence, which is the ability to see and use patterns and relationships in order to solve problems, declines in later years. On the other hand, crystallized intelligences, which is the ability to use information gained to solve problems and make crucial decision, tend to rise slightly in late adulthood.  However, research has shown that about 40% to 60% of the decline in cognitive performance can be reversed if individuals are given appropriate remedial training (Cliff Notes, 2009).

Dementias have been held responsible for most of the cognitive defects which are witnessed in older people.  Dementia disorders occur in more than 15% of all individuals above the age of 65.  There are different causes of dementia among elderly but the leading cause has been identified to be Alzheimer’s disease which is a fatal disease beginning with confusion and lapses in memory eventually progress into complete loss of ability to take care of themselves.

  1. Social changes

There are different social changes that occur during this period. The main social changes include decreased quality of social interactions which is mainly attributed to discrimination and stereotyping occurring in aging (Broderick and Blewitt, 2003). An example can be patronizing talks. There is also increased social segregation which may occur owing to cultural differences. There is also loss of comfortable social networks. For example there is loss of coworkers, friends, family, community members, and many others (Gather, 2008).

Major process contributing to aging in late adulthood

The process of aging has been difficult to understand although a number of researches have explored the subject in details (Broderick and Blewitt, 2003). Despite the advance in scientific research methods, there has not been any development on the methods of reversing aging which could reverse the trend of life in most people. There are three basic processes that have been identified as main contributors to the process of aging. These include selection, optimization, and compensation. Let us look at each process:

  1. Selection

Selection is a process that involves limiting our focus on few areas of our expertise or our interest.  This means that in the aging process, individuals tend to get absorbed in one area of interest such that the mind is not given alternatives (Bly, 1988). The mind is therefore confined to only one particular thinking pattern and the aging process sets in very fast. Research has shown that when the mind is involved in different activities, the aging process is slowed down since the mind is more active than when it is concentrating on one area of specialty.

  1. Optimization

On the other hand, optimization describes the process in which individuals tend to find or crate the most efficient rout to achieve what they want in life.  Like in selection, individuals are limited in the areas they engage in and their mind become oriented to only one line of thinking (Gather, 2008).  However in optimization, individuals may go an extra mile to exert their efforts on just one route which means there is an element of overworking. In the SOC model, optimization refers to the probability, level, and the scope of desirable or the attainment of goals. This means is it minimization of losses vs. maximization of gains.

  1. Compensation

Compensation describes the act of using a window when the door is closed. In other word, this describes resourcefulness of the individual. Compensation mainly describes individual adaptation to loss of resources (Broderick and Blewitt, 2003). This process becomes more operative when  there are specific behavior capacity  or skills that are reduced  below the  level that is required to the individual to function adequately.  This is mainly as a response to loss of goals relevant means.

Understanding the changes that occur in late adulthood and the process that lead to aging during these years is important in mapping out an intervention.  Any intervention with group or individual should be aimed at reversing the negative effects of the changes in late adulthood. Using the three process of aging, the SOC model has been found effective in helping individuals reverse the negative effects of aging through targeting the main process leading to aging. Therefore any meaningful intervention during late adulthood must take into consideration the changes and the process that leads to these changes.


Late adulthood is the last stage in individual life and usually begins at 65 years of age. There are many changes that occur to individuals during this period. Among the physical changes, there is decrease in bone mass, physiological changes like decline in sense of taste, touch, smell, hear, and vision. Cognitive changes during this period are characterized by decline in brain function leading to dementia and other disorders, while social changes may include increase withdraw from public life. The three main processes leading to aging include selection, optimization and compensation. Understanding changes occurring in late adulthood and the process leading to aging is important to map out intervention programs.


Bly, R. (1988). A little book on the human shadow. Harper and Row

Broderick, P., & Blewitt, P. (2003). The life span: Human development for helping professionals. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education

Cliff Notes, (2009). Development in late adulthood. Retrieved 8th July 2009 from http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/CliffsReviewTopic/Development-in-Late-Adulthood.topicArticleId-25438,articleId-25386.html

Gather, (2008). Middle and late adulthood changes. Retrieved 8th July 2009 from http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977280018&nav=Namespace

Sheehy, G. (1976). Predictable crises of adult life. New York: Dutton.

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59