Monday, February 28, 2011

Late Adulthood and End of Life

Late adulthood is a time of reflection, enjoying friends, family, and grandchildren, and maintaining health in preparation for the final years of the lifespan. Although genetics play a significant role in the quality of life during these final years, individuals who modify destructive lifestyles and embark on healthier options will experience an improvement in their health and sense of wellbeing (Berger, 2008). During this stage of adulthood, older adults remain socially active and independent rather than subjecting themselves to isolation and withdrawal (Berger, 2008). As more aging adults continue to live healthy, socially active lives and maintain important family roles, it is important to refrain from stereotypical thought and the negativity of ageism, which can contribute to their premature decline. With technology and high quality medical care, aging adults continue to be a valuable resource for younger generations.

Promoting Health and Wellness into Late Adulthood

Healthy habits and daily routines are essential for promoting health and wellness into late adulthood. Smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, and overeating cost many individuals their ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle as they age (Berger, 2008). Exercise and a healthy diet avert many common diseases and increases energy in the elderly. Changing daily habits, even late in life can help diminish some of the effects of aging (Berger, 2008). According to Berger (2008), almost all diseases and chronic conditions normally associated with aging are powerfully influenced by one's daily routines and habits.

Mitigating Negative Aspects of Aging

Health habits are crucial to physical well-being (Berger, 2008). Other than positive changes in one's daily routines and habits, early detection and maintenance of chronic conditions and diseases and preventive medicine helps to mitigate the negative aspects of aging. When used in conjunction with maintaining a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and routine exercise, healthy choices during late adulthood make a significant difference in health and wellbeing. Preventive medicine and ongoing, high-quality medical care can maintain health and lessen the often harsh effects of aging. Genetics, cultural norms, levels of stress, available medical care, attitudes about preventive medicine, and social bias toward the elderly contribute to remarkable differences in aging populations (Berger, 2008).

Ageism and Stereotypes Associated with Late Adulthood

In American culture, late adulthood is fraught with stereotypes and the negative perceptions of older adults (Busse, 1968). Although some stereotypes are purely in jest, others maintain a negative portrayal of impotency and incompetency (Nuessel, 1983). Butler (1969) calls the use of negative bias against older adults ageism. Ageism and negative stereotypes threaten the elderly with cognitive decline directly rooted in the aging individual's surrounding social context. According to Berger (2008), societal and cultural attitudes toward the elderly have powerful and significant effects on their self-identification, sense of importance, and self-confidence.

Ageism makes the elderly appear less intelligent than they are, to the detriment of their cognitive abilities (Berger, 2008). When aging adults have fears rooted in stereotypes, there is a possibility that these fears will undermine normal thinking (Berger, 2008). Lack of confidence impairs memory, and negative expectations and responses can affect the cognition of aging adults. It is imperative for their health and wellbeing to avoid stereotypes and attitudes that reflect negative beliefs and biases toward the abilities of this age group.

Various Views of Death and Dying at Different Points in Human Development


According to Berger (2008), "the meaning assigned to death--either the person’s own death or the death of another person--depends partly on cognitive maturation and personal experience" (p. 755). Dying children often fear abandonment of loved ones, especially the parents, more than they fear the idea of death itself. Experts suggest parents and loved ones maintain constant vigil with sick children to eliminate this fear and loneliness (Berger, 2008). Children experience death and mourn in a variety of ways, so when they lose a parent, sibling, or other significant person or pet, any signs of mourning should be addressed (Berger, 2008). Even children at age two may have some understanding of death although with their limited experience of life, their perspective is unlike that of older children and adults. At any age, adults should be attentive to children's concerns and validate their experiences (Berger, 2008).


Death and dying are extremely sensitive issues during adolescence (Neuspiel & Kuller, 1985). Although many teens are morbidly fascinated by death, experiencing the death of a loved one die during this time, or facing death themselves can deeply impact their psychological state of mind and have a long-term effect on their fundamental perception of life. During this stage of development, when adolescents may appear fearless, risk-taking behavior increases, and death is romanticized, a direct experience of death or the prospect of dying, alters their sense of reality (Neuspiel & Kuller, 1985).


Once individuals enter responsible relationships with work and family, there is a major shift in attitudes of death and dying (Berger, 2008). Adults have no romantic notions concerning death, and it becomes a dreaded experience. Responsible adults leave risk-taking behavior behind and make changes in their lives, which will accommodate personal longevity. According to Berger (2008), between the ages of 25 and 60, even for the terminally ill, their worries are not because of the idea of dying, but the concern of leaving business and relationships incomplete. The death of friends and loved ones during this time is unacceptable and many have trouble realistically facing such losses.

Late Adulthood

According to many developmentalists, a healthy acceptance of one's own mortality is a sign of a positive and stable mental state during the later years of the lifespan. Completing affairs such as wills and health proxies is not a sign of giving up, but accepting the inevitable, and finding a sense of completion in worldly affairs. Once these matters have been finalized, many of the elderly continue to maintain their health and independence with a positive outlook. At any age, "it is important to remember that grieving is a constructive process that results in a transition from one set of roles to another" (Wass & Myers, 1982, p. 135). This transition, although normal can be painful whether one is grieving for oneself or for others.

Cultural Attitudes toward Death and Dying

Most of the world's religions and cultures have rituals and beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife (Berger, 2008). According to Berger (2008), "for all people throughout history, religious and spiritual concerns often become particularly important at death" (p. 762).

Not only for the dying individual, but also equally important for the dying person's family and friends, religious belief systems provide hope and lessen the helplessness commonly experienced during this time. Religious and spiritual beliefs help the dying make the transition between life and death without fear, and allows them to maintain a sense of worth and meaning in their existence throughout the transition.


Late adulthood is a definitive culmination of the stages of life. Although genetics plays a significant role in the health and wellbeing of the elderly, equally important is maintaining a positive outlook and healthy habits such as diet, exercise, routine physical examinations, and the care of diseases and conditions (Berger, 2008). Although ageism and ignorant and unfair stereotypes hasten the demise of some of the elderly (Nussel, 1982), many maintain happy, healthy, and rich lives until their final transition to death. It is important to maintain a positive perspective and treat older adults with the respect and care they deserve. Death and dying are significant experiences in every culture, and the rituals and beliefs that surround these ideas allow individuals to accomplish the transition fearlessly and help friends and relatives cope with their loss (Berger, 2008, Wass & Myers, 1982).


Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Busse, I. W. (1968). Viewpoint: prejudice and gerontology. The Gerontologist, 8(2), 268-290 doi:10.1093/geront/8.2.66

Butler, R. N. (1969). Age-ism: another form of bigotry. The Gerontologist, 9, 243-246. doi:10.1093/geront/9.4

Neuspiel, D. R., & Kuller, L. H. (1985). Sudden and Unexpected Natural Death in Childhood and Adolescence. Journal of the American Medical Association, 254(10), 1321-1325. doi: 10.1001/jama.1985.03360100071016

Nuessel, F. H. (1982). The language of ageism. The Gerontologist, 22, 273-276. doi: 10.1093/geront/22.3.273

Wass, H., & Myers, J. E. (1982). Psychological aspects of death among the elderly: a review of the literature. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 131-137.

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