Late Life: Cognitive and Socioemotional Development
Exploring Our New Old World
The median age of the population is dramatically rising.
In Europe, in particular, in 25 years an astonishing one in four people will be over 65.
Although mainly a developed world issue, in the developing world the percent of older adults will rise the most over the next quarter century.
Why is the World Getting Older?
1) Life expectancy increases
In the U.S., late life life expectancy– the time we can expect to live after 65– is now almost 20 years
2) Declining birth rates
Recall that fertility has dipped well below the replacement rate in Europe
3) The huge baby boom cohort reaching later life
By looking at fertility rates, the size of the baby boom cohort, and average life expectancy, we can calculate the “youthfulness” of a given nation.
Exploring Two Elderly Stages
The young-old= 60’s and and 70’s
Typically healthy, relatively wealthy
The old-old= 80+
More likely to be physically frail and poor
Consequence: The real aging issue in the developed world is the growth of the frail old-old in 2030 as the baby boomers move into this oldest life stage.
Memory: A fact sheet
We are primed to look for memory problems in the old.
Older people are hypersensitive to their memory lapses (Am I getting Alzheimer’s disease?).
Low memory self efficacy- giving up and thinking “I can’t remember at my age”- insures that memory will be worse.
The not-so-pleasant research facts
When the test is extremely difficult, memory losses show up very early in life (by the 30’s, see figure 13.4 on page 402).
Divided attention tasks are unusually hard as we age.
Being under time pressure when learning something totally new (fluid tasks) is particularly poisonous, too.
Memory Model #1: Information Processing
Conceptualizes having “a memory” as occurring in stages
The problem: Not as much info can pass through working memory, the gateway system transforming material into permanent storage.
Frontal-lobe hypothesis of cognitive aging: Frontal lobe deterioration may cause this smaller “bin space” and/ or the loss of the ability to selectively attend.
Physiological result: older people use more of their “brain” to work difficult material through their working memory.
Model #2: Memory System Perspective
Divides memory into three types (next slide)
Procedural: things remembered automatically (such as riding a bicycle)
Most resilient; the last to go in patients with brain diseases
Resides in a different (lower) area of the brain
Semantic: knowledge of basic facts (your address)
Moderately resilient; long-lasting crystallized knowledge
Elderly can perform as well on this type of memory as young
Episodic: recall of isolated events (what you had for breakfast last Tuesday)
Highly fragile in everyone
Where we see real differences between young and old
CONCLUSION: AGE IMPAIRS EPISODIC MEMORY
Use Selective Optimization with Compensation
Selectively focus on what you need to remember.
Work hard to encode the information.
Write things down so you don’t need to remember on your own.
Use Mnemonic Techniques= strategies to make things emotionally vivid
Basic principle: If it’s vivid emotionally we remember it.
Try to get a visual image.
Put it to music.
Come up with a connection to something important to you.
Socioemotional Selectivity Theory
Basic principle: Focusing on time left to live changes our emotional and social priorities.
Focus on the future, so engage in unpleasant activities because “I need to do this to become X, Y or Z”
The elderly, or anyone who feels the future is limited:
Focus on making the most of the present moment
Social priorities shift to being with closest attachment figures (Let me spend this precious time with family.)
Because their mission is to enjoy the present, old age is a most satisfying time of life.
Is later life the happiest life stage? Yes and no
The good news:
People over 65 (as a group) have lower rates of emotional problems than other age groups.
Older people seem better at regulating their emotions, shutting out negative stimuli more effectively.
Older people dwell more on happy memories than sad ones.
The not-s0-good news:
A less exciting emotional life: The elderly are less prone to feel intensely happy as well as intensely sad.
The elderly poor are far less happy than the young.
Depression rates rise in the 70s (when people are more likely to be physically frail).
What Makes for a “Golden” Old Age?
Answer: The overall conditions of your life (true at every age)
Does the person have a loving social network?
Does person have enough money and/or live in a nation that takes care of its elderly citizens?
Is that person still healthy (young old); or suffering from the frailties of old age?
(Final comment: It’s all statistics. While the old-old years are more difficult, there are inspiring people who live fully and generatively till their 90s.)
Tips for using the research on memory and emotions
Give people more time to learn difficult new material and provide a less distracting environment.
Don’t stereotype the elderly as having a bad memory; reinforce the message that with work, anyone’s memory can be good.
Give older adults chances to exercise their personal passions. (Recall, being emotionally involved fosters memory.)
Don’t expect older people to automatically want to make new friends at their age.
Don’t stereotype the elderly as unhappy—assume the reverse is true in the young-old years– but understand that depression is a serious risk when a person is frail and isolated.
Retirement: Its Demographics
Most U.S. adults retire well before the traditional marker, age 65 (retirement age is close to 60).
Because, on average, we live another 20 years, the period after retirement it is now a full stage of life.
Retirement depends on governments offering old age programs enabling their citizens to live without working.
Therefore, in countries without government-sponsored programs (mainly in the developing world), people must stay on the job until they physically can’t work.
A mushrooming number of nations offer government funded retirement programs, but their adequacy varies
Scanning Some Countries
Germany: wonderful government support
System designed to to keep people financially comfortable, so govt. replaces about 75% of one’s pre-work income (through payroll taxes, much like U.S.)
Stipends indexed to standard of living increases, so people get more financially comfortable with age
Hong Kong: little government support
While traditionally children took care of their parents, the norm is now shifting, the government hasn’t stepped in, and older people are anxious about their fate.
The U.S.: meager government support, varied economic situations, and deteriorating income over time (see next slide)
U.S. Retirement Sources of Income
Social Security: government-run
Pay into it and get funds when we retire
Designed to keep people from being destitute, not to fund a comfortable life
The only income source for most low wage workers
Becomes a larger piece of retirement income over time
Pensions: often employer-linked
Employers and/or employees put money into retirement account
Fewer employers offering traditional employer-financed pensions
Not available at low wage jobs
Expected to play a heavy role in financing US retirement (in contrast to the large govt. role in EU welfare states)
U.S. Retirement, cont.
Result of U.S. policies:
Income inequalities during our work lives persist in retirement.
As health care costs mount, and people spend their pension income, many people become dependent just on Social Security, which is inadequate as a sole source of income.
Conclusion: People (even those once middle class) are at risk of sliding into poverty during their old-old years; furthermore, many of these people are women and minorities.
Why People Decide to Retire
I have the money to live without working. (top ranking motivation)
I physically cannot work. (more apt to occur among low income workers—especially those in physically demanding jobs)
I’ve been lured to retire early by pensions….. But if I don’t take that pension, they may eliminate my job.
Conclusion: Age discrimination at work is illegal, but more expensive older workers can be enticed to leave their jobs.
Why people decide NOT to retire
They love their jobs.
Most likely to be high income workers in flow- inducing careers.
Sometimes they need to keep working for financial reasons. (or return to work)
One in 10 workers in the U.S. do not retire at 65.
Retirement Effects, The Retirement Life
Most people who choose to leave work (without being pressured to leave) love being retired—although it may take them some time to find their niche.
Retirees use this time to fulfill their passions, to be of service, to start new unpaid careers.
Many travel, get education—they don’t disengage from life.
Many people draw on their previous identities to construct satisfying lives.
Unfortunately, however, some need to return to work after retirement to make ends meet.
The Main Retirement Problems
High rates of poverty in the old-old (and among people who enter retirement relying just on Social Security).
Implicit age discrimination—with older (more expensive) workers still being pressured to leave
Possibly not having the money to keep Social Security financially afloat in 20 or 30 years when all the baby boomers are in retirement
Old-age dependency ratio 3:1 in 2010 (vs. 16:1 in 1950)
FEWER EMPLOYERS OFFERING PENSIONS AND CRUSHING HEALTH CARE COSTS (ensuring more people entering, and living in retirement poor)
Loss of a spouse is one of the major challenges of this period of life.
People often experience stages of grief:
Obsession with the loved one and the events surrounding the death
Impulse to search for one’s spouse (mirroring the attachment response that occurs in infancy)
Feeling that the spouse is physically there: continuing bonds
Other Facts About Mourning
People gradually remake a new life, but the process normally takes at least a year or more.
Turning to religion helps (and many people do become more religious) within the first six months.
While the memory of the spouse evokes feelings of pain, after 2 years or when people are in the recovery (working model) phase they can think about their partner with bittersweet feelings.
People vary in the extent to which they are able to construct a new, satisfying life.
Who Tends to Have Special Trouble?
Men—especially old-old men
Anyone with limited options for remaking a new life.
People highly dependent on just a spouse, although sometimes traditional women experience increase in self-esteem after they find out they can handle life on their own.
People in male-dominated cultures (like the Igbo of West Africa) where families punish new widows through hair-raising practices (see the text).
New Research Message: Widowed People are Resilient
Most people—men and women—adjust to this trauma very well.
So don’t infantilize widowed people, or insist they go to a widows’ support group
Feeling self efficacy “I can handle this” is empowering at any time of life. Offer help but don’t take care of everything (recall the principles of scaffolding.)