Old Age

Old \’ōld\


Definition: advanced in years or age <an old person>. (Merriam-Webster Online).

Fifty-five or 65 years and older

Physical Development

  • Old age can be broken into three stages: young old (55–65 years of age), middle old (66–85), and old old (85 and older).
  • The bones become more brittle as they lose calcium and other minerals. Similarly, joints become less flexible as the joints lose fluid and cartilage begins to rub together.
  • Though the degree of vision impairment varies among individuals, almost everyone over fifty-five will need glasses at least part of the time.  The most common visual difficulty at this age is focusing on things very close.
  • In old age, sense of touch starts to decline. This decreased ability to detect vibration and pressure may result in injury. In fact, many older people have a reduced sensitivity to pain.
  • Older people are more susceptible to chronic diseases such as diabetes, lung disease, arthritis, and hypertension.

Cognitive Development

  • Evidence indicates that older individuals can train specific, but not general, areas of cognition. Memory training, for instance, has been effective for adults in their 60s through 80s.
  • Physical training can also improve cognition in old age. Research has shown that exercise can enhance brain function and delay brain atrophy.
  • Despite general declines in cognitive performance in old age, reasoning as it applies to complex matters of daily life seems relatively unaffected by normal aging.
  • Cognitive functions such as memory, spatial processing, and attention may decline at different rates among people and within individuals. The rate of decline of a particular function in one person is unlikely to match its rate of decline in another.
  • Technology can help counter the effects of cognitive decline.  For example, computer-aided sensors are being used in cars to detect rear obstructions that older people may have difficulty seeing.

Emotional Development

  • Older more than younger adults are more likely to pursue emotionally meaningful goals. Younger adults tend to pursue goals that expand their horizons or generate new social contacts. As we age, our goals change to accommodate changes in our resources and in our physical selves.
  • Views of the self during aging may influence the course of aging. In a study of people 50 to 94, people with strong, positive attitudes toward the aging self tended to live, on average, 7.5 years longer than those with negative attitudes.

Cultural and Social Development

  • In the United States during the 20th century, the average retirement age fell from 74 to 63.
  • As we age, our social networks tend to shrink and a larger proportion of one’s social network becomes comprised of emotionally close partners. This change in social habits reflects emotional development in old age, where individuals begin prioritizing emotional goals.

Next: Driving at Different Ages