Psychology of Aging

There have been extensive studies into the psychology of aging which examine the impact of growing older on a person's physical and mental wellbeing. Though aging starts right after birth, researchers usually refer to the process as the transition from middle to old age. Some pyschologists believe that aging starts at 40, while others indicate that it is 60. Influencing factors include various personal psychological and physical characteristics.

Aging introduces a number of psychological and physical changes in the human body and engaged researchers in this field of study. The growing population in industrialized countries has become a serious issue in the 21st century. Life expectancy has increased significantly over the 20th century. For example, in 1900 a baby born in an industrialized country would usually live to between 47 and 55, while a baby born in the 21st century would be expected to live to between 76 and 80 years. Longer life expectancy is mainly due to the eradication of diseases which used to kill up to 50 percent of the population in childhood.

A survey by Wilkins and Adams found that up to 75 percent of that "additional" life in the 21st century is spent in pain and suffering from various physical disabilities or incurable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, people in industrialized countries can expect to spend at least 10 percent of their life suffering from a disability.

Studies into the psychology of aging have shown that some mental abilities decline while growing old. Research into short-term memory have proven that it definitely deteriorates with the age. In a task which challenges the short-term memory by making the participants repeat words in reverse order, older people record significantly poorer results that young participants. Furthermore, at least three different methods have shown that the ability of recollection among older participants is impaired and weaker compared to younger people. Recollection refers to the ability to retrieve contextual information about a past event.

As people grow old, their declarative memory for episodic events and experiences also remarkably declines. Meanwhile, the nondeclarative memory, comprising the accumulated knowledge about the general characteristics of people and places, remains substantially unharmed. Older people also face more difficulties in tasks that require conscious or declarative retrieval of particular events and of the context of past events. Older adults also have significant deficits in source information memory. One study has demonstrated that older participants were 10 times more likely to falsely remember misleading information than younger participants.

Apart from memory, aging also takes its toll on people's language and reading skills. The vision of elderly people often weakens, which affects their ability to read. The voice and handwriting of older adults also undergoes changes, not necessarily due to physical factors. The perception deficit which most elderly people suffer can influence the efficiency of information processing. For example, a study showed that a deficit in hearing sensations has a strong impact on the memory. People with hearing loss had troubles remembering a list of spoken words, whereas they managed to remember a list of printed words.

As far as reading is concerned, people tend to keep their reading habits through the years. Young inactive readers would not spend more time on books when they grow old just because they would have more time to read. Older active readers, however, would rather read newspapers and magazines than perhaps undertake some more serious reading. Aging also introduces significant changes in the personality and lifestyle of people. According to the concept of psychological traits, such personality characteristics determine one's behaviour.

German-British psychologist Hans Eysenck argues that personality is determined depending on the extent to which a person displays three psychological traits. These include: psychological traits: extraversion-introversion, known as the E trait; neuroticism, which is called the N trait; and psychoticism, known as the P trait. According to Eysenck, the E, N and P trait change as people grow older, with gender having an important role in the process. For example, P tends to decline in aging, especially among men. Research into the E trait reveals that both men and women get more introverted as they age. The N trait also registers a decrease with the years, although female N scores remain higher.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Psychology of Ageing: An Introduction
Ian Stuart-Hamilton.
Jessica Kingsley, 2006
The Psychology of Growing Old: Looking Forward
Robert Slater.
Open University Press, 1995
Aging and Memory: A Cognitive Approach
Luo, Lin; Craik, Fergus I. M.
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 53, No. 6, June 2008
Ageing Well: Quality of Life in Old Age
Ann Bowling.
Open University Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 6 "Psychological Outlook"
The Epidemiology of Psychological Problems in the Elderly
Streiner, David L.; Cairney, John; Veldhuizen, Scott.
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 51, No. 3, March 2006
Predictors of Psychological Well-Being among Assisted-Living Residents
Cummings, Sherry M.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 27, No. 4, November 2002
Psychological Stressors and Burden of Medical Conditions in Older Adults: A Psychosomatic Approach
Javapour, Ali; Ghetmiri, Ali; Sahraian, Ali; Mani, Arash.
Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 2009
Enhancing a Sense of Independence and Psychological Well-Being among the Elderly: A Field Experiment
Searle, Mark S.; Mahon, Michael J.; Iso-Ahola, Seppo E.; Sdrolias, Heather Adam; Dyck, Joanne van.
Journal of Leisure Research, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 1995
The Handbook of Aging and Cognition
Fergus I. M. Craik; Timothy A. Salthouse.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000 (2nd edition)
Life-Career Re-Engagement: A New Conceptual Framework for Counselling People in Retirement Transition-Part 1
Chen, Charles P.
Australian Journal of Career Development, Vol. 20, No. 2, Winter 2011
Life-Career Re-Engagement: Considerations and Implications for Counselling People in Retirement Transition-Part 2
Chen, Charles P.
Australian Journal of Career Development, Vol. 20, No. 2, Winter 2011
Ageism with Heterosexism: Self-Perceptions, Identity, and Psychological Health in Older Gay and Lesbian Adults
Meisner, Brad A.; Hynie, Michaela.
Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1, 2009
How Spiritual Experience and Development Interact with Aging
Atchley, Robert C.
Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 43, No. 2, July 1, 2011
Contemporary Issues in Gerontology: Promoting Positive Ageing
V. Minichiello; I. Coulson.
Allen & Unwin, 2005
Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Debra J. Sheets; Dana Burr Bradley; Jon Hendricks.
Springer, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Analytic Template in the Psychology of Aging"
Handbook of Communication and Aging Research
Jon F. Nussbaum; Justine Coupland.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (2nd edition)
Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
Raymond F. Paloutzian; Crystal L. Park.
Guilford Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Points of Connection: Gerontology and the Psychology of Religion"
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