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New Book: Shedding Light On Older Adulthood


a journey called aging

A new study reveals that middle-aged and older people, who develop a long-term vision to meet future challenges, live better and longer.

Based on interviews with a representative sample of 74 adults aged 61 to 94, the study examines the emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of aging from the perspective of those telling the stories. In other words, how aging feels on the inside.

The study by James Fisher (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Henry Simmons (Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia) is published in A Journey Called Aging (Haworth Press, 2007).

Knowing the territory of older adulthood

The researchers divide the lengthy stage of older adulthood into a sequence of five periods, including two transitions and two stable periods, as follows:

1. Extended middle age is the first period of older adulthood, and commonly begins with retirement. This is a stable period during which retirees focus on launching a new life chapter and achieving new goals. According to the authors, it may be as short as a few months or as long as a decade or more. Persons over 65, who maintain a middle-aged mind-set, tend to have better health and higher morale than those who identify themselves as old or elderly. They are also more likely to be active and involved in satisfying activities.

2. Early transition marks the second period of older adulthood. It may be triggered by a serious illness, the loss of a spouse or the need to relocate. During this period, older adults are forced to put work and volunteer and leisure activities on hold. For example, when "Mo’s" wife "Nancy" was diagnosed with a rare lung condition, it changed his life. Mo, 79, explained, "I go home after the gym and stay at home. I’ve given up going to ball games or anywhere else without her. You know, you’re just afraid what you might find when you went home if you stayed away too long."

3. Older adult lifestyle: Losses suffered during early transition mean saying good-bye to midlife dreams and moving to an older adult lifestyle. However, older adults are surprisingly resilient, according to the researchers. They dust off their dreams and focus their energies on creating a lifestyle that allows them to flourish in spite of the losses. Some embark on new ventures. The authors tell the story of a man, who opened a ceramics studio at the age of 80, fulfilling a life-long dream. And a retired health care administrator, who after her husband’s death, got a "new lease on life" working as a volunteer nurse in a downtown parish.

4. Later transition: For most people, this second transition comes gradually after a long and healthy older adulthood. However, the researchers report that it may also arrive abruptly with a fall or serious illness.

5. Final period: Most people require various levels of assistance to live independently, during this period. According to the authors, many adapt to the new situation by learning new ways of accommodating and managing. They change old routines, leave more time for tasks and find appropriate assistive devices as they move into a final stable period.

The authors conclude that middle-aged and older adults who anticipate and plan ahead are in the best position to deal with the challenges and to pursue the possibilities offered by long life.