Sample Psychology Essays on Aging: Late Adulthood


Development refers to a progressive series of changes occurring in an orderly and predictable pattern as a result of maturation and experience amongst individuals. The development of humans is a continuous process from conception to death. Developmental psychology focuses on understanding age-related changes in behavior and experience of individuals. Although most developmental theories specifically focus on children, the development of human beings is a continuous process beginning from conception to death. Developmental psychologists including Erickson and Havighurst critiqued the process of human development from conception to death. However, other psychologists including Freud argue that human development is only essential at the childhood stage. Erickson, in his theory of development, stated that human development occurs in eight psychosocial stages including; prenatal stage, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, mature adulthood, and old age. Individuals in these stages have different changes in behavior and experience. This paper explores the age-related changes in memory, brain, cognitive development, and socioemotional development of individuals in the late adulthood psychosocial stage.

Changes in Brain

The aging process contributes to changes and lowering of the brain’s functions. Hence, it leads to various problems such as decreased intellectual function and loss of memory. The mentioned problems are rampant amongst individuals in the late adulthood stage (Papalia, Olds, & Feldman, 2007). Despite association with such problems, individuals in the late adulthood stage are also at risk of various diseases such as mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular disease, among others (Papalia et al., 2007). While various studies critique diseases affecting individuals at the late adulthood stage, some studies critique how an individual’s brain changes when aging. According to Papalia et al., (2007, reduction in an individual’s brain size and loss of brain plasticity is often as a result of molecular changes in the brain. Brain plasticity refers to the ability of an individual’s brain to change continuously as he or she ages. The function of the brain is to decide what is information can occupy an individual’s mind. Therefore, in the event of unnecessary information in an individual’s mind, the function of the brain is to eliminate it and create space for relevant information.

An individual’s brain size and composition change correspondingly with the function when aging. Reduction in an individual’s brain size and loss of plasticity is associated with late adulthood. According to Papalia et al., (2007), the brain begins to lose neurons, which occurs at different rates with various area cerebral cortex when an individual reaches the old age stage. Papalia et al., (2007) posits that some areas such as frontal lobe and corpus callosum tend to lose neurons more quickly than others like temporal. The frontal lobe is the part responsible for the integration of information, synthesis of information, judgment, and thought. Corpus callosum is responsible for the cognitive performance within an individual’s brain (Papalia et al., 2007). Another part of an individual’s brain in late adulthood that loses neurons is the cerebellum. The cerebellum of individuals in late adulthood often loses 25 percent of neuronsbrain (Papalia et al., 2007). This creates an imbalance in brain coordination.

Changes in Memory

As individuals reach the old age stage, they begin losing their memory. According to Papalia et al., (2007), older adults tend to have a harder time remembering some recent events and attending to information. In the process of aging, older adults tend to lose their working memory, but their procedural memory usually remain the same throughout their lifetime. An individual possesses three types of memory throughout their life: procedural memory, working memory, and semantic memory brain (Papalia et al., 2007).

Procedural memory is a form of memory residing below an individual’s level of conscious awareness (Papalia et al., 2007). It is a memory of performance that guides an individual on what actions to or not to perform. Procedural memory is the same in all the eight stages of development an individual undergoes throughout their life. Contrary, to procedural memory, working memory is a type of memory that holds various pieces of transitory information within an individual’s mind where it can be easily synthesized and evaluated. Loss of working memory amongst individuals in late adulthood is often evident when they engage in complex tasks. Conversely, semantic memory remains stable throughout an individual’s life. Papalia et al., (2007), argues that semantic memory is a type of memory that underlies the conscious collection of factual information and general knowledge about the world. Besides, older adults tend to experience significant changes in their sensory register. In late adulthood, individuals often encounter small decrements in the sensitivity of their senses to the extent that they are unable to hear or see. However, it is believed that many older adults are unable to recall events because of poor memory, but that is not true. Rather, the fact that they are unable to remember things is because they either did not witness the events or hear the information regarding such events.

Cognitive Development

As individuals age into late adulthood, they experience abnormal loss of cognitive functioning. They encounter a decline in memory (Salthouse, 2009). This is a rampant problem in this stage due to various factors such as a decrease in the mind’s speed of decoding, storage, and retrieval of information. Salthouse, (2009), posits that the mentioned factors lead to short-term retention of information and negatively impact the old adults’ ability to learn new things. In most cases, absent-mindedness amongst such individuals is associated with various disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and delirium.

Dementia refers to a persistent disorder of an individual’s mental processes that is associated with poor memory, and judgement. Salthouse (2009), contends that an individual might experience dementia before old age although the disorder is rampant in this particular stage. Some of the common symptoms of memory disorder include; memory problems especially an individual experiencing difficulty in remembering the most recent events, reduced concentration, and loss of ability to perform various tasks. Although dementia is becoming more common within the global population, it is more common among individuals within the late adulthood stage aged 65 years and above. By 2015, dementia had affected approximately 46 million individuals globally (Szymanowska, 2019). Notably, 10 percent of this population included individuals who had not reached late adulthood stage (Szymanowska, 2019). Hence, this phenomenon becomes more common with age. In the remaining 90 percent, it is estimated that 3 percent were individuals aged between 65-74 years who have dementia, individuals aged 75-84 years comprised 19 percent of the population, and the remaining percentage comprised of individuals aged 85 years and above (Szymanowska, 2019).Thus, dementia is common as an individual grows older.

Delirium is another disorder common in the late adulthood stage. The disorder is associated with various symptoms such as disturbed sleep habits, hallucinations, agitation. Delirium also involves psychomotor, emotional, and perceptual disturbances (Szymanowska, 2019). Psychomotor disturbances include hyperactive and hypoactive disturbances. Perceptual disturbances, on the other hand, include hallucinations and delusions. These features are most common amongst individuals in the late adulthood stage. According to Szymanowska, (2019), delirium is mostly experienced by older adults who are in post-acute settings, or who are in intensive care units. Older adults who suffer from the disorder are often at risk of death.

Alzheimer’s disease is another rampant disorder that is experienced by individuals in their late adulthood stage. According to Salthouse, (2009), Alzheimer’s disease contributes to over 60 percent of dementia cases. Salthouse, (2009), argues that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that contributes to degeneration of an individual’s brain cells. The disease also occurs before old age, and individuals from other developmental stages are at minimal risk of developing the disease. Amongst older individuals, symptoms gradually develop and worsen with time, which may affect their ability to perform various tasks. The disease is associated with various symptoms such as memory loss, trouble in understanding visual images and spatial relationships, and difficulty in completing simple tasks (Szymanowska, 2019). Memory loss amongst older individuals is often mild at the early stages of the disease. However, when the condition advances, memory is completely lost and an older individual may find it hard to engage in conversation and respond to the environment.

Despite the disease being common amongst older individuals, its major cause is poorly understood. Notably, most individuals inherit the disease from their parents. Szymanowska, (2019), argue that other risk factors to an older adult developing the disease include an individual’s history of hypertension, head injuries, and depression. It was estimated that people with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015 were 26.3 million although older individuals comprise 80 percent of this population (Szymanowska, 2019). Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be a major public health issue and financially costly disease in the developed countries. Consequently, most individuals suffering from the disease do not seek for medical attention due to financial constraints.

Socioemotional Development

Older adults often encounter many confronting psychological, emotional, and social issues. Some of the issues they encounter include; increased dependency, loneliness and lack of connection, a crisis over integrity verse despair, and acceptance of death. Older people are more dependent on others. Individuals in late adulthood need assistance to meet some of their daily needs as they age. In some societies, older adults are viewed as a burden by their families, friends, relatives, some health professionals; hence, they may end up living with guilt, shame, depression, or shy off from seeking for assistance because of their increased dependency (Papalia et al., 2007). The older adults because they increasingly depend on others for social support and assistance to help them meet their daily needs. Such individuals are often forced to move away from their families, friends, relatives, and communities and seek for assistance in nursing homes; however, they end up experiencing isolation, loneliness, or depression. Older adults are also at risk of psychological and emotional torture due to increased dependency (Papalia et al., 2007). Such forms of abuse often result from caregivers intentionally depriving older adults of care. Notably, one in ten older adults are often subjected to psychological and emotional assault across various health settings in the United States.

Another socioemotional challenge that older people experience is loneliness and lack of connections. As persons inlate adulthood age, social support and friendships dwindle in number (Pulkkinen, Kaprio, & Rose, 2006). The Socioemotional selectivity theory critiques that at this stage, the number of friends reduces as well as the social and emotional support. According to Pulkkinen et al., (2006), many older adults contend with loneliness arising from various reasons such as the loss of a spouse or their family and children might have moved away to live by themselves. Loneliness poses negative impacts on the psychological and emotional health of older adults. However, to counteract loneliness, older adults usually attempt to volunteer in community building services or move to nursing homes to help them bond with others and boost their self-esteem.

Crisis over integrity versus despair represents another socioemotional issue that older adults experience towards the end of life. Many older adults attempt to review the events of their lifetime to evaluate whether or not they achieved various life goals (Papalia et al., 2007). In his theory, Erickson critiques that older adults who believe that they positively contributed towards making society a better place live the end of their lives with a sense of integrity. However, older adults who believe that they did not positively contribute towards impacting other people’s lives positively tend to live the end of their lives with a sense of despair (Papalia et al., 2007). For example, such people are concerned about why they never helped others in society. Consequently, they are likely to engage in volunteering practices to give back to the community.

Persons in late adulthood often accept that death is real, thus, they are prepared to face death. According to Pulkkinen et al., (2006), individuals from other developmental stages have a strong resistance towards ideas related to death, as well as strong emotional reactions such as being sorrowful towards the loss of their loved ones. Notably, older adults have less emotional reactions towards the loss of their loved ones and thus pose less resistance towards the concept of death as they have accepted it as a stage of life that everyone must undergo. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a theory of grief to explain the idea of death. In her theory, Kubler-Ross critiqued that there are five stages in the process of individuals accepting the idea of death including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance stage. In the denial stage, people tend to live as though nothing is wrong; however, they hold various fears and emotions towards death. Besides, in the anger stage, people begin to believe that death is imminent. However, they become angry and blame people around them for what they are experiencing. Furthermore, in the bargaining stage, the anger subsides and fear sets in. At this stage, an individual starts to plead with God for a prolonged life to accomplish more goals. Another stage in the Kubler-Ross theory of grief is depression. In this stage, people start to realize that death is near and they become extremely sad. Often, such individuals lose motivation and the will to live. In the acceptance stage, people welcome the idea that death is real. In the acceptance stage, individuals realize that they are about to die and they decide to spend most their time in voluntary services. Such features are associated with people in the late adulthood stage. However, not everyone passes through all the stages critiqued in Kluber-Ross’ theory of grief. Notably, some individuals die before late adulthood. However, individuals with strong spiritual or religious beliefs tend to have accepted that death is a way through which all forms of life in the world will come to end.


            Development is progressive, and predictable patterns of changes occur in individuals as a result of maturation and experience. Developmental psychology focuses on understanding age-related changes in the behavior and experience of individuals. Although various psychology-related theories critique child development, it is worth noting that various stages of growth exist from conception to death. These stages include; infancy, early childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and late adulthood, among others. Late adulthood is one of the stages that is interesting to learn about. Old adults are perceived to experience significant changes in their memory and brain, cognitive development, and socioemotional development. Individuals in late adulthood often experience degeneration in their memory. Consequently, they find it hard to remember even recent events. In regard to changes in brain, the brain size of older adults is believed to reduce as they age. Some of the affected areas include frontal lobe and corpus callosum. Older adults also experience abnormal loss of cognitive functioning. During old adulthood, individuals tend to encounter various disorders including delirium, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, individuals in late adulthood experience changes in their socioemotional development including crisis over integrity versus despair and lack of social support from the society.



Papalia, D. E., Olds, S. W., & Feldman, R. D. (2007). Human development. McGraw-Hill.

Pulkkinen, L., Kaprio, J., & Rose, R. (2006). Life Course and Health. In L. Pulkkinen, J. Kaprio, & R. Rose (Eds.), Socioemotional Development and Health from Adolescence to Adulthood (Cambridge Studies on Child and Adolescent Health, pp. 263-264). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Salthouse, T. A. (2009). Normal and pathological cognitive aging in late adulthood. Major Issues in Cognitive Aging, 127–148.

Szymanowska, A. (2019). Time perception in late adulthood. Psychological Perspectives on Health and Disease, Vol. 2. Manifestation and Diagnoses of Health Conditions, 125–138.