The developmental needs of the elder adult make up relatively new territory. It wasn’t that long ago that the average life expectancy was about 40 years. The elder adult begins this stage of life at about 60 years and extends into the early 80’s. Some individuals remain very active and vibrant well into their 90’s. As the average life expectancy extends even beyond the century mark, developmental needs and tasks will likely be reinterpreted.
During this phase of life, the children have grown, moved out and have started a family of their own. The career is winding down. It is a culminating period. The end of life is near. The issues of closure and completion begin to become predominant. Unfinished tasks and unsaid words may become important. The major task at this stage of life is to actualize the self, to integrate the wide range of experience gained over the many decades; to assimilate and synthesize all that has been learned. This amalgamation of experience yields a wisdom which can be handed over to younger generations.
Unfortunately, our modern culture is extremely youth oriented. The wisdom and knowledge of the self actualized elder adult is often ignored or neglected by the younger generation in favor of the newest trend or the latest fad. An elder adult may experience loneliness, uselessness and despair. Some of the activities which can help the elder adult meet the challenges and needs of this stage include:
- Volunteer in the community in ways which allow working with younger generations
- Enjoy quiet time to reflect upon the life that has been lived, the stages that have been passed through, the connections between them and ways in which the complexities of a life lived have woven a pattern which now at this stage can be discerned and appreciated.
- Enjoy social time with friends and family; grandchildren and great grandchildren can bring particular joy and contentment
- Be physically active as much as possible without strain;
- Enjoy the leisure time which comes with retirement in whichever way brings the most happiness.
- If handicapped, bed-ridden or in some way incapacitated, allow others to do for you – be open to receiving the care of others. Remember that they too have developmental needs and caring for others may be a large part of their task – just as it was for you at that stage.
Failure to make the time to integrate the experiences of a lifetime can result in an unfinished life, regrets, a negative attitude and a denial of the reality that has occurred yielding a sense of disgust with one’s life. This can all be countered with introspection, self analysis and meditation. These activities can become an important part of the elder adult’s life and if developed can give tremendous support to the next phase of development.