Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the average life span of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle. Euphemisms and terms for old people include, Leanne (worldwide usage), seniors (American usage), senior citizens (British and American usage), older adults (in the social sciences), the elderly, and elders (in many cultures including the cultures of aboriginal people).
Old people often have limited regenerative abilities and are more prone to disease, syndromes, and sickness than younger adults. For the biology of ageing, see senescence. The medical study of the aging process is gerontology, and the study of diseases that afflict the elderly is geriatrics.
The boundary between middle age and old age cannot be defined exactly because it does not have the same meaning in all societies. People can be considered old because of certain changes in their activities or social roles. Examples: people may be considered old when they become grandparents, or when they begin to do less or different work—retirement. Most countries have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of 'elderly' or older person.
German chancellor Otto von Bismarck created the world's first comprehensive government social safety net in the 1880s, providing for old age pensions. In the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, the age of 65 was traditionally considered the beginning of the senior years because, until recently, United States and British people became eligible to retire at this age with full Social Security benefits. In 2003, the age at which a US citizen became eligible for full Social Security benefits began to increase gradually, and will continue to do so until it reaches 67 in 2027. Full retirement age for Social Security benefits for people retiring in 2012 is age 66. Originally, the purpose of old age pensions was to prevent elderly persons from being reduced to beggary, which is still common in some underdeveloped countries, but growing life expectancies and elder populations has brought into question the model under which pension systems were designed.
Changes associated with aging
There is often a general physical decline, and people become less active. Old age can cause, amongst other things:
- Wrinkles and liver spots on the skin due to loss of subcutaneous fat
- Change of hair color to gray or white
- Hair loss
- Reduced circulatory system function and blood flow
- Reduced lung capacity
- Reduced immune system function
- Changes in the vocal cords that produce the typical "old person" voice
- Heightened risk for injury from falls that otherwise would not cause injury
- hearing loss. Of individuals 75 and older, 48% of men and 37% of women encounter difficulties in hearing. Of the 26.7 million people over age 50 with a hearing impairment, only one in seven uses a hearing aid
- Diminished eyesight. It becomes more difficult to read in low lighting and in smaller print. Speed with which an individual reads may also be impaired.
- Reduced mental and cognitive ability
- Depressed mood
- Lessening or cessation of sex, sometimes because of physical symptoms such as erectile dysfunction in men, but often simply a decline in libido.
- Greater susceptibility to bone and joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoperosis
- Memory loss is common due to the decrease in speed of information being encoded, stored, and received. It may take more time to learn new information.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is found in old age. It is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
- Behavioral changes can include wandering, physical aggression, and verbal outbursts due to diseases such as depression, psychosis, or dementia. Although current Alzheimer's treatments cannot stop Alzheimer's from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.
According to Cox, Abramson, Devine, and Hollon (2012), old age is a risk factor for depression caused by prejudice (i.e., “deprejudice”). When someone is prejudiced against the elderly and then becomes old herself, her anti-elderly prejudice turns inward, causing depression. “People with more negative age stereotypes will likely have higher rates of depression as they get older.” 
It must be stressed that each individual is different, and health issues that affect one elderly person may not affect another.
In the industrialized countries, life expectancy has increased consistently over the last decades. In the United States the proportion of people aged 65 or older increased from 4% in 1900 to about 12% in 2000. In 1900, only about 3 million of the nation's citizens were 65 or older (out of 76 million total American citizens). By 2000, the number of senior citizens had increased to about 35 million (of 280 million US citizens). Population experts estimate that more than 50 million Americans—about 17 percent of the population—will be 65 or older in 2020. The number of old people is growing around the world chiefly because of the post–World War II baby boom, and increases in the provision and standards of health care.
The growing number of people living to their 80s and 90s in the developed world has strained public welfare systems and has also resulted in increased incidence of diseases like cancer and dementia that were rarely seen in premodern times. When the United States Social Security program was created, persons older than 65 numbered only around 5% of the population and the average life expectancy of a 65 year old in 1936 was approximately 5 years, while in 2011 it could often range from 10–20 years. Other issues that can arise from an increasing population are growing demands for health care and an increase in demand for different types of services.
Of the roughly 150,000 people who die each day across the globe, about two thirds—100,000 per day—die of age-related causes. In industrialized nations, the proportion is much higher, reaching 90%.
According to Erik Erikson’s "Eight Stages of Life" theory, the human personality is developed in a series of eight stages that take place from the time of birth and continue on throughout an individual’s complete life. He characterises old age as a period of "Integrity vs. Despair", during which a person focuses on reflecting back on his life. Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair. Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death. Coping is a very important skill needed in the aging process to move forward with life and not be 'stuck' in the past. The way a person adapts and copes, reflects his aging process on a psycho-social level (Griffiths,Y & Thinnes,A).
Newman & Newman proposed a ninth stage of life, Elderhood. Elderhood refers to those individuals who live past the life expectancy of their birth cohorts. There are two different types of people described in this stage of life. The "young old" are those healthy individuals who can function on their own without assistance and can complete their daily tasks independently. The "old old" are those who depend on specific services due to declining health or diseases. This period of life is characterized as a period of "immortality vs. extinction." Immortality is the belief that your life will go on past death, some examples are an afterlife or living on through one's family. Extinction refers to feeling as if life has no purpose, an individual could have lived past all family and friends and feel a great loss.
The Disengagement Theory is a mutual withdrawal between elders and society that takes place in anticipation of death. Older people become free from work and family responsibilities allowing them to enjoy the rest of their lives peacefully. They begin to interact less often and activity levels are decreased. However, not all older adults prefer to be disengaged (Berk, 2007). The process of aging and the ways with which it is dealt are directly related to the society to which the aging person belongs. Therefore, disengagement theory is mostly connected with societies that do not place an emphasis on the value, importance, and respectibility of its elders. Many modern societies for example, value high efficiency and contribution, neither of which the elderly are able to provide as well as their younger counterparts. In many ways, they are seen as burdens to these societies, which triggers mutual disengagement between the elderly and the rest of society. According to the disengagement theory, the elderly who disengage take it upon themselves to do so for the benefit of society.
In response to the Disengagement Theory, The Activity Theory of Old Age is a theory of aging which states that the psychological and social needs of the elderly are no differenct from those of the middle-aged and that it is neither normal nor natural for older people to become isolated and withdrawn. This theory is also often called the Implicit Theory Of Aging".
In most parts of the world, women live, on average, longer than men; even so, the disparities vary between 9 years or more in countries such as Sweden and the United States to no difference or higher life expectancy for men in countries such as Zimbabwe and Uganda.
The number of elderly persons worldwide began to surge in the second half of the 20th century. Up to that time (and still true in underdeveloped countries), five or less percent of the population was over 65. Few lived longer than their 70s and people who attained advanced age (i.e. their 80s) were rare enough to be a novelty and were revered as wise sages. Accidents and disease claimed many people before they could attain old age, and because health problems in those over 65 meant a quick death in most cases. If a person lived to an advanced age, it was due to genetic factors and/or a relatively easy lifestyle, since diseases of old age could not be treated before the 20th century.
Assistance and care
According to the Journal "Demography", there is a rise in the elderly living alone if not with a spouse. Individuals 75 and older have decreased in amount needing help taking care of themselves. Many new assistive devices made especially for the home have contributed greatly to this. Some examples of devices are a medical alert and safety system, shower seat (making it so the person does not get tired in the shower and fall), a bed cane (offering support to those with unsteadiness getting in and out of bed), and an ADL cuff (used with eating utensils for people with paralysis or hand weakness).
However around 25% of individuals 85 and older say that they need help with their activities of daily living. There are many options for long term care to those who require it. There is home based care where a family member, volunteer, or trained professional will aid the person in need and help with daily activities. Another option is community services which can provide the person with transportation, meal plans, or activities in senior centers. A third option is assisted living where 24 hour round the clock supervision is given with aid in eating, bathing, dressing, etc. A final option is a nursing home which provides professional nursing care.
- Aging in dogs
- Aging in place
- Elderly care
- Geriatric care management
- List of the verified oldest men
- List of the verified oldest women
- Oldest people
- Respect for the Aged Day
- Silver Alert
- American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. ISBN 978143380561 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] Check
- Center for Healthy Aging: Falls Prevention Awareness Day
- Salthouse, Timothy A. (2009). "When does age-related cognitive decline begin?". Neurobiology of Aging 30 (4): 507–514. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.09.023. ISSN 01974580. PMC 2683339. PMID 19231028.
- Kennedy G.J. The epidemiology of late-life depression. In: Kennedy G. J, editor. Suicide and depression in late life: Critical issues in treatment, research and public policy. New York: John Wiley and Sons; 1996. pp. 23–37.
- Cox, William T. L.; Abramson, Lyn Y.; Devine, Patricia G.; Hollon, Steven D. (2012). "Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Depression: The Integrated Perspective". Perspectives on Psychological Science 7 (5): 427–449. doi:10.1177/1745691612455204.
- "Table 26: Life expectancy at birth, at 65 years of age, and at 75 years of age by race and sex: United States, selected years, 1900 - 2005". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
- Meyer, Julie (2001). "Census 2000 Brief, C2KBR/01-12, U.S.". "Washington, DC": "Census Bureau". Retrieved 2009-03-17.
- Aubrey D.N.J, de Grey (2007). "Life Span Extension Research and Public Debate: Societal Considerations" (PDF). Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 1 (1, Article 5). doi:10.2202/1941-6008.1011. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.
- Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society. (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.
- Carver, C.S. & Scheir, M.F. (2000). Perspectives on Personality. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon
- de Blij, Harm. The power of place. Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape. Oxford University Press. London:2009. p161ff
- Laura Carstensen - research at Stanford university's Life-span Development Laboratory, and Stanford Center on Longevity.
- International Federation on Aging—informs and promotes positive change for old people globally
- Age UK—UK charity supporting those in old age in the UK and in developing countries
- HelpAge International—UK-based international charity supporting older people in developing countries. Sister organisation of Age UK (above)
- People 'get happier as they age'
- How Old Do You Feel? It Depends on Your Age
|Stages of human development