Aging and the Elderly

Read this chapter for a review of aging and the elderly. As you read through each section, consider the following points:

  • Focus on various social factors affecting the aging experience. What does age represent other than just a number? How might this affect life chances?
  • Take note of the phases of aging (young-old, middle-old, and old-old). Also, make sure you're able to explain the "graying" of the United States.
  • Read about and take note of the biological, social, and psychological changes associated with the aging process. Read about aging and sexuality, comparing this phase of sexuality with those discussed in the chapter on sex and gender. How does the social construction of sexuality change when considering age as a variable? Examine the attitudes associated with death and dying.
  • Read about the historic and current trends of poverty among elderly populations. Focus on ageist attitudes within individuals and institutions. Consider the question: How and why are the elderly so vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse?
  • Read about various theoretical perspectives on aging. Make a list comparing and contrasting the theoretical perspectives to demonstrate the differences between the viewpoints on aging.

Introduction to Aging and the Elderly

 A photo of an old man sitting on a couch eating an ice cream cone with a walker next to him

Figure 13.1 Society's view of the elderly is likely to change as the population ages.

Chapter Outline

  1. Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society
  2. The Process of Aging
  3. Challenges Facing the Elderly
  4. Theoretical Perspectives on Aging

Madame Jeanne Calment of France was the world's oldest living person until she died at 122 years old; there are currently six women in the world whose ages are well documented as 115 years or older.

Supercentenarians are people living to 110 years or more. In August 2014, there were seventy-five verified supercentenarians worldwide - seventy-three women and two men. These are people whose age has been carefully documented, but there are almost certainly others who have not been identified. The Gerontology Research Group (2014) estimates there are between 300 and 450 people worldwide who are at least 110 years of age.

Centenarians are people living to be 100 years old, and they are approximately 1,000 times more common than supercentenarians. In 2010, there were about 80,000 centenarians in the United States alone. They make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.

People over ninety years of age now account for 4.7 percent of the older population, defined as age sixty-five or above; this percentage is expected to reach 10 percent by the year 2050. As of 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 14.1 percent of the total U.S. population is sixty-five years old or older.

The aging of the U.S. population has significant ramifications for institutions such as business, education, the healthcare industry, and the family, as well as for the many cultural norms and traditions that focus on interactions with and social roles for older people. "Old" is a socially defined concept, and the way we think about aging is likely to change as the population ages.

Source: Heather Griffiths and Nathan Keirns for OpenStax,
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