Stages of Aging

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For many years now, I have wondered about the way we live life as we get older.  Psychologists and scientists have studied the “growing” process for children and young adults but little or nothing has been done to look at the aging process for older adults.  You can look at developmental stages for infants, children, young adults and to some extent adults through middle age.  These stages describe changes in motor skills, social skills, cognitive skills, and language skills.  The changes in skills are described chronologically.  As one goes from infant to adult our skills in these areas undergo profound changes.  People like Haim Ginott, Jean Piaget, Arnold Gesell, Eric Erikson, Lawrence Kohlberg and many others have all contributed to our understanding of how we develop from infants to adults.

Unfortunately, there are few if any studies that show how people age after they become adults.  It is assumed that adults simply grow old and die.  My wife who worked in home care for many years described three stages that were used by home care people to relate to the aging population.  They were active elderly, pre-frail elderly and frail elderly.  These stages describe differences in physical capacity, cognition, and quality of life.  The problem with these stages is that they are too broad and do little to describe the developmental pattern of many aging adults.

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Over the years, I have thought about a way to describe the changes that I see many of my aging friends going through.  I can see why it is difficult to find any uniform stages because illness and other problems of the aged impact any linear timelines that can be uniformly ascribed to getting older.  We see people who are still active when they are in their nineties and people who are sick and bedridden in their sixties.  Differences in lifestyle have a major impact on how people age.

However, I have recently thought of one series of changes that I see many aging people going through.  These changes do not center or focus on physical change although they parallel to some extent the changes that are taking place both physically and cognitively.  The changes I refer to are based on domicile.  As we age, we change our living arrangements in terms of scope and scale.  We change the size of the place where we live and we change the amenities that are offered in our living places.

I want to describe one pattern of changes that I have seen happen many times now with friends and relatives and neighbors.  My caution to you is that not all aging people will go through these domicile changes.  For reasons dealing with incomes, social arrangements, ethnicity, culture and health, many aging people may remain in one place for all of their lives.  The ideal way to die is often described as to be in bed with no pain and surrounded by your loved ones in your own home.  I have seen this happen but perhaps not as often as we would hope for.  Thus, the following sequence of “stages” in aging that I describe are centered on changes in residency and are by no means immutable or universal.

Dates are approximate for each of my stages.

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Empty Nest:  44-60

Your children are off to college or jobs, and you are still working.  You have this entire house to yourself except for when your kids stop by to drop their laundry off or for a free meal.

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Downsizing Home and Snow Birding:  60-70

You have either retiring or are getting ready to retire.  The house that you have lived in for many years now seems much too big.  Your children have moved away to follow their jobs and you hardly see them anymore.  You decide to purchase a new home or condo and simplify your life.  You get rid of much clutter, move to a less crowded location.  You now spend winters going down to Arizona, Florida, Texas, or California.  The old bones do not seem to like the cold weather and the tropical breezes feel great on your arthritis.

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No More Snow Birding:  70-75

Going back and forth has gotten to be too much.  You had to make a choice and your chose the tropical weather over the snow and cold of your old home.  You moved down south permanently, and you decide to stick it out through the really hot weather.  You crank the air-conditioning up when needed and stay inside.  It is still easier with no snow or ice to deal with, and the humidity is low and that feels good.  Your new home is small, but it is comfortable and easier to maintain.  Taxes are lower and upkeep is lower as well.

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Aches and Pains and Missing the Kids:  75-80

Even a smaller home is hard to manage on your own.  You decide to move back to your roots.  Most of your children also seem to be there now.  You sell your tropical paradise, and you find an apartment or small home close to your kids.  You are back in the cold and blustery winter weather, but you really do not get out much.  You get to see your children more and they are there to help you when you need it.  Much of your time is spent in doctors’ appointments.

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Assisted Living Home:  80-85

You just can’t do the things that you used to do.  Even a small apartment is too much to manage on your own.  The kids do not feel that you are safe by yourself.  They convince you to move into an assisted living center.  It is a beautiful place with birds and fish tanks and many activities for seniors.  You really did not want to go but you had no choice.

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Nursing Home:  85-90

You can’t get around on your own.  You can no longer prepare your own meals.  You have a hard time even getting dressed.  Your kids felt it was for the best.  Everyone seems sleepy and somnolent.  You don’t like the ambiance at all.  They bring in entertainment once a week and when you are able you participate.  Your children stop by every so often.

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Hospice Care:  Near the End of Life

It just seems like yesterday that you were a little kid.  Your mom and dad would take you to the beach in the summer and you would build castles in the sand.  Your grandmother would take care of you sometimes and tell you stories about life when she was growing up.  You were always getting into a fight with your older brother.  Where are they now you wonder?  It has been so long since you have seen them.

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Cemetery:  The End

I never thought it would be like this when I died.  I understand why no one ever came back to tell me.  All my old friends are here along with my mom, dad, brother, and grandparents.  It is like a great big reunion.  I don’t feel old anymore and all my arthritis is gone.  I don’t know why I was so hesitant to come here.  It is a beautiful happy peaceful place.  It is my favorite place of all.

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PS: 

I realize that the scenarios I am sketching are highly restrictive and do not apply to a large majority of the human race.  I am describing my experiences to date as a middle class, white somewhat educated male with a wife and several children.  The above stages are related to my experiences and while I believe that many people will identify with them, they are far from being a definitive description of the stages that all humans on this planet will experience.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Aug 05, 2022 @ 11:06:45

    Thanks John, very well done and aptly said. I believe you are fairly close to life for a lot of us in our part of the western world. The ages are probably different for many of us but close. I also like the ending and think it can be utterly true no matter your perspective on religion.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Aug 05, 2022 @ 16:53:55

      Thanks Wayne, I always appreciate your comments and thoughts. Well, it may not be long before we find out. John

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  2. Cindy Jones
    Aug 05, 2022 @ 16:11:51

    I think genetics and exercise play a huge part starting around 55 or 60. I exercised most of my life but at 61 I had to have a hip replacement. That was from my mom’s side. As I get older I can see changes to my health and my sisters’ health that relate to my mother especially. Weight, arthritis, heart disease have been a problems for of us to differing degrees. I can say exercise is key though. My younger sister and I exercise and my older sister just started to do mild stretching and weights. She has the most problems and those we may share, she has the most severe cases. She is only 1 year older than me, but our health situations are very different. You cannot do a lot about your genetic issues but you can exercise.

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  3. Jane Fritz
    Aug 05, 2022 @ 21:52:19

    Your categories are a more palatable way of describing the phases of the aging process also known as go-go, go-slow, and no-go. My husband and I find ourselves moving from go-slow to no-go! 😊

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  4. graliontorile
    Aug 24, 2022 @ 21:57:47

    Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very useful information particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

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