The other day my thoughts ran to thinking about developmental stages. I was remembering all the specific age-related stages and development tasks I’d learned in my Pediatrics courses dealing with the first two decades. Strange . . . . try as I might, I couldn’t remember anything the developmental theorists had said about the last two decades (but then you know what they say about memory in people my age.) Well, time to look up developmental stages/tasks in old age. To say I was disappointed is too mild. I was angry. I was sure I’d been developing quite remarkably in recent decades, where were the theorists?
Erickson, I found, touched lightly on the last decades, describing the stage in three words. “integrity vs. despair”. He wrote that it involved reminiscing about one’s life and then feeling either contentment or dissatisfaction with that life.
Well, I’d done that without even realizing it. I’d even written some childhood memoirs. Now I learned that I was one of the “integrity” contented ones. Could that possibly be the only developmental task for all these years? Did children and adults have the corner on the major market of developmental tasks? That smacked rankly and unpleasantly of ageism.
With a bit more digging, I found Havighurst who offered a series of developmental tasks for the elderly. They addressed some of the areas I recognized in my life and a couple I rejected such as establishing relationships with people my age. All the people in my life are one, two and occasionally three generations younger than me. And that suits me just fine. It bothered me too that he approached these tasks in a way that had a dead-end feel (pardon the expression). Do it and be done. That is certainly not what I am experiencing. To my mind, regardless of the level of our health and wellbeing, life goes on in these last years and so, to my mind does developing. So logic suggests that developmental tasks should do that too, promoting our ongoing development at whatever level that is possible for whatever time available.
Thoroughly dissatisfied, I’ve decided to “put my money where my mouth is”. I went to work building my own list of “developmental tasks” related to common presenting challenges—as I (and I guessed others), were encountering them. I found that almost all are ongoing, as both I and things around me keep on changing.
Not withering on the vine, but actively engaging, still “OK” with being green, still growing in whatever way is possible for us.
Please read this as a “work in progress”, play with them even as you are reading them. Make your own list.
Elderly: do the tasks “feel” on point to you? How are you managing them? Do some not fit? Have you found others?
Yet-To-Be-Elderly: test them by imagining yourself as an elder engaging with them at different levels of health and wellbeing. Can you think of others? Are there some that don’t “belong”? Chat with elders to learn about their reactions or ideas about some of the developmental tasks that seem relevant to them.
My List of Developmental Tasks of Late Life
(and examples in my own life)
*Note that the verbs used are in the active voice with an “ing” ending.
These DT’s are ongoing.
Learning to “live in my own skin” – developing a harmony between my self -image and the reality of my age- related changes as in, beauty vs wrinkles, hair color/loss, sagging parts; athleticism vs loss of muscle mass, slowed reflexes, dimming vision etc. What’s important in your self image? What age related changes would/do threaten them?
Finding /maintaining/modifying satisfying roles and relationships as my functional capacities change my children are beginning to parent me. The auto repair person felt free to call me “mother.” At times I find myself an outlier in a group (invisible?)
Discovering, modifying or creating fulfilling outlets for my skills and talents as my capacities change and opportunities for using them are less available can’t formally teach but can mentor; can’t reach the ground to garden, but can maintain hanging baskets and containers etc.
Finding an ongoing sense of adventure and achievement in managing even little tasks in daily living as they are affected by my changing functional capacities. devising new strategies, substituting a different way of doing them or substituting different versions or settings for the activity
Learning 1) how to accept offered assistance in ways that make both of us feel positive about the encounter people want to help I suggest ways that work best. I give specific grateful feedback 2) how to ask for it this one is harder for me, but I keep working on it
Making a conscious shift from functioning on auto-pilot to being mindful of connecting my body (or body part) with its immediate environment, this too is a work in progress. I try, and am getting better, but there still are lapses in mindfulness. I’ve been lucky so far at not having serious fall out from them.
Attending purposefully to maintaining a healthy and satisfying state of sensory input for myself in times of solitude and in the midst of others . On my own, I find lots of things to think about and distractions/activities that please me. Love reading. When I feel alien in a crowd, I people watch and engage with interest when the opportunity presents itself
Identifying and respecting my gifts of experience, knowledge, perspective, expertise, skills developed over the years and finding ways to appropriately utilize/ share them. I spend time on my own thinking about them, so that I have ideas available to adapt to presenting situations . I try to be watchful for signs of becoming a boring person who lives in the past or being a presumptuous “know-it-all”.
Mentoring the next generations in the challenges and richness of aging in ways that are acceptable to them. I find this too takes thoughtful preparation with stories (funny or otherwise)
Adapting to living as a single elder with the death/loss of spouse, other relatives or close companions I think each person has to figure this out. I know I did not label myself as a “widow”, but as a newly single female elder with a lot to learn and time to learn it. I welcome empathy not pity. I think problems come when the losses come close together so one does not have time to recover from one before another one happens.
Acknowledging and doing the grief work for ongoing losses associated with the effects of aging. To date I’ve experienced many more “mini” losses than big ones and it seems healthy to recognize them, experience the needed grief and then move on to see how to adapt to life without them. I wonder how I’ll manage if or when a major loss occurs. Will I have resilience then?
Coming to terms with the reality of mortality as a part of living including engaging with the practical issues and associated planning for myself and others. Here, I think each person has to do it in a personal way. I had less trouble with it than my children and grandchildren did when I initially brought it up, including end of life wishes. (They thought I was being ghoulish) Over time, they’ve become accustomed to my attitude. I’ve made convenient lists for where things are and have negotiated with them as I prepared necessary legal documents with copies for each family.