Why It Matters: Late Adulthood

Why explain development and change through late adulthood?

News photograph of Jeanne Calment celebrating her 121st birthday
Figure 1Calment celebrating her 121st birthday in 1996. She died in 1997 at age 122.

Jeanne Calment was a typical woman of her time. Born in Arles, France, in 1875, she lived a rather unremarkable life by most accounts—except for one thing: when she died in 1997 at the age of 122, she was on record as the oldest person to have ever lived. “I just kept getting older and couldn’t help it,” she once said.

So what does the extraordinary life of this ordinary woman have to do with us today? More than you might think. In her day, living to 100 was extremely rare. But today in the United States, people 100 and over represent the second-fastest-growing age group in the country. The fastest? People over 85. Many 65-year-olds today will live well into their 90s.

Furthermore, because of increases in average life expectancy, each new generation can expect to live longer than their parents’ generation and certainly longer than their grandparents’ generation. Think of it another way: a 10-year-old child today has a 50 percent chance of living to the age of 104. Some demographers have even speculated that the first person ever to live to be 150 is alive today.

As a consequence, it is time for individuals of all ages to rethink their personal life plans and consider prospects for a long life. We need to ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What do we know about longevity?
  • How does our brain and body change during this part of our lifespan?
  • How can I age successfully and enjoy life to the fullest?

In this module we will discuss several different domains of physical, cognitive, psychological and social development, as well as research on aging that will help answer these important questions.


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