VITAL INVOLVEMENT IN OLD AGE by Erik H.; Joan M. Erikson & Helen O. Kivnick Erikson


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Noted for his analyses of the stages of the human life cycle, Erikson, himself an octogenarian, deals here with life's eighth and final stage. American society has not yet established a framework in which older people can be truly involved with life. They are frequently forced into retirement while still in their productive years; they cannot fill the traditional ""wise elder"" role because their children and grandchildren have knowledge and interests not usually those of the older generation. They are thus, says Erikson, forced to cast about on their own for some ""comfortable way to 'spend: whatever money and time they have in the 20 or more possible years of aging."" Our society's glorification of independence rather than interdependence, he contends, mitigates against the elderly, who are an ever-growing group without any true societal role. Interestingly, however, the older people he features in this book seem to be coping better than most. Their lives have been followed off and on since 1928 as part of a child development study in Berkeley, California. Erikson and his co-authors interviewed these oldsters in depth to determine how they were coping during their final years. They found that the majority have no regrets about how they lived their lives and are proud of their children and grandchildren. A surprising number have contrived to find activities that give them enjoyment or contribute to the community. One woman, who boarded Asian students, found herself with a constantly changing ""new family"" of young people concerned for her welfare. Although the subjects of this study are, on average, financially and emotionally better off than most older Americans, their experiences illuminate both the potential resiliency of old age and society's tendency to isolate its elders from the mainstream.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1986
Publisher: Norton