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As people age, many of their relationships change and develop. In this lesson, we’ll examine relationships in late life, including those with adult children, siblings, and spouses, as well as the types of single older adults.

Late Adulthood

Rosie is in her 80s, and life is generally good. She has lots of friends and family who she sees regularly, and her social calendar is pretty full. But Rosie has noticed that some of her relationships have changed over time. When she looks at how she related to some of her loved ones 20 years ago and how her relationship with them is now, it’s pretty surprising!Rosie is in late adulthood, which is the time of life after age 65.

During this time, many people find (as Rosie has) that their personal relationships have changed. While relationships with friends and family can change at any point in life, there are some things that are specific to late life. Let’s look closer at relationships in late adulthood, including relationships with family and being alone.

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One of the things that Rosie has noticed is the way that she relates to her family. For example, she used to be the caretaker of her daughters.

Whenever they skinned their knees or had their hearts broken, Rosie was there to help them out, offer cocoa and cookies and some advice. But lately, all that seems to have changed. Now her daughters don’t come to her when they need someone to take care of them; instead, they come to her to take care of her!Relationships with adult children are often vastly different from the way they were when the children were younger. As people age, they become less mobile and sometimes have to deal with things like tight finances or memory loss.

As a result, many older adults have to deal with not being the caretaker in the relationship. Instead, they become the one who is being taken care of.This has been a difficult thing for Rosie to face. It hurts her pride that she needs help, especially from people who she diapered and took care of for so many years. Rosie’s reaction is common; many people find that the changing relationship with their adult children makes them feel frustrated or inadequate. Open communication is the key to making the changing relationship move smoothly.

Adult children aren’t the only ones that end up with a different type of relationship with older adults. As people age, their relationships with siblings often change. Take Rosie, for example. During most of her life, she and her sister kept in touch, but they weren’t really all that close. But now, her sister is the first person Rosie turns to when she needs help.Siblings can be a source of support in times of need, and some studies have shown that there is a rise in sibling aid during late life. Whether it’s money, time, or just a friendly ear, it seems that people turn to their siblings more and more during late adulthood.

In addition to siblings, relationships with spouses or life partners also become very important in late life. As a source of support, a person’s spouse or partner is usually the first line of defense against bad times. In addition, married older adults have a wider social network and built-in support system when compared to their unmarried counterparts.

Rosie knows this well. She got divorced a couple of decades ago and has been single ever since. When she looks around at her still-married friends, she’s amazed at how many people they know and how busy they are compared with Rosie. It’s like, because they’re part of a couple, they have a social circle that’s twice as big!

Being Alone

Rosie is facing something that many older adults have to face: being alone. Rosie is a divorcee, but that’s not the only reason that people in late adulthood are single.

Widowhood, which occurs after the death of a spouse, can be doubly hard for many people because losing a loved one also means losing your identity as a spouse. Some of Rosie’s friends are going through this very thing. They’ve spent so long as part of a couple that they aren’t sure what to do with themselves when they are alone.In contrast, people who have never been married have a different reaction to life as an older adult. Never-married men are more likely than women to be lonely, perhaps because women find intimacy in their friendships, while men tend not to be as emotionally close with their friends.Regardless of sex, most never-married people create bonds outside of marriage. Take Rosie’s sister: she’s very close to Rosie as well as a few other friends her age.

In addition, she has a relationship with a young woman who lives next door to her that’s kind of like a surrogate mother-daughter relationship.Never-married elderly women report being as satisfied with their lives as married elderly women. Further, some studies have shown that never-married older women have a higher sense of well-being than divorcees or recent widows. So, even though there are some drawbacks to being single, there are some good things about it, too, particularly for women.

Lesson Summary

Late adulthood is the time of life after age 65. During this time, many people find that their relationships with their adult children, siblings, and spouses or life partners change. Further, there are many ways that people can end up alone in late life, including widowhood, divorce, and never having been married.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Identify when late adulthood begins
  • Describe how relationships with adult children, siblings, and spouses change in late adulthood
  • Discuss singlehood for those in late adulthood and how men and women might react differently to it

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