Some Facts Related to the Aging Process - II

Answers and Source Summary

(Palmore, 1981; Pratt, Wilson, Benthin, & Schmall, 1992; Rossman & Rossman, 1990)

1. False. Depression is not normal or inevitable in later life. It is no more common than at other stages of life. In a recent epidemiological study of depression among the elderly community population, 19% suffered from mild dysphoria and 8% were more severely depressed (Blazer, Hughes, & George, 1987). Persons who are in long-term care facilities, those who suffer severe medical illnesses, or those who are extremely isolated experience a significantly higher prevalence of severe depression (Blazer, 1990).

2. False. Older adults are less likely than younger adults to spontaneously talk about being depressed (Blazer, 1990). To a large degree, this is a cohort effect, related to the era they were raised in which "you toughed things out" and "pulled yourself up by the bootstrap." They tend to view emotional distress as a sign of weakness (Thompson & Gallagher, 1986).

3. False. Such remarks imply that depression is willful and actually tell people who are depressed that their feelings are wrong or not important (Schmall, Lawson, & Stiehl, 1990). Most important is for family and friends to empathize with the older person while at the same time not reinforcing distorted negative thinking and self--defeating behaviors (Blazer, 1990; Sargent, 1986).

4. False. Older people are less likely to talk directly about suicide. Verbal clues are more likely to be indirect; for example, "you won't have to worry about me much longer," "there's nothing to live for," or "my time has come" (Osgood, 1985; Schmall, Lawson, & Stiehl, 1990).

5. True. While people who are mildly depressed or dysphoric can take actions to reduce their depression, people who are severely depressed usually need help to recover. The low energy and helpless feelings of depression can keep a person from taking the initiative (Schmall, Lawson, & Stiehl, 1990).

6. True. About 70% of persons with severe depression respond to antidepressant medication. Medication is particularly effective when the depression is related to biologic factors (Blazer, 1990). However, older adults are more sensitive to the side effects of antidepressant medication (Salzman, 1984). Other forms of treatment such as cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family therapy can also be effective in treating depression in later life (Zarit & Zarit, 1984). Often both medication and therapy are used.

7. False. Prescribed and over-the-counter medications can intensify the effects of alcohol leading to more rapid intoxication and intensifying the dangers associated with alcohol use (Willenbring & Spring, 1990). For example, when alcohol is taken with sedatives, tranquilizers, hypnotics, and pain relievers, there is a cumulative depressant effect on the central nervous system (Blazer, 1990).

8. True. The central nervous system is especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol. The effects are often subtle and are sometimes mistaken for senile dementia in an older person (Minnis 1990; Schmall, Gobeli, & Stiehl, 1989).

9. False. An alcohol problem is often a strong moral issue for older persons. Feelings of shame, guilt, and stigma are greater and more ingrained than in many younger adults. As a result, denial is often strongest with older persons and the amount of alcohol consumed is more likely to be under-reported (Blazer, 1990; Shipman, 1990).

10. False. A person does not have to want to stop drinking, admit he or she is an alcoholic, or "hit bottom" before he or she can be helped. One of the symptoms of alcoholism is the inability of the afflicted to recognize its severity. Many people with an alcohol problem can be persuaded to seek treatment through a process called "intervention" in which the problem is directly confronted (Dunlop, Manghelli, & Tolson, 1990; Schmall, Gobeli, & Stiehl, 1989).

11. True. Because of several bodily changes, alcohol is metabolized and excreted at a slower rate in the older person. As a result, a given amount of alcohol results in a higher blood alcohol level and quicker intoxication for an older adult than for a younger adult (Schmall, Lawson, & Stiehl, 1990; Willenbring & Spring, 1990).

12. True. Sharon (1971) indicates that the pattern of the scores in different disciplines changes as a function of age. Performance on tests of humanities, social science, and history improves with age, while achievement in mathematics and the natural sciences declines. Knox (1986) notes that performance in learner tasks such as vocabulary and general information improves during adulthood.

13. True. One of the most significant problems in assessing an adult's ability is the degree to which information has been obtained from cross-sectional rather than longitudinal studies. The decline in intellectual function with increasing age intimated by cross-sectional data (Jones & Conrad, 1933; Wechsler, 1955) has not been supported by longitudinal studies, which indicate growth into middle age and beyond. When a wide range of learning abilities is included, the general conclusion is that most adults in their forties and fifties have about the same ability to learn as they had in their twenties and thirties, particularly when they can control the pace (Knox, 1977).

14. True. For normal learning tasks after age fifty, the amount of illumination becomes a critical factor. A fifty-year-old is likely to need 50 percent more illumination than a twenty-year-old (Cross, 1981).

15. True. With increasing age, there is a decrease in the ability of the eye to focus on objects at varying distances. This results mainly from a loss of elasticity in the lens of the eye (Hayslip & Panek, 1989). Between the ages of twenty and fifty, there is typically an appreciable loss of accommodation power and elasticity of the lens, after which the decline is more gradual (Knox, 1977; Rogers, 1986).

16. True. Most individuals above the age of forty will probably show some loss of high-tone perception (Botwinick, 1973; Brant, Wood, & Fozard, 1986; Rogers, 1986).

17. True. Throughout the adult lifetime there is a slowing of the central auditory processes due to auditory stimuli. For this reason many aging individuals find it difficult to follow rapid speech in spite of little or no hearing loss (Hand, 1973; Woodruff-Pak, 1988).

18. False. It is now generally agreed that if there is an age limit on learning performance, it is not likely to occur until around age seventy-five (Kidd, 1973).

19. True. Height does tend to decline with age (Rossman, 1977). Some of these differences are due to cohort differences because later cohorts have tended to be taller than earlier cohorts. However, all the longitudinal studies also show decreases in average height after age 55. This decrease appears to be mainly caused by changes in posture of "slump" and by decreases in the intervertebral discs.

20. True. More persons over 65 have chronic illnesses that limit their activity (43%) than younger persons (10%). The discrepancy is even greater for the percentage with chronic illnesses that limit their major activity (National Center for Health Statistics, 1978).

21. False. Older persons do have less acute illnesses than younger persons: There are 102 acute illnesses per 100 persons over age 65 per year, compared to 230 for persons under 65 (National Center for Health Statistics, 1978). Thus, the higher rate of chronic illnesses among the aged is partially offset by the lower rate of acute illnesses.

22. False. Older persons have fewer injuries in the home than younger persons, 12.5 per 100 persons over 65 per year compared to 14 for those under 65 (National Center for Health Statistics, 1978).

23. True. Older workers do have less absenteeism than younger workers (Mark, 1957). Among men in manufacturing plants, absenteeism is about the same for those over 65 as for those 35 to 64, but absenteeism is higher among those under age 35.

24. True. The life expectancy of Blacks at age 65 is about the same as Whites. In 1978 the average life expectancy at age 65 was 14.0 for White men and 14.1 for non-white men; 18.4 for White women and 18.0 for non-white women (National Center for Health Statistics, 1980).

25. False. The life expectancy of men at age 65 continues to be substantially less than that of women, just as it is at all ages. In 1978, the life expectancy of men at age 65 was 14 years while that of women was 18.4 years (National Center for Health Statistics, 1980).

26. False. Medicare pays less than half of the medical expenses for aged. In 1977, Medicare payments covered 44% of the personal health expenditures of the aged (Gibson & Fisher, 1979).

27. True. Social Security benefits do automatically increase with inflation. Since 1975, Social Security benefits have been automatically increased whenever the Consumer Price Index for the first calendar quarter of a year exceeds by at least 3% the CPI of the preceding year.

28. True. Supplemental Security income does guarantee a minimum income for needy aged. In January, 1981, persons over 65 could receive monthly SSI payments of up to $238 for an individual or $357 for a couple.

29. False. The aged do get their proportionate share of the nation's income. In 1973 the aged received 11.2% of aggregate household money income before taxes, and they constituted 10.4% of the total population (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1974). If taxes and transfer payments are taken into account, the aged receive more than their proportionate share of the total personal income: In 1972 persons age 65 and over received 13.7% of total income after taxes were deducted and transfer payments added (Fried, Rivlin, Schultze, & Teeters, 1973).

30. False. The aged actually have lower rates of criminal victimization than those under 65. Persons over 65 have substantially lower victimization rates in nearly all categories of personal crime: Rape, robbery, assault, and personal theft (U.S. Department of Justice, 1977). The only category in which the rate for older persons is even equal that of younger persons is personal larceny with contact which includes purse snatching and pick pocketing.

31. True. The aged are more fearful of crime, despite their lower rates of victimization. In a nationally representative survey, 23% of those over 65 said that fear of crime was a very serious problem for them compared to 15% of those 18-64 (Harris, 1975). Another national survey found that 51% of those 65 and over compared to 41% of those under 65 answered yes to the question, is there any area right around here where you would be afraid to walk alone at night? (Clemente & Kleinman, 1976). Women, Blacks, and metropolitan aged have especially high proportions fearful of crime.

32. True. The aged are the most law abiding of all adult groups, regardless of how it is measured. For example, persons over 65 have about one tenth their expected arrest rate for all offenses (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1974). Similarly, persons over 65 are incarcerated in prisons and jails at about one tenth their expected rate according to population proportion (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1979).

33. False. There are not just two widows for each widower. Instead there are over five times as many widows as widowers among the aged. In 1978 there were about 6,917,000 widows 65 and over compared to 1,300,000 widowers that age (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1979).

34. False. Less of the aged vote than do middle aged groups. Numerous cross-sectional studies have shown that voting participation increases with age from the 20s to the early 60s and then falls off after age 65 (Hudson & Binstock, 1976). A cross-national study found the same pattern in the United States, Austria, India, Japan, and Nigeria (Nie, Verbe, & Kim, 1974).

35. True. There are proportionately more older persons in public office than in the total population. This appears to be true of all public officials and is even more true of the higher officials, including President, Representatives, Senators, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, and Governors (Lehman, 1953; Metropolitan Statistical Bulletin, 1980; Schlesinger, 1966; U.S. Bureau of Census, 1976).

36. True. The proportion of Blacks among the aged is growing. In 1960, Blacks were 7.1% of all persons 65 and over. In 1980, they were 8.3%. It is estimated that in the year 2000 they will be 9.5% (Williams, 1980).

37. False. Participation in voluntary organizations does not usually decline with age among healthy older persons. A number of recent nationwide surveys have shown that when the effects of socioeconomic differences and health are controlled, age bears little or no relationship to voluntary association participation in middle age or later life (Cutler, 1977). However, declining health does tend to decrease participation.

38. False. The majority of aged do not live alone. In 1975 for example, only 14.2% of men 65 or over lived alone, and only 36.0% of women 65 or over lived alone (Siegel, 1976). The majority live with their spouse.

39. True. About 3% more of the aged have incomes below the official poverty level than the rest of the population. In 1978, that was about 14% of persons 65 or over had incomes below the official government poverty thresholds (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1980).

40. True. The rate of poverty among aged Blacks is about 3 times as high as among Whites. In 1978 the rate of poverty among Blacks 65 or over was 43% compared to 12% for Whites (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1980).

41. False. Older persons who disengage from active roles do not tend to be happier than those who remain active. On the contrary, most surveys and longitudinal studies have found that those who remain active tend to be happier than those who disengage, although some studies found no relationship between activity and happiness (George & Maddox, 1977; Simpson & McKinney, 1966).

42. False. When the last child leaves home, the majority of parents do not have serious problems adjusting to their empty nest. Glenn (1975) concluded that the last child leaving home does not typically have an enduring negative effect. Life satisfaction and happiness can increase significantly after the last child leaves home (Palmore, Cleveland, Nowlin, Ramm, & Siegler, 1979).

43. True. The proportion widowed is decreasing among the aged because of decreasing mortality rates. In 1950, 40.1% of those 65 or over were widowed while in 1978 it was 36.6% (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1979). Apparently, increasing longevity increased the average age of widowhood and thus increases the proportion of years beyond age 65 in which the couple survives as a couple.

44. True. HIV infection and aging contribute equally to a complex immune system dysfunction and to increased morbidity and mortality in older HIV infected individuals. One should not use age as a discouraging factor, however, in treating HIV infection, but as a stimulus to pursue early diagnosis and obtain the best treatment responses and outcomes (Avelino-Silva, V., Ho, Avelino-Silva, T., & Santos, 2010).


Avelino-Silva, V., Ho, Y., Avelino-Silva, T., & Santos, S. (2010). Aging and HIV infection. Aging Research Reviews, 10, 163-172.doi:10.1016/j.arr.2010.10.004.

Blazer, D. (1990). Emotional problems in later life: Intervention strategies for professional caregivers. New York: Springer.

Blazer, D., Hughes, D., & George, L. (1987). The epidemiology of depression in an elderly community population. The Gerontologist, 27, 281-287.

Botwinick, J. (1973). Aging and behavior: A comprehensive integration of research findings. New York: Springer.

Brant, L. J., Wood, J. L, & Fozard, J. L. (1986). Age changes in hearing thresholds. Gerontologist, 26, 156.

Clemente, F., & Kleinman, M. (1976). Fear of crime among the aged. Gerontologist, 16, 207-210.

Cutler, S. (1977). Aging and voluntary associations participation. Journal of Gerontology, 32, 470-479.

Cross, K. P. (1981). Adults as learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dunlop, J., Manghelli, D., & Tolson, R. (1990). Older problem drinkers: A community treatment continuum. Aging, 361, 33-37.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1974). Uniform crime report. Washington, DC: USGPO.

Fried, E., Rivlin, A., Schultze, C., & Teeters, N. (1973). Setting national priorities. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute.

George, L., & Maddox, G. (1977). Subjective adaptation to loss of the work role. Journal of Gerontology, 32, 456-462.

Gibson, R., & Fisher, C. (1979). Age differences in health care spending, fiscal year 1977. Social Security Review, 42, 3-16.

Glenn, N. (1975). Psychological well-being in the post-parental stage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 37, 105-110.

Hand, S. E. (1973). What it means to teach older adults. In A. Hendrickson (Ed.), A manual on planning educational programs for older adults. Tallahassee, FL: Department of Adult Education, Florida State University.

Harris, L. (1975). The myth and reality of aging in America. Washington, DC: Council on the Aging.

Hayslip, B., Jr., & Panek, P. E. (1989). Adult development and aging. New York: Harper & Row.

Hudson, R., & Binstock, R. (1976). Change in voting turnout, 1952-1972. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 39, 52-68.

Jones, H. E., & Conrad, H. S. (1933). The growth and decline of intelligence: A study of a homogeneous group between the ages of ten and sixty. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 13, 223-298.

Kidd, J. R. (1973). How adults learn. Chicago: Association Press.

Knox, A. B. (1977). Adult development and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Knox, A. B. (1986). Helping adults learn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lehman, H. (1953). Age and achievement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mark, J. (1957). Comparative job performance by age. Monthly Labor Review, 80, 1468-1471.

Metropolitan Statistics Bulletin. (1980). Longevity of Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and unsuccessful candidates for the Presidency, 61, 2-8.

National Center for Health Statistics. (1978). Current estimates from the health interview survey (Series 10, No. 126). Washington, DC: USGPO.

National Center for Health Statistics. (1980). Monthly vital statistics report: Final mortality statistics, 1978 (Volume 29, No. 6, Supplement 2). Washington, DC: USGPO.

Nie, N., Verbe, S., & Kim, J. (1974). Political participation and the life cycle. Comparative Politics, 6, 319-340.

Osgood, N. (1985). Suicide in the elderly. Rockville, MD: Aspen.

Palmore, E. (1981). The facts on aging quiz: Part two. The Gerontologist, 21, 431-437.

Palmore, E., Cleveland, W., Nowlin, J., Ramm, D., & Siegler, I. (1979). Stress and adaptation in later life. Journal of Gerontology, 34, 841-851.

Pratt, C. C., Wilson, W., Benthin, A., Schmall, V. (1992). Alcohol problems and depression in later life: Development of two knowledge quizzes. The Gerontologist, 32, 175-183.

Rogers, D. (1986). The adult years. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rossman, I. (1977). Anatomic and body composition changes with aging. In C. Finch & L. Hayflick (Eds.), Handbook of the biology of aging. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Rossman, M. E., & Rossman, M. H. (1990). The Rossman Adult Learning Inventory: Creating awareness of adult development. In M. H. Rossman & M. E. Rossman (Eds.), Applying adult development strategies (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, number 45). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Salzman, C. (1984). Clinical geriatrics psycho-pharmacology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sargent, M. (1986). Depressive disorders: Treatments bring new hope. Washington, DC: USDHHS, National Institute of Mental Health.

Schlesinger, J. (1966). Ambition and politics. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Schmall, V., Gobeli, C., & Stiehl, R. (1989). Alcohol problems in later life. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Extension Service.

Schmall, V., Lawson, L., & Stiehl, R. (1990). Depression in later life. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Extension Service.

Sharon, A. T. (1971). Adult academic achievement in relation to formal education and age. Adult Education, 21, 231-237.

Shipman, A. (1990). Outreach to older alcoholics works. Aging, 361, 18-21.

Siegel, J. (1976). Demographic aspects of aging and the older population in the U.S. (Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 59). Washington, DC: USGPO.

Simpson, I., & McKinney, J. (1966). Social aspects of aging. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Thompson, I. W., & Gallagher, D. (1986). Psychotherapy for late-life depression. Generations, 10(3), 38-41.

U.S. Bureau of Census. (1974). Money Income in 1973 of families and persons in the U.S. (Current Population Report, Series P-60, No. 93). Washington, DC: USGPO.

U.S. Bureau of Census. (1976). Statistical abstract of the U.S. Washington, DC: USGPO.

U.S. Bureau of Census. (1979). Social and economic characteristics of the older population: 1978 (Current Population Reports, Series, P-23, No. 85, August). Washington, DC: USGPO.

U.S. Bureau of Census. (1980). Characteristics of the population below the poverty level (Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 124). Washington, DC: USGPO.

U.S. Dept. of Justice. (1977). Criminal victimization in the U.S. Washington, DC: USGPO.

Wechsler, D. (1955). The measurement and appraisal of adult intelligence. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins.

Willenbring, M., & Spring, W. (1990). Evaluating alcohol use in elders. Aging, 361, 22-27.

Williams, B. (1980). Characteristics of the Black elderly (Statistical reports on older Americans). Washington, DC: Administration on Aging, USGPO.

Woodruff-Pak, D. S. (1988). Psychology and aging. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Zarit, J., & Zarit, S. (1984). Depression in later life: Treatment. In J. Abrahams & V. Crooks (Eds.), Geriatric mental health. Orlando, FL: Grune & Stratton.


Return to Aging Facts Quiz Two.

Go to Aging Facts Quiz One.

Return to the Guiding Older Adult Learners section

Return to the first page.


June 4, 2011