How can there be an application of Erikson's model to older people?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Applying Erikson's model of growth to older people requires an understanding of the previous stages of development and a focus on the final stages of life. For Erikson, the late adult stage is one of reflection.  It is in this stage when individuals are able to examine their own lives and make critical value judgments.  Some of this resides in how conflicts from the previous stages were addressed.  Others are predicated upon challenging questions such as whether or not one has lived a "good life."  Erikson sees "success" in this stage as the wisdom gained through resolution of previous life stage conflicts, and failure as the sense of missed opportunity that could result from previous conflicts. Erikson suggests as much in saying that, "When we looked at the life cycle in our 40s, we looked to old people for wisdom. At 80, though, we look at other 80-year-olds to see who got wise and who not. Lots of old people don't get wise, but you don't get wise unless you age."  The existential question of what it has been like to "be me" is what drives this particular stage of socio- psychological development.  In other words, has the individual been able to make peace with that which they love, reflecting his idea that "We are what we love."  In the Erikson model, the polar conditions of integrity vs. despair are what govern this particular stage for those who are older.

Applying Erikson's model to older people requires individuals to establish the conditions where this reflective note can be struck.  Erikson makes it clear that any particular application of the model to older people must facilitate introspection. The framework for reflection and understanding about one's life must be evident.  This element is critical in seeking to recognize how Erikson's framework can be applied to older people. The reflection that takes place cannot be rooted in fear of the potential answers.  Erikson notes that just as the healthy child does not fear life, the healthy adult in this phase will not fear death if their reflection reveals a sense of being content about one's life, choices, and being in the world.  The answers that are generated from such a form of reflection and the ability to be content with such answers is where wisdom lies.  Erikson notes that the reflective capacity of this stage is one of its most essential aspects.  This is where the ability to generate meaning and applicability to older people is critical within Erikson's model.  Erikson asserts that the primary way in which his model can be applied to older people is with the construction of this zone where reflection and assessment about one's being in the world can take place.  

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