Thomas M. Hess, Erica L. O'Brien, and Claire M. Growney
Blood pressure is a frequently used measure in studies of adult development and aging, serving as a biomarker for health, physiological reactivity, and task engagement. Importantly, it has helped elucidate the influence of cardiovascular health on behavioral aspects of the aging process, with research demonstrating the negative effect of chronic high blood pressure on various aspects of cognitive functioning in later life. An important implication of such research is that much of what is considered part and parcel of getting older may actually be reflective of changes in health as opposed to normative aging processes. Research has also demonstrated that situational spikes in blood pressure to emotional stressors (i.e., reactivity) also have implications for health in later life. Although research is still somewhat limited, individual differences in personal traits and living circumstances have been found to moderate the strength of reactive responses, providing promise for the identification of factors that might ameliorate the effects of age-related changes in physiology that lead to normative increases in reactivity. Finally, blood pressure has also been successfully used to assess engagement levels. In this context, recent work on aging has focused on the utility of blood pressure as a reliable indicator of both (a) the costs associated with cognitive engagement and (b) the extent to which variation in these costs might predict both between-individual and age-related normative variation in participation in cognitively demanding—but potentially beneficial—activities. This chapter elaborates on these three approaches and summarizes major research findings along with methodological and interpretational issues.
Theoretical Perspectives on Age Differences in Brain Activation: HAROLD, PASA, CRUNCH—How Do They STAC Up?
Sara B. Festini, Laura Zahodne, and Patricia A. Reuter-Lorenz
Cognitive neuroimaging studies often report that older adults display more activation of neural networks relative to younger adults, referred to as overactivation. Greater or more widespread activity frequently involves bilateral recruitment of both cerebral hemispheres, especially the frontal cortex. In many reports, overactivation has been associated with superior cognitive performance, suggesting that this activity may reflect compensatory processes that offset age-related decline and maintain behavior. Several theories have been proposed to account for age differences in brain activation, including the Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults (HAROLD) model, the Posterior-Anterior Shift in Aging (PASA) theory, the Compensation-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis (CRUNCH), and the Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition (STAC and STAC-r). Each model has a different explanatory scope with regard to compensatory processes, and each has been highly influential in the field. HAROLD contrasts the general pattern of bilateral prefrontal activation in older adults with that of more unilateral activation in younger adults. PASA describes both anterior (e.g., frontal) overactivation and posterior (e.g., occipital) underactivation in older adults relative to younger adults. CRUNCH emphasizes that the level or extent of brain activity can change in response to the level of task demand at any age. Finally, STAC and STAC-r take the broadest perspective to incorporate individual differences in brain structure, the capacity to implement functional scaffolding, and life-course neural enrichment and depletion factors to predict cognition and cognitive change across the lifespan. Extant empirical work has documented that compensatory overactivation can be observed in regions beyond the prefrontal cortex, that variations in task difficulty influence the degree of brain activation, and that younger adults can show compensatory overactivation under high mental demands. Additional research utilizing experimental designs (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation), longitudinal assessments, greater regional precision, both verbal and nonverbal material, and measures of individual difference factors will continue to refine our understanding of age-related activation differences and adjudicate among these various accounts of neurocognitive aging.
Ye In (Jane) Hwang and Julian Trollor
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically recognized and diagnosed in childhood. There is no established biological marker for autism; rather, the diagnosis is made based on observation of behavioral traits, including (a) persistent deficits in social interaction and communication, and (b) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, autistic individuals are a highly heterogeneous group and differ widely in the presentation and severity of their symptoms. The established prevalence of ASD is approximately 1% of the population.
Information about autism in adulthood is limited; most of the literature examines childhood and adolescence. While the term “later life” has traditionally been associated with those over the age of 65, a dire lack of understanding exists for those on the autism spectrum beyond early adulthood.
Individuals remain on the spectrum into later life, though some mild improvements in symptoms are observed over time. Autistic adults experience high levels of physical and mental health comorbidities. Rates of participation in employment and education are also lower than that of the general population. Quality of life is reportedly poorer for autistic adults than for nonautistic peers, though this is not affected by age. More robust studies of the health, well-being, and needs of autistic adults are needed, especially qualitative investigations of adulthood and aging and longitudinal studies of development over the lifespan.
Michaela Riediger and Antje Rauers
Experience-sampling methodology (ESM) captures everyday events and experiences during, or shortly after, their natural occurrence in people’s daily lives. It is typically implemented with mobile devices that participants carry with them as they pursue their everyday routines, and that signal participants multiple times a day throughout several days or weeks to report on their momentary experiences and situation. ESM provides insights into short-term within-person variations and daily-life contexts of experiences, which are essential aspects of human functioning and development. ESM also can ameliorate some of the challenges in lifespan-developmental methodology, in particular those imposed by age-comparative designs. Compared to retrospective or global self-reports, for example, ESM can reduce potential non-equivalence of measures caused by age differences in the susceptibility to retrospective memory biases. Furthermore, ESM maximizes ecological validity compared to studies conducted in artificial laboratory contexts, which is a key concern when different age groups may differentially respond to unfamiliar situations. Despite these strengths, ESM also bears significant challenges related to potential sample selectivity and selective sample attrition, participants’ compliance and diligence, measurement reactivity, and missing responses. In age-comparative research, these challenges may be aggravated if their prevalence varies depending on participants’ age. Applications of ESM in lifespan methodology therefore require carefully addressing each of these challenges when planning, conducting, and analyzing a study, and this article provides practical guidelines for doing so. When adequately applied, experience sampling is a powerful tool in lifespan-developmental methodology, particularly when implemented in long-term longitudinal and cross-sequential designs.
Cornelia Wrzus and Jenny Wagner
Over the entire life span, social relationships are essential ingredients of human life. Social relationships describe regular interactions with other people over a certain period and generally include a mental representation of the relationship and the relationship partner. Social relationships cover diverse types, such as those with family members, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, as well as with other unrelated people. In general, most of these relationships change in number, contact frequency, and relationship quality during adulthood and old age. For example, both the number of and contact with friends and other unrelated people generally decrease with advancing age, whereas the number of and contact with family members remain rather stable. Relatively little is known about longitudinal changes in the quality of relationships, apart from romantic relationships, because few longitudinal studies have tracked specific relationships. Some explanatory factors, which are discussed in the literature, are (a) motivational changes, (b) reduced time due to work and family demands during adulthood, and (c) resource constraints in older age. Future work on social relationships would benefit from increasingly applying dyadic and network approaches to include the perspective of relationship partners as well as from examining online and offline contact in social relationships, which has already proved important among younger adults.
Gerben J. Westerhof and Susanne Wurm
Aging is often associated with inevitable biological decline. Yet research suggests that subjective aging—the views that people have about their own age and aging—contributes to how long and healthy lives they will have. Subjective age and self-perceptions of aging are the two most studied aspects of subjective aging. Both have somewhat different theoretical origins, but they can be measured reliably. A total of 41 studies have been conducted that examined the longitudinal health effects of subjective age and self-perceptions of aging. Across a wide range of health indicators, these studies provide evidence for the longitudinal relation of subjective aging with health and longevity. Three pathways might explain this relation: physiological, behavioral, and psychological pathways. The evidence for behavioral pathways, particularly for health behaviors, is strongest, whereas only a few studies have examined physiological pathways. Studies focusing on psychological pathways have included a variety of mechanisms, ranging from control and developmental regulation to mental health. Given the increase in the number of older people worldwide, even a small positive change in subjective aging might come with a considerable societal impact in terms of health gains.
Working memory as a temporary buffer for cognitive processing is an essential part of the cognitive system. Its capacity and select aspects of its functioning are age sensitive, more so for spatial than verbal material. Assumed causes for this decline include a decline in cognitive resources (such as speed of processing), and/or a breakdown in basic control processes (resistance to interference, task coordination, memory updating, binding, and/or top-down control as inferred from neuroimaging data). Meta-analyses suggest that a decline in cognitive resources explains much more of the age-related variance in true working memory tasks than a breakdown in basic control processes, although the latter is highly implicated in tasks of passive storage. The age-related decline in working memory capacity has downstream effects on more complex aspects of cognition (episodic memory, spatial cognition, and reasoning ability). Working memory remains plastic in old age, and training in working memory and cognitive control processes yields near transfer effects, but little evidence for strong far transfer.
Oscar Gonzalez and David P. MacKinnon
Lifespan developmental research studies how individuals change throughout their lifetime and how intraindividual or interindividual change leads to future outcomes. Lifespan researchers are interested in how developmental processes unfold and how specific developmental pathways lead to an outcome. Developmental processes have been previously studied using developmental cascade models, concepts of equifinality and multifinality, and developmental interventions. Statistical mediation analysis also provides a framework for studying developmental processes and developmental pathways by identifying intermediate variables, known as mediators, that transmit the effect between early exposures and future outcomes. The role of statistical mediation in lifespan developmental research is either to explain how the developmental process unfolds, or to identify mediators that researchers can target in interventions so that individuals change developmental pathways. The statistical mediation model is inherently causal, so the relations between the exposures, mediators, and outcomes have to be correctly specified, and ruling out alternative explanations for the relations is of upmost importance.
The statistical mediation model can be extended to deal with longitudinal data. For example, the autoregressive mediation model can represent change through time by examining lagged relations in multiwave datasets. On the other hand, the multilevel mediation model can deal with the clustering of repeated measures within individuals to study intraindividual and interindividual change. Finally, the latent growth curve mediation model can represent the variability of linear and nonlinear trajectories for individuals in the variables in the mediation model through time. As a result, developmental researchers have access to a range of models that could describe the theory of change they want to study. Researchers are encouraged to consider mechanisms of change and to formulate mediation hypotheses about lifespan development.
John W. Rowe and Dawn C. Carr
While the factors that influence the well-being of individuals in late life have long been a major concern of research in aging, they have been a particularly active area of research and debate since the 1980s and continue to have a prominent role in gerontological research and debate. Early research on aging (from the 1920s to the 1960s) focused largely on examining typical problems that come with aging. The term successful aging was initially used to describe those who aged better than expected. In the 1980s, the MacArthur Network on Successful Aging, concerned that the field of gerontology had become preoccupied with disease and disability to the neglect of studies of the factors that fostered doing well in late life, conducted a series of studies of high-performing older persons and formulated the MacArthur theory of successful aging, which included three principal components: avoidance of disease, maintenance of physical and cognitive function, and engagement with society. Since its initial publication, the concept of successful aging has been applied to many subpopulations of older persons based on geography (East vs. West), socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, religion, cognitive or physical function, and disease states.
Alison Chasteen, Maria Iankilevitch, Jordana Schiralli, and Veronica Bergstrom
In 2016, Statistics Canada released the results of the most recent census. For the first time ever, the proportion of Canadians aged 65-plus years surpassed the proportion aged 15 and under. The increase in the proportion of older adults was viewed as further evidence of the faster rate of aging of Canada’s population. Such demographic shifts are not unique to Canada; many industrialized nations around the world are experiencing similar changes in their populations. Increases in the older adult population in many countries might produce beneficial outcomes by increasing the potential for intergenerational contact and exposure to exemplars of successful aging. Such positive intergenerational contact could counter prevailing age stereotypes and improve intergenerational relations. On the other hand, such increases in the number of older adults could be viewed as a strain and potential threat to resources shared with younger age groups. The possibility of increased intergenerational conflict makes it more important than ever before to understand how older adults are stereotyped, how those stereotypes can produce different kinds of biased behavior toward them, and what the impact of those stereotypes are on older adults themselves.
Social-cognitive age representations are complex and multifaceted. A common stereotype applied to older people is one of warmth but incompetence, often resulting in paternalistic prejudice toward them. However, such benevolent prejudice, characterized by warm overtones, can change to hostile bias if older adults are perceived to violate prescriptive norms about age-appropriate behavior. In addition to coping with age prejudice, older adults also have to deal with the deleterious effects of negative age stereotypes on their day-to-day function. Exposure to negative aging stereotypes can worsen older adults’ cognitive performance in a number of contexts. As well, age stereotypes can be incorporated into older adults’ own views of aging, also leading to poorer outcomes for them in a variety of domains. A number of interventions to counteract the effects of negative aging stereotypes appear promising, but more work remains to be done to reduce the impact of negative aging stereotypes on daily function in later life.