Intergenerational Index
The Grandfriends Project -- A Program Creating Friendships Across the Generations Martin Kimeldorf, the author

Stages of Aging


This chapter discusses the stages or phases we go through as young and older adults. You are going to be asked to think about and then write down the stages you and your grandfriend have lived through. Then you will compare your experiences. These ideas might help you to understand your own behaviors as well as those of older people you meet and work with.

When a young or old person is acting a bit differently, not being themselves, others often will comment with phrases such as: "He's at that stage," or "She's just going through a phase." Consider for a moment the stages one must pass through on his or her journey towards adulthood. These stages typically include baby-hood, childhood, and pre-teen or pre-adolescent. If you are in your adolescence at this time, you have experienced up to five different stages.

But what comes next?

After adolescence comes adulthood, middle age, and finally old age. That sounds reasonable doesn't it? Sorry, that's not the whole story, it's just not as simple as "old age." There can be up to five distinct stages after a person reaches the general threshold of old age. Thus, starting out you go through five stages and towards the end of your life you also go through five stages. The next story illustrates the similarities and differences older and young people face as they change from one stage to another. They both face similar questions but they also approach the questions differently because they are at opposite ends of their life line.


After the graduation ceremony, everyone gathered at Ken's house to exchange cards, feast on a six-foot-long submarine sandwich, and celebrate. He was pleased to see his grandmother. She was still active, still working, and he knew she'd ask him a zinger, so he hung back at first. His grandma finally cornered him at the punch bowl.

"You want a cup, Granma?"

"I'll pass, darling."

As Ken was pouring the raspberry punch into his crystal cup, she asked the zinger: "What are your plans after graduation?" The punch seemed to pour as slow as molasses, almost as if time slowed to a crawl. In this elongated moment, Ken ran all the possible answers through his head. Finally, the words just tumbled out, "I don't know, just kick back for awhile. I really don't have a plan."

Oops, wrong answer!

"You don't have a plan? Why, everyone needs a plan, Ken. What are your friends doing?"

Ken explained that most of his friends were heading for college or military service. He even pointed out that some of the older kids who graduated from college had come back recently and went back to living with their parents. He had figured "Why bother making plans if you end up back where you started?" Ken wanted time to think about what lay ahead.

"If you don't have a plan; you may not get to where you want to go in life. People without plans just take any job instead of ones that will help them later. Kenneth, you need a goal, a plan or else you'll just end up wasting your time."

Ken eventually did sort things out and, after working in an electronic equipment store, he decided to go into home electronics repair. It was shortly after his graduation from his technical school that he got an invitation to his grandmother's retirement party.

Again, they met around the punch bowl. Ken was excited about starting his new job at Ace Home Electronics. He also knew that his grandma looked forward to retiring from her job. "What are your plans?" he blurted out.

The sudden question caught his grandma a bit off guard. "Well, Kenneth, I'm going to sleep in and take it easy."

Ken could be cagey, just like his Grandma. A sly, razor-thin smile crossed his lips as he asked, "For the next 30 or more years?"

His grandma smiled; she knew where Ken was going.

He added, "Don't you need a plan, a goal?"

She kissed him on the forehead. "It was good advise I gave you...and it's still good advice even for someone my age. Thank you for making me face the most important question I have to answer at this time." Ken wasn't sure, he shrugged. She continued, "At my age I think the question is, 'What do I want to be NOW that I'm all grown up?' "


Older people generally lump all younger people together as "kids." Have you noticed how your grandparents might refer to either you or your parents as "the kids"? Of course, you probably see a world of difference between the "kid-teenager" and the "kid-parent." The same thing happens to many senior citizens. Most people over 55 are simply called senior citizens. But there's often a world of difference between someone 60 and someone 85. The group of people who are over 55 can probably be divided into several groups representing the different stages of their later life. You should also know that the fastest growing age group in America are the old-old or people over 80.

Each stage in life has it's own task or challenge. Often these challenges or issues can be stated in the form of questions which must be addressed at each stage. A person entering middle school often has questions about fitting in to the various peer or social groups. Young adults who are graduating face many questions centered about what they want to do next with their life. A person leaving for a new job wonders how well he or she will fit in at the next place of work and if he or she will profit from the change. A person retiring asks questions similar to those asked by a new graduate: "What next?".

Many times these questions are triggered by a specific change in our life. As a person's health declines, he may wonder if he will be able to remain in his own home, living independently. When family members grow up and move out on their own, parents might ask themselves what they should be doing with the new free time? When a person loses a job or gets divorced, she might ask herself how it could have been avoided? When a person gets married, he might consider the changes that he must make for the sake of the new relationship. When a person gets a new job she might think about her new goals. Each stage or new experience brings with it a new question which must be addressed before moving on. What questions are you facing right now in your life?

Adults face new questions as they enter new life stages in their 40's, 50's, and 60's, and beyond. What question would you be asking yourself if you got divorced at the age of 50? What questions do you think you'll be asking yourself when you turn 60 or even 90?

Elwood Chapman studied the different phases people go through in the later years of life. He summed these up in five stages which are summarized next. Naturally the degree of health (or illness) greatly affects how quickly one ages. This is why no set chronological age can be set for each stage. This is different from the first five stages where you can state that adolescence generally runs from 13 to 18 years of age. Read over the general descriptions of the five last stages in life. Then try to determine which phase your grandfriend is in right now.

Stage 1-The honeymoon period…Transition period

This usually happens when people enter retirement. Like Ken's grandmother, they have to face adjusting to the new freedom of not working. At first, just sleeping in and relaxing is great. But after awhile a person gets restless and needs to find a new outlet for his or her energy and talents. Like the young graduate, it might take the new retiree from one to three years to experience, explore and develop answers for this transition period. The basic question for this stage is like the high school graduate, "What do I want to do with the rest of my life?"

Stage 2 -Full steam ahead phase

Some people volunteer their time, others might turn a hobby into a business. For example a person who enjoys fishing might start a fishing guide business. Still others enjoy spending more time in their hobbies, like gardening or card playing. Others choose to travel or join clubs. It's time to kick up one's heels and pursue old and new dreams. This active period might last from 10 to 15 years and the key question becomes, "Am I pursuing my dream? What am I doing to find fulfillment?"

Stage 3 -Midcourse Corrections…The sweet years

In these "Golden Years," one begins to slow down and take it easy. It can be thought of as one of the sweetest stages in life. Now it's time to pause, reflect over life, share one's wisdom with others. The goal is to find a balance between going full steam and the slower pace of the next stage. Often a person has to find a new way of enjoying old activities. Instead of driving across country a person might join a tour bus program. Instead of dancing the tango it's time to enjoy a slower waltz. This phase might last from five to ten more years. The task or question faced is, "What must I give up and what new things can I try which fit this stage in my life?"

Stage 4 -Going on automatic pilot…Entering a spiritual stage

In this stage, many people enjoy traveling back through time, enjoying old memories, visiting where they grew up or raised their family. People often enjoy writing their memoirs or putting together a scrapbook about their life.

There is a shift in priorities as previous standards or expectations become less important. For instance, someone who used to dress a certain way to please others might suddenly choose to dress for his or her own comfort. Instead of a dress or sport coat he or she put on a sweatshirt. To outsiders it might appear a bit eccentric.

One becomes more of an observer than a doer. Elders enjoy simple things like sunsets, visits from family and grandfriends, lunches, drives, talking over old times and watching TV. The time has come when observing brings as much satisfaction as participation. This stage can last eight to ten years. In this stage, the body becomes less active while the mind is more active. People grow "inside" rather than physically. The question many elders face becomes, "What is truly important to me at this point in life?"

Stage 5 -Safe Harbor…Sunset phase

Now it's time to wrap up loose ends. Seniors begin to concentrate on unfinished business which includes adjusting wills and making plans for their estates and funerals. If bitter words or a sour relationship exists between a sibling or family member, now is the time to try and patch things up. People often solicit help from family, friends, and professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and counselors. If not already in a care facility, many people enter one in this phase. As the sun sets, they enter a safe harbor. It is like returning home after a very long trip. As things come together in this last stage, they can feel a sense of relief. This phase often covers the last one to two years of life. People often ask themselves questions about the spiritual side of life or they ask themselves, "Have I put everything in order? Am I ready?"


What stage are you going through in your life? What lies ahead for you or your grandfriend? What questions are you facing? What about your grandfriend? These questions will be covered in Assignment #9-Thinking About Stages And Changes For Teens and Seniors.

In the next chapter, you'll try to sum up all that you have studied about aging and youth as you try to define the words "old" and "young".

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Martin Kimeldorf,
© 1999
All Rights Reserved.
Amby Duncan-Carr,
page designer
Material from both THE GRANDFRIENDS PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations and the companion piece, PROJECT LEADER'S GUIDE FOR THE GRANDFRIENDS PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher, Fairview Press. Printing or downloading a single copy of this document for personal use is permitted; teachers may reproduce this document for use in a single classroom, only. Transmission in any form or further duplication is prohibited without the express written consent of the author. In addition, any use of the document code, itself, requires the written permission of the web page designer.

Kimeldorf Bibliography
Amby's Resources
Kimeldorf Autobiography

© 1999   Amby Duncan-Carr   All Rights Reserved.

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