What are the stages of adulthood

Questions about age The stages of life and the four different levels of aging

When the vernacular says that a person has now become “old”, he does not really mean old age, but rather the frailty, illness and / or need for care of a person. But we can contribute to a more objective picture of old age by paying attention in discussions to differentiating between age and illness. Because being old usually means that we live with physical limitations, but do not necessarily have to be sick.

In the professional world, people's lives are divided into different phases of life. The predominant one is the division into four phases, which I present to you in the following with reference to our ideas about old age and death:

Phase I: Childhood and adolescence

Today most of the children are healthy, few are sick. This has not always been the case, not even in Switzerland. Rather, in earlier times dying and death were mainly associated with childhood because child mortality was extremely high. Only those who survived the critical years of childhood had a good chance of reaching adulthood.

Phase II: Adulthood

People between the age of majority and 60 and earlier are considered adults, dying in adulthood was nothing unusual. Wars, accidents at work and serious illnesses often led to the death of adults in the past. Above all, the risk for women of dying in adulthood was high: death in childbed was nothing unusual. Thanks to medical advances, such deaths have become extremely rare, and women giving birth only die in exceptional situations in Switzerland.

While in earlier times every family was confronted with death in some way, we only know death from afar and especially not as a guest in the first two phases of life. If someone dies before 60, we perceive their death as premature, as torn from the middle of life. Accordingly, we look calmly on the first two phases of life. We assume that, thanks to good medical care, we do not have to fear that we will die at this age.

Phase III: From 60 to 75 (depending on your constitution also up to 80/85)

This age no longer belongs to adulthood, but to the "old age" phase of life, but can also be viewed as a transition phase between adulthood and old age. Today, the majority of people of this age in Switzerland are considered healthy, even if certain physical and mental restrictions have to be accepted.

The long time span of phase III shows that it is not possible to look at age in general. The different personalities experience the time between 60 and 80/85 years in very different ways.

Whatever life in the third age looks like, however well it is possible to compensate or suppress the various physical limitations, there are days or times when the vulnerability of the last years of life can be foreseen. It can also be that subtle changes in thinking and feeling are perceived that cannot be classified. Or a slightly indefinable dissatisfaction spreads, although many moments of happiness are collected in everyday life.

As individual as the third age may be, it holds universal tasks, challenges and opportunities in store for us that are far removed from the attempt not to age.

I would consider getting to know the changing living conditions as a priority task, and also recognizing the real life situation in the third age. How else can we seize the opportunities of change if we refuse to perceive change and pretend that we are not aging. Because the feeling I described in the introduction of not understanding my father in old age, because we lived on different planets, has to do with the fact that I limited old age to the purely physical.

However, we can only grasp the real life situation in the third age if we broaden our view of aging. We age on different levels: the physical, the psychological, the social and the cultural.

The following remarks on physical, psychological, social and cultural aging are based on the book "Aging in Our Time" [1]:

Physical aging

"The physical change in the aging process can be described as the radicalization of the physical basic situation of the human being: the body, the joints, heart and circulatory system, which used to be usually problem-free and inconspicuous - they are increasingly disturbing in stubborn sensitivities and the nature-dependent basis comes up all finite life. People have been defined as 'deficient beings' and this deficiency increases with age. ”[2] In fact, physical deficiency in the third age is not yet very dominant. Thanks to appropriate care and nutrition, we still look young; thanks to good care and sufficient physical activity, we are usually still fit and flexible.

Anti-aging aims to avoid physical aging and, to be honest, this works quite well in the third age. However, I don't think that physical aging is the biggest problem in this phase of life. Most of the Swiss in their third age have to live with certain physical limitations, but are considered to be physically healthy. However, if we suffer from a life-threatening illness, it immediately catapults us into the fourth age (see below).

Mental aging

Under psychological aging, Prof. Dr. Thomas Rentsch the fact that you bring a personal identity that was developed in a younger age with you into old age. An identity with which you are familiar and which you have created yourself in the years of active life with your own designs, but no longer fits the physical aging process.

“One could speak of a delay in the identity gained as adolescents and adults when they arrive in the physical aging process. There is also a radicalized experience of time on the psychological level, which is intensified by the loss of relatives, friends and relatives of one's own generation. "[3]

This means: We feel, think and act like the person we were just a few years ago. We have built an identity that gives us confidence. Inwardly, we are still young in our thinking, feeling, acting and being and connected to this identity of the younger years. A b e r, this inner person that we believe we are in no way fits this “old” person who has the nerve to meet us in the mirror in the morning.

A friend of mine said on this subject that when she looked in the mirror in the morning she thought: “Who for God's sake is that? There is no way it can be me! I refuse to be that person looking at me in the mirror, I'm still young! "

In men, mental aging may manifest itself differently because their identity is less dependent on their appearance. Mental aging is more likely to be recognized in men by the fact that, even though they have already left the work process for 10 or 15 years, they still speak of their decisions as influential managers. Your inner identity of the decisive manager then no longer fits in any way with your current age.

Letting go of your previous identity and building an identity that is appropriate to your age is probably one of the most difficult tasks after retirement. The more prestigious the profession, the more difficult this endeavor can become.

The aspect of the radicalized experience of time also plays a role in social aging and does not need to be explained further. We humans in our third age begin to understand that life is short, that we have more past than future. In this sense I do not know any people of the third age who have not become “old”.

Social aging

"Due to the communicative, social nature of humans, social aging is one of the most serious aspects, and accepting the loss of one's neighbor is one of the most difficult existential achievements of humans." [4]

Of course we can make new friends when our old friends die. New partners can also help us get over the loss of a loved one. However, the above-cited loss of neighbor means that we lose people who shared experiences with us, so that suddenly familiar life contexts and habits, the horizon of common experience and acquaintance are missing.

Life partners, friends and work colleagues have often walked a long chunk of life with us and share many experiences with us. Without many words, we can refresh memories with the respective interlocutor: "Do you remember, back then ..." But the loss of these familiar social contacts is not necessarily primarily due to the fact that we lose people through death in the third age. Retirement or a move away are much more common reasons for the loss.

Social aging also seems to me to include hearing loss and a decline in selective attention. Because they can prevent people in their third age from taking part in larger events because they can no longer talk to the other guests. More on this important topic later!

I don't know any people who have not yet lost loved friends, siblings, classmates or even life partners in their third age. In this sense, everyone has already "aged" at this level.

The cultural aging

With “cultural aging” we mean the inability to understand one's own living space that has changed in comparison to earlier.

"Our own identity and our own system of norms, including the experiences that have shaped them, have been developed in a social and cultural field that no longer exists in this form." [5]

When we travel to countries that have developed strongly in recent years, such as Abu Dhabi, the question arises as to how the elderly can keep up with developments. The grandfather of the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi still rode a camel through the desert, today's city is one of the most modern metropolises in the world.

In Switzerland, too, conflicts of cultural aging can have glaring features. A Polish pastor from Zurich told me that Polish grandparents are of the opinion that their young offspring should pray the rosary on their knees every day.

Cultural aging becomes evident when we complain that the young generation no longer wants to behave as we have learned, or when we cannot understand the motives of the young generation even though we live in the middle of their world. There are limitless examples of cultural aging. We perceive the music that today's youth like to hear only as noise. We regret that today's art is no longer real art. We can't laugh at today's jokes. We perceive previous conditions as better: In the past, you didn't have any problems with the washing machine because it didn't have 100 functions. There used to be at least one more

Ordinary bank counter, today you should do everything yourself. We used to take care of our children, today parents hang out on their smartphones in the playgrounds and don't communicate with the children. In the past, children could still play imaginatively, today they only stare at the screens of their tablets. That's not normal! In the past, loyalty was still something, today only money counts. In the past you still had time for each other, today people are always in a hurry because they are doing too much. In the past, people still helped themselves out in the neighborhood, today most people don't even know the neighbors by name etc. etc.

Do these complaints sound familiar to you? If you pay attention to this, you will definitely find yourself complaining about today's lifestyles, manners, colloquial languages ​​and / or values. And that is quite understandable: in the history of mankind life has never changed as quickly as it does today.

It will therefore be a special challenge for you and me not to age too quickly culturally.

Today's fast-paced times alienate us from our environment in a rush like no generation before. Just because we also have a smartphone and can handle the new technical washing machine to some extent does not mean that we have not aged culturally. It is about the fact that we cannot understand and comprehend the current values, ways of life, manners, colloquial languages ​​and developments.

This broadened view of aging shows that we cannot say that we have not aged one way or another in our third age.

The fact that we have aged should not worry us, however, but rather draw our attention to the changing living conditions. Our body becomes more vulnerable over the years, but our psyche still has great potential to grow and round off our personality. If we succeed in confronting the real situation, we will recognize the opportunities that come to light with the new identity. Do not flee from the tasks that await us in this phase of life.

Phase IV: The last years of life until death

This age begins sometime around the 80th birthday and ends with one's own death, which lurks as a ghost of terror at the end of the day or can be consciously integrated into this phase. Here too, however, one must speak of an individual beginning of the phase of life. What is certain, however, is that approaching death belongs to this phase of life. This is also associated with physical, mental and emotional fatigue, which can turn into general exhaustion.

Despite this tiredness, we face many tasks in the fourth phase of life that have to be mastered and for which we should prepare ourselves as early as the third age. Because the fourth age confronts people with massive restrictions and limits. Limits of life, limits of what is feasible, limits to the usefulness of medical interventions. Therefore, in the fourth age, a person should have already learned to let go. Be used to concentrating on the essentials and getting rid of ballast. Strategies have to be developed how to lead a satisfied and fulfilling life with massive restrictions.

A challenge for us here in Switzerland is the fact that there is no longer any appreciation of age in our society. Our society is programmed to work towards the zenith of life, which is now generally set at 50 years, and sees life after the zenith as a decline. Old age, illness and death are perceived as failure and loss.

Of course, this is not the case in every society. For example, in Naples, Florida, the elderly are in the majority and the entire city is centered around the elderly. The old person receives help and support in every conceivable situation and is treated as a fully-fledged person despite the physical breakdown. When shopping, consideration is given to the leisurely pace of the elderly and the plastic bags are only filled enough for the elderly to carry them from the car to the kitchen at home. The shopping trolley is helpfully pushed to the car by the staff and the goods stowed in the trunk. The walks along the lakes are soft and wide. There is also space for elderly people with large three-wheeled bicycles, who are greeted with admiration because they cycle despite problems.

In addition, I would like to relate a wonderful story that a friend from Bahrain told me: “I know an old woman, Joy, who is originally from New Zealand, but who came to Bahrain to visit for many years. A few years ago I went to the bazaar with her. Joy was already over 80 years old at the time. She has very white hair, but was still walking well. She was greeted with awe in a shop. The employees were from India. The cashier stood at his desk and could no longer avert his eyes. He asked me how old the lady was. Soon Joy had all the employees around her. They were amazed because a woman with white hair and at this old age still went shopping in the bazaar. Joy paid by credit card, more amazement! She signed with a shaky hand and ... even more amazement! Finally they gave me the bag to carry and asked Joy if she could bless all of the staff! She did that too. 🙂 🙂

One of the men explained to me that in India you no longer meet such old people on the streets and that is also not the case in Bahrain. Especially not someone with such white hair! "

However, since we live in Switzerland, where this appreciation of age is missing, we have to come to terms with the values ​​of the local, today's society - which we have helped to shape.

Perhaps we will even succeed in shaping a more positive image of old age through our attitude towards old age.

Apart from that, our biggest challenge in the fourth age will not be society, but our own changed view of life. At some point in the fourth age, perhaps just before death, the goals that we have been chasing for most of our lives will no longer be important to us.

We will turn our attention more inward. Unfinished business and something unsuccessful years ago will knock on our door, although we may no longer know who we called last week. We will look at our lives in terms of their usefulness to those we leave behind, and wonder what else we can do to give our lives meaning and purpose. The meaning of life will become central to us and will be related to the mastery of our life task.

This change in our attitude should not be underestimated. While we may still enjoy new material goods today, there will indeed be a time when we wonder how this could be possible. As you will learn later in the book, this phenomenon has been scientifically proven. We therefore cannot rely on the fact that it will definitely not be the case with us.

Independently of these examinations, a psychiatric nurse told me about her experiences when she was called to people who, at the end of their lives, could not let go or who could not die. The conversations with the dying always revolved around the same topic, which a 79-year-old woman specifically verbalized: “How can I have to die now! I haven't really started to live yet, my previous life makes no sense! "

Let us remember that with this dying person it was neither her financial situation nor her status that made her view her life as seemingly pointless. She had simply set priorities all her life that suddenly seemed unimportant to her before death.

This should make us sit up and take notice, because changes seem to come our way, of which we have no idea and which cannot be weakened by anti-aging or medical measures.

Blandine-Josephine Raemy-Zbinden
May 2015


[1] Rentsch, Get old, be old, Pp. 168-170.

[2] Ibid., P. 168.

[3] Ibid., P. 169.

[4] Ibid., P. 170.

[5] Ibid., P. 170.