Gene D Cohen, a psychologist and author of The Mature Mind; The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, says it best, “Psychology has severely underestimated the positive potential of the second half of life.” Until recently, the fields of psychology, medicine, social work and business have been dominated by Erikson’s theory that older adults are challenged not by growth but by the challenge of integrity versus despair.  That “old age” is a period of life review and hopefully coming up with a positive rather than a negative assessment of one’s life.  It is a very limited theory of the tasks for the “mature stage’ of life. Sigmund Freud, the premier psychoanalyst of the world of psychology dismissed old people as uneducable and not candidates for therapy as they did not have the capacity to change.


The major problem is that, as I have pointed out in previous articles, people are living longer, healthier and more financially stable in their older adult years. They are more likely to be interested in anything other than sitting around in a rocking chair at the ‘YOUNG' age of 65, 75 or even 85, contemplating their past life!  Dr. Alan Castel in his book, Better with Age, cites a study that confirms that ”on average, the cognitive skills of today's 75-year-olds are cognitively much fitter than those of 20 years ago, performing much like 55-year-olds”.


Drs. Cohen, Castel and others posit that the old senior citizen is now a mature adult ready and able to meet new challenges and conquer new worlds.  With so many resources at their fingertips, a person over 50, 60 and even into their 70’s and beyond is seeking to enjoy and enrich their lives. Dr. Castel points out that with age come all sorts of benefits including selectivity in their life choices and the ability to live in the moment! The list of books below provides the reader just a few of the many books available to explore the new thinking regarding what I refer to as the opportunity of aging.  The theories of limited capacity of older adults are outdated (excuse the pun).


Dr. Cohen has expanded on Erickson’s stages of development into four phases of growth and development.  This does not minimize Erickson’s stages but adds to them with the new realities of the 21st Century. He details four stages:


  1. Reevaluation- mid 30’s to mid-60’s
  2. Liberation, experimentation, innovation- mid 50’s to mid-70’s
  3. Recapitulation, resolution, contribution (summing up)- late 60’s through 80’s
  4. Continuation, reflection, celebration- late 70’s for the rest of life.

Notice how the four phases encompass larger swaths of a person’s life.  This allows for the complexity of life. Cohen’s phases provide the flexibility for people to grow over life and continue to contribute till the end of life. It also provides for constant change rather than a one-dimensional phase in a set period with only one specific outcome. Life does not end at 60 or 65.  Aging itself is a lifelong occurrence.  The old mantra of retiring at 65 is long gone.  Many retire before and many continue to work, whether full time, part time or in a completely different venture, way into their 80’s.  Many engage in new pursuits. The freedom of aging with the benefit of experience and wisdom gives this age group new and exciting choices. 

Throughout our lives we are driven by the powerful forces of life, love, hate, companionship, self-determination and the entire range of human emotions and feelings that we have always experienced. Nothing changes on our 65th birthday. Theories like Cohen’s supply the validation for older adults to continue to contribute to society, community and family.  More importantly, it recognizes that we continue to have the feelings and emotions that we always have had all our life. 

Dr. Castel lists numerous individuals in their 70’s and 80’s that have made significant contributions to society and community. We all know people who are leaders in government, religion and the business world who are making a significant impact.


Castel discusses his belief in a “subjective age”.  It is about how you feel and how you are able to accomplish your goals and wants in life, not the age on your birth certificate.  In fact, we begin to age the minute we are born!  How we age depends upon ourselves and outside of a health or physical event out of our control, is very much an individual choice. Unfortunately, too many discriminate and continue to be biased against older people.  The media and entertainment are well known for its focus on youth and beauty and aversion to age. There was a movie titled RED, which featured older actors including Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren. No studio would touch it as they felt that no one would watch a bunch of old actors playing CIA agents.  Well, it finally did get picked up and grossed 100 million worldwide.  What did RED stand for; Retired, Extremely Dangerous! 


This new thinking has enormous ramifications for the individual, community and society.  Many of us seniors know how important our cohort is in the real world.  Reimagining the mature adult in society is significant.  Think of the possibilities! Ageism, the discrimination of older adults can be a thing of the past.  In the world of psychology, medicine and social work a fresh and profound respect for mature adults can open new and creative theories to address the needs of this demographic.  The list goes on and on.  So mature adults, we as individuals and as a group need to first internalize this progressive thinking and then proudly and with conviction let those around us know, we are not only proud of who we are but play a crucial role in all aspects of human endeavors. 


As the great, Satchel Paige, a baseball player who began his career in the Major Leagues at 42 and played until he was 59, wisely stated, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”


Douglas Balin, LMSW, MPA has a specialized practice for adults 50 years and older and their families.

He can be reached at, 646-206-3968.




Ideas for pictures:

Successful older adults such as Ronald Reagan, Golda Meir.



To be boxed separately

Further reading

Mitch Anthony, The New Retirementality, Planning your Life and Living your Dreams at any Age You Want.

Alan D. Castel, The Psychology of Successful Aging.

Gene D. Cohen, The Mature Mind, The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.

Dick Van Dyke, Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths about Aging.

Michael Zal. A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Successful Retirement and Aging.