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Vital Involvement in Old Age

Julia Bess Frank, MD
JAMA. 1987;258(2):268. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400020110044.
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Most longitudinal studies of adult development end in middle or late middle age. The logistical difficulties of following up people for prolonged periods may only partially explain this gap in our knowledge. Another explanation is that most developmental researchers have not yet themselves reached old age. Their personal inexperience with this stage of life is a significant handicap in their ability to understand the questions it raises.

Erik Erikson, the 95-year-old grandfather of the empirical study of normal development, is in a unique position to fill this gap in psychological research. Along with his wife and a younger colleague, he had followed up a group first encountered as parents of children studied developmentally since the 1930s. In Vital Involvement in Old Age, the three investigators present the results of their interviews with these 29 men and women, aged 75 to 95 years. Unlike the subjects of cross-sectional studies of the


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