Mayer, K. U., Baltes, P. B., Baltes, M. M., Borchelt, M., Delius, J., Helmchen, H., et al. (1999). What do we know about old age and aging? Conclusions from the Berlin Aging Study. In P. B. Baltes & K. U. Mayer (Eds.), The Berlin Aging Study: Aging from 70 to 100 (pp. 475-519). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Our central goal in this
concluding chapter is to make the presentation of BASE findings accessible to
readers from different backgrounds and to elucidate some implications for
social policy and application. To this end, a certain degree of overlap in the
material presented is unavoidable.
To begin, we address readers with a general interest in aging research. Our aim is to show discrepancies between social expectations of old age and the evidence obtained in the Berlin Aging Study. We employ a format developed by Palmore (1988) in the Facts on Aging Quiz that confronts readers with a list of assertions about old age and aging. Using new questions and BASE findings, we then reveal the "correct" response (see Section 2).
In Section 3, we address specialists in the field of gerontology and summarize important results from each of the four BASE research units. In Section 4, we take a systemic perspective, combine these discipline-specific findings, and examine whether certain groups of older people or patterns of aging can be distinguished. In a sense, the observations offered in Section 4 are the closest we come to a wholistic view of aging, one of the stated primary objectives of BASE.
Finally, in the light of BASE findings, we consider whether current images of old age are too positive or too negative. We also discuss the implications of BASE results in terms of the theoretical conceptions of differential aging, continuity versus discontinuity, and systemic aspects of aging. Does very old age represent a continuation of previous life phases, or are there discontinuities which indicate that this final period of life is different and needs to be seen as akin to a "fourth" age of life?