Four Developmental Subphases in the Mature

Regarding the development in later adulthood, Cohen formulated four different subphases in what Eriksson called the mature age, namely midlife reevaluation, liberation, summing up, and encore. In the midlife reevaluation phase which encompasses the forties and fifties, people come closer to the personal realization that they themselves will die. They do not any more have only the abstract thought that people eventually will pass away. This brings forth a sense of a quest, or in some instances, crises where new exploration is made and maybe a transition to new fields. Certain positive new qualities follow from this reevaluation, for instance more openness to new ideas or complexity in life, as well as greater respect for one's intuitive feelings.

Secondly, liberation phase, roughly covering the time between the late fifties to early seventies, people have a sense of "if not now, when?," and coupled with partial or full retirement this gives the feeling of greater personal freedom to act according to one's own needs. Referring to empirical studies, Cohen claimed that this phase includes a significant shift in personal identity and furthermore that the brain in this age period has the richest number and density of dendrites in the hippocampus - the brain's 'memory centre' - and that new neurons form as well in the hippocampus. In combination, this gives both the push and the capacity to learn new skills and enter new challenges.

Interestingly, recent research has shown - albeit on laboratory rats - that lifelong intermittent environmental enrichment since infancy prevents the decline of recognition memory, reduces anxious behavior in a novel environment, and increases the number of newly generated neurons within the hippocampus during aging. Obviously, a mouse is not a man, but nevertheless the species share many biological characteristics, making the generalization quite feasible.

Cohen describes the third phase as the summing up, which we enter when approaching seventy, or sometimes several years later or earlier. Typically, people now need to find an overall meaning in their lives, and to pass on to others their accumulated knowledge and other resources. This can be accomplished by personal story-telling or even memoirs. Moreover this phase implies new pressures to look back and review one's life and, if possible, to bring closure to unfulfilled business - whether with other people or with important projects.

The last part in our lives, from the late seventies and onward, the encore phase in life, is a set of variations on a person's life themes, and the three preceding stages are now combined, motivating the person to sometimes engage in 'jumping the tracks,' according to Cohen. Even despite serious physical problems an old person can feel vitality and enjoyment, especially in close and significant relationships. To learn new things and to train your brain, are according to Cohen, the keys to vigor in the oldest age groups.

All the good advice given by Cohen to older people cannot possibly be recapitulated here, but we could not abstain from sharing his advice about keeping a dream journal. To be able to remember our dreams at night, as it seems, becomes less frequent with age - even if we can only present anecdotal support for this belief. We are inclined to agree with Cohen's assertion that dreams are sometimes creative. His own example of awakening from a dream is quite fascinating: He describes how he was dreaming a creativity equation formulated as: c = me2, and interpreted it such that our creativity (c) equals our mass (m) of knowledge, multiplied by the effects of our experience (inner psychological combined with outer life experiences; e2). Obviously, as he himself acknowledged, the equation is wish-fulfilling, and supports his thesis, namely that when we get more knowledge and experience we also get the resources to become more creative!

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