Erikson (1982) represents one of the few personality theorist to examine aging as a stage of development. According to Erikson's theory, personality development goes through a series of eight, hierarchically ordered stages. Associated with each stage is a psychosocial crisis that the individual either successfully resolves or fails to resolve. Failure results in incomplete development of the personality, and inhibits further development of the personality.
The final stage of Erikson's (1982) theory is later adulthood (age 60 years and older). The crisis represented by this last life stage is integrity versus despair. Erikson (1982) proposes that this stage begins when the individual experiences a sense of mortality. This may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or close friends, or may simply result from changing social roles. No matter what the cause, this sense of mortality precipitates the final life crisis. The final life crisis manifests itself as a review of the individual1s life-career. Similar to Butler's (1963) life review, individuals review their life-career to determine if it was a success or failure. According to Erikson (1982), this reminiscence or introspection is most productive when experienced with significant others. The outcome of this life-career reminiscence can be either positive or negative. Ego integrity is the result of the positive resolution of the final life crisis. Ego integrity is viewed as the key to harmonious personality development; the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom. Erikson (1982) defines wisdom as a kind of "informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself" (p. 61). Conversely, despair is the result of the negative resolution or lack of resolution of the final life crisis. This negative resolution manifests itself as a fear of death, a sense that life is too short, and depression. Despair is the last dystonic element in Erikson's (1959, 1982) theory.