Tag Archives: middle aged brain

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Pessimistic About Middle Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I gave you five reasons to be optimistic about middle age. In brief: you’ll live longer, your brain will keep developing, you’ll be happier, your divorce may not be all that bad, and you’ll make loads of new friends on the AARP Facebook page.

But in addition to being an optimist, I’m also a realist. As promised, then, here are five reasons to be pessimistic about middle age:

1. Social services can’t keep up with aging population. Yes, people are living longer. That’s the good news. But the general aging of the population will also place enormous burdens on social services, including health care delivery, informal care-giving and the pension system. So a lot will hinge on just how healthy this new crop of centenarians is. About 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two. In theory, the health care reform bill passed last year in America should help address some of these problems. But some experts warn that our public policies  – including health care reform – just aren’t up to the task of ensuring that our aging population gets the medical care it needs. In the worst case scenario – not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well – the old and the young will enter into a zero-sum conflict, fighting for scarce health care and economic resources.

2. Suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans. Alongside all the research discussed last week showing that happiness peaks at 50, a curious and sobering counter-trend has also emerged:  For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variety of hypotheses have been tossed out to explain this trend, including easier access to guns and prescription drugs as well as higher rates of depression among boomers. One sociologist at Berkeley speculates that it’s a combination of having grown up during an era of cultural turmoil (the 60′s), together with greater competition for resources (due to baby boom) as well as the stresses induced by an extended period of young adulthood. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly nothing to be cheery about.

3. Midlife Crises Cost More. I noted last week that with the advent of a happy middle age, there may be fewer midlife crises. But for those boomers out there still looking for Plan B, it’s gonna cost them. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, mid-life crises – whether it’s traveling the world, playing the stock market or starting one’s own business (I’ll grant you, these are a bit tamer than some crises one might imagine!) – have all gotten quite a good deal more expensive in the last few years. Add that to a general unease in this age bracket about market volatility and you’ve got a recipe for widespread economic anxiety at middle age.

4. You’re more like to get an STD. So…late divorce isn’t so bad after all, as we learned last week. But sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are actually more of a problem for middle-aged populations right now than they are among the young (at least in the United States.) The highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle-aged adults, ages 35 to 44. Next highest age group? Ages 45 to 54. The least affected group is the youngest group between the ages of 25 to 34. Some of this is because women over 50 – no longer afraid of getting pregnant – cease using condoms. So if you are planning on getting back out there with your new-found freedom, by all means come prepared.

5. Who wants to multi-task? One of my favorite cantankerous chroniclers of middle age is Howard Baldwin over on Middle Age Cranky. In a recent post, Baldwin wonders who really wants to learn that as we age, our brains actually improve their ability to problem solve and multi-task? Doesn’t that just mean that boomers will have fewer excuses available to them when they want to plea a senior moment? Just sayin’…

Image: condom display by vista vision via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Optimistic About Middle Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by a barrage of recent scientific studies offering good news about middle age.

Middle age has long been conceptualized as that phase of life where we cease thinking about our potential as human beings, and start focusing on our limitations. No more. While not everything looks rosy (stay tuned for next week’s tip list), there are at least a few trends out there that do bode well for those of us hovering at the mid-point of our lives.

Here are five reasons to feel optimistic:

1. People are living longer. According to scientists, more people than ever before are living to older adulthood. In the U.S., the average lifespan has risen 30 years since 1900. And today’s older adults are better-educated, healthier, more active and more affluent than any previous generation. Plus, as I pointed out last week, the labor market is becoming more diverse and there will be more jobs for the over-55 set. So there’s lots more time – and more to do.

2. Our brains keep evolving. New research also shows that – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. The result? In some respects, we actually think better in middle age. Specifically, inductive reasoning and problem solving improves in the middle-aged brain. We get the gist of an argument better. We arrive at solutions more quickly. Even financial judgments peak in middle age.

3. People are happier over 50. This is also both surprising and welcome news. A survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that overall feelings of wellbeing improve as we pass middle age. Specifically, levels of stress, worry and anger all dropped significantly for people in their fifties, while levels of happiness and enjoyment increased. While the study wasn’t designed to identify the causes of increased happiness, scholars speculated that with age comes greater wisdom and emotional intelligence. A similar study carried out in Canada also found that self-esteem is highest among middle-aged boomers. The corollary of all this research? We can probably expect to see fewer mid-life crises.

4. Even divorce can be positive. As the endless analyses of Al and Tipper Gore’s break up tell us, late divorce (i.e. divorce in marriages 20 years or longer) is increasingly common. But it’s also not necessarily a bad thing. A large number of articles that followed on the Gores’ split emphasized late divorce as a form of autonomy and self-actualizationespecially for women – rather than just sticking it out for longevity’s sake. For me, at least, that was the first time I’d seen divorce as a cultural trend discussed in positive terms.

5. The AARP has had a makeover. Yup, that’s right folks. The American Association for Retired Persons (that’s AARP for all those in the know) has had an on-line overhaul in order to cater to the digital demands of the over-50 crowd. So for all you aging Facebook-ers out there, you have a new on-line hang out.

Image: AARP by Somewhat Frank via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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