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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 Things I've Learned About Women's Health in the U.K.

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Today’s post is inspired by my visit yesterday to a woman’s health clinic here in London. (I was going to title it “Madame Ovary” – clearly I’m spending way too much time scanning clever literary lines for my own good.)

As with other forms of health care, women’s health is also done a bit differently over here. And so, as part of my ongoing obsession with socialized medicine, today I thought I’d share a few things I’ve picked up along the way regarding women’s health:

1. All questions are referred to an advice sister. Yup. That’s what they call her. Not “our consultant” or “the on-call/duty doctor.”  An advice sister. It sounds so comforting. And given my penchant for therapy, I was half inclined to ask her if I could hang out all day and talk about some non women’s health-related things. I mean, hey, it’s free, right?

2. You don’t necessarily see an OB/Gyn. This is probably also true in some women’s health clinics in the United States, but here you only see an OB if you’re having a baby and a gynecologist if you’ve got a serious (gynecological) problem. For pretty much anything else – routine exams, birth control, infections, you name it – you can see anyone ranging from your general practitioner (GP) to a sexual health expert, a family planning expert, to an AIDS professional. It’s very rare to actually see a (specialist) doctor.

3. Speculum come in different sizes. Who knew? Turns out there are medium, medium long, large long, petite…heck, even virgin speculum er…speculae. I’m sure this is also true in other countries, but I just learned this little factoid. (The Virgin Speculum – I hear a Stephen King novel coming on!)

4. IUD’s were first used on camels. Apparently, this was to keep them from getting pregnant on their long treks across the desert back in the Middle Ages. I’m telling you, if you hang around with the advice sister long enough, you get a real education, folks.

5. Women’s health is increasingly DIY. I posted a few weeks back on the strong personal responsibility ethic that pervades socialized medicine. This is particularly true of women’s health, where clinics are encouraging (particularly younger) women to conduct routine tests on themselves. You go into the bathroom with a little kit, read some instructions posted on the wall and voilà – everyone’s a doctor. It’s all very empowering.


Was anyone else thrilled to hear that Pete Seeger – of folk music fame – just celebrated his 90th birthday? Makes you want to break out in song. C’mon everybody: If I Had a Hammer

Image: He Lived his Life like a Camel in the Wind by eNil via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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