Middle Adulthood/ Middle Age

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— from approximately ages 40-60 y

— declining physical skills

— increasing responsibilities

— increasing self-satisfaction

— increasing awareness of time (past, future)


— mostly gradual changes

— decreasing height / increasing weight

— after 55, approximately 2 inches lost for men, 1 inch for women

— decreasing bone density (for women, loss is twice as fast)

— decreasing strength

— 10% loss by 60 y

— decreasing vision, light sensitivity

— decreasing hearing (especially high frequencies)

— decreasing kidney function (50% decrease)

— decreasing cardiac output (1/2 of that of 20 year-old)


1. Responsibility and Executive Thinking

— recall Shaie: early adulthood is an achieving stage

— middle adulthood involves what is called the responsible stage in cognition

— decision making is based upon personal responsibilities towards others

— can lead to what is called the executive stage

— in this stage, the adult will apply post-formal thinking to executive


— in this way, the decision meets the needs of competing groups, agencies,


2. Cognitive Decline

— two views:

i/ cross-sectional studies

— compare cohorts of different ages

— Horn, 1980's:

— individuals in middle adulthood less able to reason abstractly

— but, is this due to age differences in abilities or to a cohort effect?

— individuals at different ages have different education, training, etc.

ii/ Seattle Longitudinal Study

— longitudinal studies follow the same individuals and assess them several

times in their lives

— compare same individual at different ages

— therefore, effects not result of different cohorts

— in this study, the same men followed since 1950's

— declines found in:

i) perceptual speed (ability to make visual discriminations)

ii) numerical ability (simple arithmetic calculations)

— some abilities peaked in middle adulthood:

i) vocabulary (understand ideas expressed in verbal form)

ii) verbal memory (recall lists of words, etc.)

iii) inductive reasoning (recognize patterns and relationships and use

them to solve further problems)

iv) spatial orientation (visualize rotated stimuli in 3-D space)


1. Midlife Crisis

— adults become aware of

— their own mortality

— rapid passing of years

— their physical decline

— how prevalent is a midlife crisis?

— 1999 study, adults over 40 reported being less nervous, worried than

they felt when ther were less than 40

— only a minority reported "crisis"

2. Sex

— slow, gradual decrease in frequency

— menopause

— cessation of women's menstrual periods

— may be accompanied by emotional, physiological changes

— highly variable: most women report no major problems

— men: no equivalent to menopause (although some hypothesize


— generally, slow decline in testosterone

— may lead to some degree of erectile dysfunction

— 75% of dysfunction due to physiological problems

— much of this associated with lifestyle (smoking, drinking,



— fewer accidents, more diseases

— few infectious, mostly chronic

— heart disease most common, then cancer

— sex differences

— men

— more: heart disease, cancer, stroke

— divorced men: greater incidence

— women

— nonfatal illnesses (i.e., arthritis)

— lung cancer: rates increasing a greater rate than for men

— total number of cases/deaths still less

1. Subclinical to Threshold of Chronic Diseases

— 40 y, chronic diseases are mostly still in sub-clinical state

— 50 y, reach a threshold to become clinical disease

— 60 y, if untreated, then disease becomes severe

— examples:

i/ atherosclerosis

— lifetime of smoking, poor nutrition and lack of exercise

— by the 40 ‘s, lesions (plaques) found in...
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