Certain experiences tend to occur in adulthood, including:
- The empty nest
- The midlife crisis
- Menopause (for women)
Not all adults go through all these experiences, and the timing of particular experiences can vary greatly from person to person. However, average ages for major life events do exist. Social clocks indicate the typical life events, behaviors, and issues for a particular age. Each culture and historical period has a specific social clock. A middle-class white woman living in contemporary U.S. culture may be “off time” for motherhood if she had her first child at age fifteen. In another cultural context or another historical period, however, motherhood at age fifteen may have been “on time.”
A midlife crisis is a time of doubt and anxiety in middle adulthood. Research suggests, however, that midlife crises don’t automatically happen when people reach middle age. The empty nest refers to the time in parents’ lives when their children have grown up and left home. Parents who have other roles in addition to parenting usually find this period less difficult.
Menopause is the gradual, permanent cessation of menstruation and usually begins between ages forty-five and fifty-five. Though many women suffer uncomfortable physical symptoms during menopause, such as hot flashes, emotional reactions to menopause are far from universal: many women have strong emotional reactions, while just as many others may not. Though men don’t experience menopause, they do experience a gradual decline in testosterone production and sperm count as they age.
Researchers now know quite a bit about the process of growing old. Some abilities and functions decline:
- As people age, they usually lose neurons in the brain, but this loss rarely causes problems such as dementia, which is a condition characterized by several significant psychological deficits.
- Vision and hearing tend to decline as people grow older.
- Some aspects of memory decrease in old age. This results from a decline in the speed of mental processing. Decrease in memory capacity is normal and is not necessarily related to dementia.
Other abilities and functions stay the same or even improve as people age:
- Crystallized intelligence, which is intelligence based on a life span of knowledge and skills, remains constant or increases.
- Physical exercise and mental stimulation can form new connections between neurons in the brains of older adults.
- Most people’s overall sense of well-being increases as they get older.