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How do we age

By 2060, according to the US Census, the number of adults aged 65 years or older will total about 98 million, or one-quarter of the population. The aging adult may need to manage such milestones as menopause, empty nest, retirement, not to mention being the sandwich generation that cares for parents and children.

You might think that older people are grumpy, doddering, frail, and feeble; and that how you age is dictated by your genes. This is not the case, not in the least. Overall, they are more conscientious, agreeable, and better able to regulate emotions. They also have higher levels of happiness than their midlife counterparts, and they’re often more mellow, have flexible mindsets, and are more grateful. Many older people today report better health, greater wealth, and higher levels of education than elders in past decades.

Science is paying a lot of attention to the well-being of people in their later years. One area of concern is cognitive function and the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical health is another important area of concern for an aging population; keeping the body moving and healthy helps to ensure the quality of a long life. Additionally, surveys find that more young people are turning to elders for advice and wisdom in a range of domains.

And today, people age 65 and older suffer less debilitating disorders, people aged 75 to 84 report fewer impairments, and fewer people are living in nursing homes or in assisted-living arrangements. Plus, life expectancy has increased by a wide margin; men can expect to live to around age 83, and a woman can expect to live to about age 85.

For more on how the brain ages and the impact on mental health, visit The Aging Brain and Mental Health in the Aging.

The Signs of Normal Aging

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As far as evolution is concerned, we are here to reproduce, and our bodies must be fit and healthy in our younger years for such childbearing. In advanced years, after reproduction, the negative effect of our genes becomes more apparent as there is no evolutionary benefit in prolonging our lifespans. But modern medicine has changed this greatly, the lifespan has increased and we’re seeing more age-related health problems as a result; the decline is seen in everything from cognitive function to weakened teeth.

For more on how the body changes and living a longer healthier life, visit The Biology of Aging and Healthy Aging.

Is cognitive decline common in aging?

It is quite normal to experience forgetfulness, a diminished attention span, mild memory loss, some confusion, impaired judgment, and difficulty in learning new things like mastering a smartphone. These cognitive signs can appear after age 60, and more often after age 70.

Do older adults sleep poorly?

A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reported that up to 48 percent of elderly adults suffer insomnia. Older adults wake up earlier, tire easily, nap during the day, and eat earlier. All of which is not a great combination for a normal sleep schedule. Add to this equation, the medications a senior may be using, or other medical conditions they are managing such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s, or any other serious disease.

 

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Aging in a Lifespan

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Psychologists have long cared about aging and mental health, and the American Psychological Association has had a division focused on Adult Development and Aging since the 1940s. However, it was not until the 2010s that geropsychology became recognized as a distinct area of inquiry by the American Board of Professional Psychology, with its own standards for board certification.

For more on geropsychology and caregiving, visit Caring for Aging Loved Ones.

What is geropsychology?

Geropsychology is a specialty that focuses on understanding, treating, and improving the mental health of older adults. To do this, health professionals work with families and caregivers. They consult within different systems of care such as skilled nursing or assisted living facilities, engage in advocacy for the needs of older adults, and have a role collaborating with other health care professionals and social service agencies.

When does menopause start?

Menopause is marked by the depletion of eggs in the ovaries, as well as dropping hormone levels. Fertility normally peaks at around ages 25 to 30, declining after age 35. The precursor of menopause is perimenopause, which can occur as early as age 35, but mostly at around age 40. The menstrual cycle starts to ease and halts around age 50. Menopause may be marked by symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.

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