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Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle Adulthood
Chapter 15
Robert S. Feldman
Physical Transitions in Middle Adulthood
People become aware of gradual psychological and emotional changes in body’s capabilities
Depends in part on self-concept: signs of aging signal
Reduction in physical attractiveness

There was an old lady….
Society applies a double standard to men and women in terms of appearance
Older women tend to be viewed in unflattering terms
Aging men more frequently perceived as displaying a maturity that enhances status
Height, Weight, and Strength
After age 55, bones become less dense
“Settling” means ultimately women lose 2 inches and men lose 1 inch in height

Women are more prone to declining height due to OSTEOPOROSIS

Both men and women gain weight
Strength declines, 10% loss by age 60
Vision in Middle Age
Starting at age 40, visual acuity declines
Changing eye's lenses in shape and elasticity results in loss of near vision, called PRESBYOPIA
Declining depth perception and night vision

PRESBYCUSIS (loss for high frequencies)

About 12 percent of people between 45 and 65 suffer from presbycusis
Men more prone to hearing loss
Sound localization is diminished
Reaction Time
Decreases slightly in middle adulthood

Improves or compensated for by being more careful and practicing the skill

Exercise can slow this loss
Sexuality During Middle Age
Frequency of sexual intercourse decreases with age
Sexual activities remain a vital part of most middle-aged adults’ lives
Adults have more freedom
Women no longer need to practice birth control
Figure 15-3: Frequency of Sexual Intercourse
Sexual Intercourse
Men typically need more time to get an erection
Volume of fluid in ejaculation declines
Production of testosterone also declines
In women, walls of the vagina become less elastic and thinner
Vagina shrinks, potentially making intercourse painful
Female Climacteric
Transition from being able to bear children to being unable to do so

Perimenopause begins about 10 years before menopause

Drop in estrogen & progesterone production
Variety of Sx for about 50% of women

From Research to Practice
The Dilemma of Hormone Therapy
Estrogen and progesterone administered to alleviate menopausal symptoms
Increases risk of breast cancer and blood clots
Higher risk for pulmonary embolism and heart disease

Male Climacteric
Male changes during middle age
Period of physical and psychological change relating to male reproductive system that occurs during late middle age.
Decrease in testosterone production
Enlargement of the prostate gland

Men still produce sperm and can father children through middle age
Health and Wellness
American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily:
Reduces risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, weight gain, and hypertension
Provides psychological benefits of sense of control and well-being
Did you know?
Vast majority of people in middle age
Face no chronic health difficulties
Fewer accidents and infections

Chronic Diseases in Middle Adulthood
Arthritis typically begins after age 40

Diabetes is most likely to occur in people between the ages of 50 and 60

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most frequent chronic disorders found in middle age

Developmental Diversity: Individual Variation in Health
Ethnic differences
African Americans death rate is twice rate for Caucasians
Lower family’s incomehigher likelihood of disabling illness, more dangerous occupations, inferior health coverage
When whites and African Americans of the same SES level are compared, the death rate for African Americans actually falls below that of whites.
Health and Income
Gender Differences
During middle age, women experience more non-life threatening illnesses than men but men experience more serious illnesses.
Women smoke less; drink less alcohol; have less dangerous jobs

Medical research has typically studied diseases of men with all male samples; the medical community is only now beginning to study women's health issues.
What are the consequences of stress in middle adulthood?
Heart & Circulatory Disease
Responsible for more loss of work and disability days due to hospitalization than any other cause
More men die in middle age of diseases of the heart and circulatory system than any other cause.
Both genetic and experiential characteristics
Men are more likely to suffer than women, and risks increase with age

Characterized by
Competitiveness, impatience, and a tendency toward frustration and hostility, are more susceptible to heart disease

Research mostly with men, don’t know if applies to women
Characterized by
Non-competitiveness, patience, and a lack of aggression

Evidence that Type B people have less than half the risk of coronary disease that Type A people have
The Threat of Cancer
Second leading cause of death in US
Cancer is associated with genetic and environmental risks
Poor nutrition, smoking, alcohol use, exposure to sunlight, exposure to radiation, and particular occupational hazards
Early treatment related to higher survival rate
Psychological Factors Relating to Cancer: Mind Over Tumor?
Power of a “fighting spirit”

Cognitive Development
Cross-sectional studies clearly showed that older subjects scored less well than younger subjects on traditional IQ tests
Intelligence peaks at 18, stays steady until mid-20s, and declines till end of life

Longitudinal studies, revealed different developmental patterns in intelligence
Stable and even increasing IQ scores until mid-30s and some to mid-50s, then declined
Kinds of Intelligence
FLUID INTELLIGENCE is the ability to deal with new problems and situations
CRYSTALLIZED INTELLIGENCE is the store of information, skills, and strategies that people have acquired through education and prior experiences, and through their previous use of fluid intelligence
Relationship Between Fluid and Crystal Intelligence
Highly Successful Middle Age People
Older successful people may have developed expertise in their particular occupational area.
SELECTIVE OPTIMIZATION: concentrate on some skills to compensate for loss of others
Memory changes in adulthood:
Most people show only minimal losses
Many exhibit no memory loss in middle adulthood

Memory is viewed in terms of three sequential components
Sensory memory
Short-term memory (15 to 25 seconds)
Long-term memory – some decline in middle age
Schemas in Middle Adulthood
Organized bodies of information stored in memory
Aid in categorization and interpretation of new information
Increased complexity of schema & development of expertise