Latimer: Cognivity may decline but mental health improves with age

When it comes to mental health, there is some paradoxical news about aging.

Paul LatimerIn our society it’s pretty rare to hear messages of optimism related to aging.

We are obsessed with remaining youthful—prolonging good looks, physical strength and virility.

In virtually any store or any media outlet you will be met with messages both subtle and direct celebrating youth and fearful of aging.

When it comes to mental health, there is some paradoxical news about aging.

Though we tend to decline physically and cognitively as we age, research shows our mental health actually improves.

In a study of just over 1,500 adults aged 21 to 90 in California, those in the oldest cohort reported better mental health than the younger adults. This was in spite of having lower scores for physical and cognitive function.

Authors found those in their 20s and 30s reported more stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, these two decades were associated with lower levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood.

This is an interesting finding, but perhaps not too surprising. The 20s and 30s do contain a lot of stressful life transitions. People are typically building careers, starting families, buying homes and paying off student loans.

Adolescence has passed and adulthood can hit hard.

Very often, people are juggling time and financial pressures while trying to provide opportunities and experiences for young families. Sleep and life satisfaction can be sacrificed.

By the time we reach our senior years, many adults are winding down careers or have retired, homes are paid for, children have grown, and many of the anxieties of young adulthood are in the past.

Though every age brings new and varied stressors, the 20s and 30s can feel like a pressure cooker.

Many studies have examined adolescence as a critical period in mental health and development. This is a critical time and is often when symptoms of psychiatric conditions can start to appear.

More research of the entire lifespan would be helpful to increase our understanding of the processes and factors influencing mental health and well-being at every stage of life.

In the meantime, it is comforting to know that as we age we can have some hope that our sense of psychological health will improve with age.

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