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There's a Bright Side to Being Middle Aged

April 26, 1999|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

For most people, midlife years bring a stronger sense of well-being and accomplishment, the MacArthur project found.

The respondents reported that they found their own irritability declined as they hit the middle years, with men saying it generally started to decrease after age 45 and women after age 50. In particular, the project found that the emotional volatility and the stress that often accompany the early years of adulthood--establishing a career or finding a job, getting married, starting a family and taking on parental responsibilities--gradually decline in middle years and wane even further as adults move into the "calmer, less frenzied days of old age."

Even the frequency of headaches reduces with age, according to the study.

Menopause, often characterized as emotionally taxing and physically stressful, also appears to be benign for most women, according to the findings.

When asked how they felt about the time when menstrual periods stop altogether, 62% of post-menopausal women in the study reported "only relief." Just 2% of female participants said they felt regret at the change of life.

The incidence of standard menopausal symptoms--hot flashes, profuse sweating, insomnia and irritability--occurs mainly among women in their early 50s, the researchers reported. But even then, half of women reported no hot flashes at all, 13% said they had them daily and 25% reported that they suffered from them once a week or more.

"People have told dramatic stories about how horrific menopause is, but it is not borne out by our study," said Paul Cleary, professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a researcher on the MacArthur study. "There's great variability in how people experience certain things and . . . the point is that [severe symptoms are] relatively infrequent and certainly less frequent than a lot of the popular press would lead you to believe."

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