As an adult you establish a unique identity, reach the proverbial midlife crisis, and eventually succumb to old age. In this lesson, learn about the physical, psychological, and emotional changes that take place along this journey.
Adult Human Development
When you think of human development, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely the first image you have is of a teenager going through the stages of puberty. This is because a great deal of attention is usually placed on this period in regard to physical development. But what happens when this stage is over? Do adults develop physically as well? What about psychological and emotional changes?
Life would be pretty boring if we didn't continue to develop emotionally and psychologically. As adults, we continue to learn and gain experiences that change us. We also continue to develop physically, as well, even though some of these physical changes may eventually progress in a negative manner.
First, let's look at the physical changes that take place during adulthood. Because of the dramatic physical developments that take place earlier, it may seem that less attention is placed on physical development in the adult years. Let's find out if this assumption is true as we look at three main stages to physical development in adulthood: early adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood.
Early adulthood takes place roughly between the ages of 20 to 35. In early adulthood, a person may continue to add a bit of height and weight. Hormonal changes also continue to occur, but the effects are less pronounced than they were during adolescence. In terms of physical development, this period is the least dramatic.
Middle adulthood takes place roughly between the ages of 35 and 65. In middle adulthood, we may start to see more noticeable changes again. Because we start to see and feel the physical changes in our bodies, we may begin to think about our physical development once more. One of the most noticeable changes is the loss of skin elasticity. Have you noticed how many different anti-aging creams there are available? Fine lines and wrinkles that begin to develop due to the loss of skin elasticity have definitely gotten some attention!
Have you heard of any new diet supplements that help you lose weight? The weight gain associated with getting older has gained some attention as well. A person will also start to lose strength and flexibility. Thinning of the hair can also occur, and the hair that hasn't thinned may start to turn gray. In middle adulthood, women will also go through a process called menopause and lose the ability to reproduce.
At some time around the age of 65, we enter the world of late adulthood. Yes, we will gain access to senior discounts, but the physical changes taking place in our bodies is a less positive result! More profound negative effects of aging will begin to take its toll on our bodies. This is the final stage of physical change. Those wrinkles will become more noticeable and you may start to develop brown age spots on your skin. Your reaction time begins to slow, and even if you have not needed glasses in the past, your deteriorating eyesight will most likely cause you to need them now.
There are two main physical concerns associated with adult physical development that may become evident in late adulthood. First is the loss of bone mass and second is loss of cognitive function. Other physical concerns may also occur, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and malnutrition due to an inability to absorb vitamins and nutrients. While age related changes cannot entirely be stopped, the symptoms can often be managed with proper diet, exercise, and medical care.
Psychological and Emotional Development
Now that you have had an overview of the physical changes associated with adulthood, let's look at the emotional and psychological changes that take place. In early adulthood, these changes are going to be more noticeable than the physical ones. This is an important stage in adult emotional and psychological development, and we strive to find our place in the world. During this time, important life decisions are made about career and living arrangements. As we find our way in the world and gain our independence, our independent choices and resulting emotional consequences can have a profound impact our view of who we are.
One of the largest aspects of this period of development is the importance that is placed on relationship formation in early adulthood. Developing our own intimate relationships can be challenging, and we have to learn to understand our new independent identities in order for these relationships to fully develop. Marriage and family formation typically occurs during early adulthood. Our emotional and psychological well-being is often tied to how successful we are at forming these relationships.
As an example, let's imagine the difference in the emotional and psychological state of the following three scenarios:
- Bob is 27 years old and focused on the development of his career. He's highly successful at his job and has a few close friends. However, he has little time for romantic relationships.
- Shirley is 33 years old and has two young children. She married her college sweetheart, but unfortunately, they were unable to make the marriage work. She still has a friendly relationship with her ex-husband, who is supportive of his children.
- Joe is 30 years old and married to his high school sweetheart. They have one 11 year old son. He began working just after high school to support his family. Joe now spends his evenings attending community college.
Each of you will have a different image of these individuals. But you will also have a unique view of how you see each individual's emotional and psychological state as well. You may have a positive or negative image of any of the previous examples. In the real world, the emotional and psychological changes that occur in early adulthood are similar to the way you formed an opinion of each different scenario.
Now that we are leaving early adulthood, it is time to face that midlife crisis! During middle adulthood, we go through a whole other set of stressors. We have to face our lot in life, and our perception of who we have become.
Parent-child relationships begin to change as children grow up, and we may become caregivers to aging parents. We also start to realize that we have less time ahead of us to make our lives turn out the way we want them to. A person's interpretation of any past regrets plays an important role in their emotional and psychological well-being during middle adulthood. The good news is that for most of us this is actually a time in our lives where more life experience, concern for the world around us, and a firm understanding of who we are provide us with the stability and confidence to face these challenges head-on.
Finally, we enter late adulthood, which comes with its own unique set of emotional and psychological strain. Late adulthood involves a mixture of gains and losses. On one hand, there's the freedom of retirement, grown children, and fewer responsibilities. On the other hand, there's concern about physical health, and the realization of one's mortality and the potential for social isolation.
In late adulthood, a person is at greater risk to become depressed and lonely. Most likely this is due to a sense of loss of the activities and people who gave their life meaning. However, those who maintain family bonds, friendships, and stay active in their community are more likely to have positive emotional and psychological well-being during late adulthood.
Throughout adulthood, our bodies continue to change, and we continue to learn and grow through experiences. Early adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood are the three main stages of physical, emotional, and psychological development.
In terms of physical development, early adulthood is the least dramatic. This stage takes place from approximately 20 to 35 years of age. Major physical changes may not occur, but as we strive to find our place in the world, this is an important stage in emotional and psychological development.
We start to notice physical changes again as we go through middle adulthood in between the ages of 35 and 65. We also have to face many emotional and psychological changes in our lives as our parent-child relationships change and we look back at our lives knowing we have a more limited amount of time to accomplish our goals.
Late adulthood, occurring after the age of 65, can be both positive and negative. We may experience fewer responsibilities, new relationships with grown children and grandchildren, declining physical health, and even social isolation. Those who remain active in their community and maintain bonds with friends and family will have the best outcomes during late adulthood.
Our adult human development remains interesting as we continue to face physical, emotional, and psychological changes throughout our lives.
After completion of this lesson, a student should be able to:
- Recognize physical changes in adults as a normal and natural process
- Detail changes in psychological and emotional as being heavily influenced by external criteria