The Good News: We get happier. A recent AARP survey showed that from your early 50s on, happiness increases over time. One explanation for the trend: years of experience. "As you get older, you know that bad times are going to pass," says Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "You also know that good times will pass, which makes those good times even more precious."
The Not-So-Good News: You might stay away from stressful situations, thereby missing out on new opportunities. Just make sure all your social interactions stay strong. They may be key to facing future challenges with resilience.
What's Up With That? Are you worried that you're not as worried these days? "The ability to regulate one's emotions improves as you get older," says Bob Knight, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and psychology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles.
What's Ahead: People in their 70s are consistently happy and satisfied with their lives, studies show.
The Good News: The growth of new brain cells, called neurogenesis, continues well into your 60s. And the capacity to learn new things stays strong, says Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
The Not-So-Good News: Part of your brain circuitry starts to burn out with age, but most of us compensate by relying on other parts of our brain, and our past experiences, to make decisions. "That's the 'wisdom' that accrues with older age," says Kennedy. In your 60s you may also find yourself slow to access memories. But the loss of memory — once thought intrinsic to aging — is often avoidable, new research shows. "You can improve your brain health by getting regular mental stimulation, social interaction and physical activity," Kennedy says. Case in point: MRIs show that adults who exercise regularly have a bigger hippocampus (the brain region responsible for memory and learning), which helps keep the mind sharp.
What's Up With That? So you find yourself looking into a cabinet with no idea why you opened it. Relax. In your 60s mild forgetfulness happens because the transmission of nerve impulses between cells slows down. It's rarely a sign of something serious. While many folks in their 60s start to worry about Alzheimer's, the risk of developing this devastating disease is fairly low in this decade: Less than 5 percent of Alzheimer's patients are under 65.
What's Ahead: Real cognitive decline becomes especially prevalent in your 70s and 80s; nearly half of Americans 85 or older have Alzheimer's. Your best prevention plan: regular exercise, intellectual stimulation and plenty of social interaction with family and friends.