Menopause Midlife Change Menopause and Female Term Paper

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Menopause MIDLIFE CHANGE

Menopause and Female Midlife Change

The strict definition of Menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle in women, usually occurring round age fifty. This must last for at least a year before the medical definition is met. It is considered a part of the natural aging process and is brought about by the failure of the endocrine system to produce estrogen and other hormones (Short pause, 1998) causing the permanent cessation of menstruation resulting from the loss of ovarian follicular activity (Parry). While this is biologically correct, psychologically the effects of menopause can begin long before the actual physical onset of the condition and continue long afterwards. Furthermore, it is often not a sudden cessation of hormone production but a gradual decline in the related hormones, which leads to perimenopausal symptoms that can be just as devastating as the onset of the condition itself.

In a recent survey, it was found that only 57 per cent of women had experienced one or more of these symptoms, and only 22 per cent had found them a problem. While they can be debilitating, they are not dangerous. Many women take steps to relieve the symptoms or ask the advice of their pharmacist, although it is the long-term effects, which need to be considered (Short pause, 1998).

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However, the subtlety of these effects builds over time and can be cumulatively detrimental to health, relationships and overall psychological well being depending on the severity of the symptoms. There are many different factors that affect women's abilities in coping with certain midlife difficulties and various menopausal symptoms. Why some cope better than others is often not a matter of just the simple relief of those physical symptoms, but a lifelong viewpoint of overall positive self-esteem and a current stability in their lives at midlife that assist them during this time of change.

Term Paper on Menopause Midlife Change Menopause and Female Midlife Assignment

One of the most common physical symptoms of menopause and perimenopause are the frequent hot flashes that seem to symbolize this change. These are shown to affect up to seventy five percent of all women, both pre and post menopause. "These episodes usually begin with heat emanating from the upper chest and into the neck, face, and arms. The skin actually reddens, the pulse quickens, and the body sweats" (Baldo, Schneider, and Slyter). They can experience up to ten or more hot flashes on any given day with no seeming rhyme or reason to the timing. Sleep disruption is also a factor that is brought about both by the hot flashes experienced and from the hormonal condition itself, which can create feelings of anxiety as well as racing thoughts. The same is evident regarding next most frequent symptoms, mood disturbances of depression and/or anger. These symptoms can be a combination of hormonal imbalances exacerbated by current life situations. Mental confusion and memory problems are also reported with some frequency during this time although it has been debated whether of not low estrogen levels are the primary predictor of this. Other additional physical symptoms include headaches, heart palpitations and vaginal dryness. The latter symptom can also lead to a lack of libido and low self-esteem. Also noted in this cohort were symptoms such as difficulty in making decisions, loss of confidence, anxiety, forgetfulness, difficulty in concentrating, tiredness, and feelings of worthlessness. These symptoms can continue for ten years or more after the onset of menopause and may even begin between two and five years prior to its onset (Freundlich, 2004, p148).

There are various theories for the reasons behind this "change of life," another name that menopause is also known by. "The hypothesis that genes affect the timing of the end of reproductive life has been around a long time. There is a strong evolutionary rationale to ideas about the reason for the length of human female reproductive life" (Treloar, Do, Martin, 1998). There is a wide range of disagreement on whether or not there is an evolutionary design behind menopause. Even to the point that there may not be any design behind it and that it is merely adaptation to differing conditions:

Biologically oriented professionals disagree about the evolutionary origins of menopause. Some assert that menopause was adaptive, and therefore became part of the human genome through natural selection. For example, the "grandmother hypothesis" suggests that women who stopped having their own children helped to care for the children of their relatives. This increased the numbers of their relatives who survived and helped human groups to settle in a broader range of environments. While the "grandmother hypothesis" often narrowly focuses on feeding the young, older women serve a variety of useful functions in their groups. Others argue that menopause was a byproduct of some other change. For example, perhaps genes that created a longer lifespan or that were needed earlier in life inadvertently resulted in menopause. Menopause, once it existed, then may have taken on new functions, some of them adaptive. (Derry)

However, it appears that regardless of its origin, it will continue to affect the human female population. Apparently this is also a uniquely human experience:

It is unusual for a mammal to have a menopause as humans do. However, there is nothing unusual about humans having unusual life stages. While disagreement remains, many biologists, physical anthropologists, and others with a life history perspective assert that menopause is a universal life stage unique to humans (Derry)

There is also an apparent increase in psychological and emotional problems among women in the pre- and postmenopausal age groups. Additionally, this cohort of women is typically given many more prescriptions for psychotropic medication as compared with women from other ages as well as men within this same age range (Parry). How accurately related to menopause this finding is, is also a debatable point. Yet clearly this may be the band aids that medical practitioners are using to ameliorate the symptoms they are finding. There may be many other factors involved, environmental as well as life stage. Almost certainly marriage plays a critical role in life satisfaction for some women at midlife.

Many studies find that to a large extent the most relevant support for women in midlife is their spouse. Being married, along with sufficient family income, made a sizable difference in the reporting of depression or lack thereof, for women at midlife. It appears that if the need for intimate relationships, whether or not it is sexual, is a viable concern for women in middle to late adulthood. The need for intimacy on many levels is of paramount importance at this life stage. Research also indicates that the overall quality and responsiveness of the marriage may be an even more important factor in regards to the health and psychological wellness of women (Robinson Kurpius, Nicpon, & Maresh, 2001).

When looking specifically at the married midlife women, there were mood differences among the three groups based on levels of marital satisfaction. Happily married women reported less negative moods than moderately happy married women, who in turn reported less negative moods than unhappily married women. This finding expands previous research that reported a link between marital happiness and mental and physical well-being. An intervention by counseling psychologists needs to consider both marital happiness and mood states for midlife women. (Kurpius, Nicpon, & Maresh, 2001, p. 82)

Non-married women also reported having more depressive episodes than married women in the same study (Kurpis, et.al., 2001), leading to the generalized belief that a lack of positive support in an intimate relationship at this time is often an indicator that significant increases of depression may occur.

There are other noteworthy factors that contribute to varying degrees of depressive states for women in midlife aside from marital status. Unfortunately it is still a cultural and economically dominant fact that income for women is significantly less than their male counterparts in similar positions. Consequently a single women's income at midlife is certainly more of a concern for her than for a married women. However, while household income has not had significant correlation with mood state or other symptoms of menopause, it must still be considered in an overall picture of a woman at midlife and her particular situation. (Robinson Kurpius, Nicpon, & Maresh, 2001).

Peer networks are also necessary in order for women in midlife to thrive socially as well as emotionally. They help to mold relationships while providing companionship and a sense of security and acceptance. These social societies provide an opportunity for individuals to express their shared feelings about their immediate world and environment. Substantial peer networks are increasingly important for a woman who has lost a spouse. Support groups and simply friends in the same situation are extremely beneficial and can ameliorate the depression that loosing the one closest to you can cause.

Lifespan development also has certain causal effects at this stage of a woman's life. Using Erickson's stages of development, a woman entering menopause is doing so in middle adulthood, stage seven in Erickson's hierarchy. Here we find her at the psycho-social… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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