FIVE MYTHS ABOUT AGING
Common misperceptions can stand in the way of making the best choices as we grow older. Here are a few myths that may help people think of seniors as “getting better” as they get older.
MYTH #1: SENIORS ARE GROUCHY.
Cartoon strips starring curmudgeonly old men, elderly women whacking miscreant teenagers with their canes…the crabby senior is an archetype with which we are all familiar. It is true that physical pain, depression, sensory impairment, and mobility loss can take a toll on anyone’s mood and outlook on life. But gerontological psychologists tell us that in general, our personality traits remain the same throughout our lives. Many of us even develop a more positive attitude as we age.
Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center for Longevity says, “In general, people get happier as they get older.” Asked about the stereotype of the grumpy old man, Carstensen said, “Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old.” Seniors who are experiencing an uncharacteristic negative mood should be evaluated for underlying causes.
MYTH #2: MEMORY LOSS IS INEVITABLE AS WE AGE.
The idea of the “senile” senior is a pervasive cliché. Any older adult who has gone shopping with a younger relative, only to be ignored by a salesperson, knows that younger people often assume that seniors are incompetent. It is true that Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions that cause memory loss and cognitive impairment are more common as we grow older, and we do experience certain age-related memory changes. Yet most of us complete our lives fully cognitively intact. Indeed, recent studies suggest that older brains are better at certain tasks that involve discernment and judgment – the qualities more commonly referred to as “wisdom.”
MYTH #3: MOST SENIORS LIVE IN NURSING HOMES.
This is another cliché of yesteryear: rows of older adults sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of a “rest home.” Today’s long-term care facilities serve a vital function, providing care for people who need skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Some older adults opt to move to a retirement community or other senior residence, but according to the AARP, 90% of the baby boomers wish to “age in place,” remaining in their own homes as long as possible. We have a better chance of aging in place if we anticipate our future needs and make home modifications to accommodate any mobility and sensory challenges.
MYTH #4: LONGEVITY WILL CONTINUE TO INCREASE.
During the 20th century, the average lifespan in the US lengthened by thirty years! Many people assume that this trend will continue, but studies suggest that the baby boomers will not experience an average increased longevity, and they may even take a step backwards. The CDC says that the 45 to 64 year-olds of today are more likely to have two or more chronic conditions than their parents. Experts predict a decline in life expectancy within this century, as increased obesity rates lead to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Although most seniors and baby boomers expect their lives to improve as they grow older, many are failing to take important steps to preserve their health. Wellness doesn’t just happen. Making good lifestyle choices will increase the likelihood that you will enjoy a healthy old age.
MYTH #5: EVERYONE AGES IN THE SAME WAY.
Today’s emphasis on healthy aging might seem to convey the message that we are in total control of our aging. But no matter how diligent we are about our health, unexpected illnesses, accidents and even our genes can send us on an unexpected path. There is no cookie-cutter model for how we will age and what our needs will be.
On the individual level, this means that we should anticipate that arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease may strike even the most health-conscious among us. Learning all we can about the issues of later life now, allows us to create a flexible plan for a happy life later.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies