“Seniors are unable to try new things.” “As you age, your memory goes out the door.” “All seniors are lonely and depressed.”
We’ve all heard them: aging myths. While they’re rampant in our culture, researchers have been waging a quiet war to take them down and provide people with the truth about aging. In light of that, here is the truth about 20 aging myths you might believe:
Myth #1: Older People Feel Old
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Survey, the more people age “the younger they feel, relatively.” In fact, a full 60% of seniors (Ages 65 and older) state that they feel younger than their biological age. While society would tell us that seniors feel their age acutely, many seniors use their retirement as a time to explore new exercises – like Tai Chi or yoga – to pick up new hobbies, and to spend their time volunteering for causes they love. There you have it – age really is nothing but a number.
Myth #2: Seniors’ Brains Stop Working
We’ve all heard about “senior moments” and while it’s true that memory does decline with age and some seniors do experience extreme forms of cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s, it’s unfair and untrue to say that all seniors become forgetful.
According to a 2011 article published in Monitor on Psychology, the effects of aging on the brain have “likely been overstated by anecdotal evidence.” In fact, some seniors actually experience an increase in math abilities as they age.
Myth #3: Seniors Can’t Drive Any Longer
According to the aforementioned Pew study, 76% of people believe that most seniors are unable to drive a car. The truth is, however, that many seniors continue to drive well into their golden years and that only one in seven seniors report not being able to drive.
Myth #4: Seniors are Unable to Break Bad Habits
While many people view seniors as being stuck in their ways and immovable, the fact is that many seniors break bad habits, such as smoking or poor dietary habits, in their older years. These changes can help contribute to a more positive lifestyle on a daily basis.
Myth #5: Seniors are Unhappy
There’s a common perception that seniors are always unhappy. In fact, multiple studies have shown that happiness generally begins to increase after age 50. A study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior recently stated that people are generally the happiest they’ve ever been when they reach retirement age.
While senior depression and isolation are certainly problems that some older people contend with, it’s untrue that all seniors are unhappy. Many of them are simply enjoying their families and their newfound free time!
Myth #6: Seniors are Frail and Weak
Truth: getting older puts you at risk of osteoporosis. Myth: All seniors are weak and breakable. While some seniors do struggle with bone density issues or chronic diseases, it’s easy to stay healthy and fit through a regimen of good eating habits, regular weight-bearing exercise, plenty of supplements, and a generally healthy lifestyle. With the help of these things, many seniors never develop osteoporosis.
Myth #7: Seniors Have no Family Interaction
After the kids are all grown up and gone, many seniors actually feel higher levels of happiness than many people expect. Between decreased financial burdens and increased amounts of free time, many seniors have found that the so-called “empty nest years” actually free up a great deal of space for enjoyment. Additionally, seniors often have adult children, grandchildren, and extended families to enjoy in their golden years.
Myth #8: Seniors Stop Learning
What a sad world it would be if all seniors stopped learning new things the moment they hit 65. Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many seniors are incredibly invested in learning new hobbies, meeting new people, and taking up new pastimes. What’s more, a senior’s brain is well-equipped for every single one of these pursuits.
According to the tenants of neuroplasticity, the human brain is always growing and changing and seniors are just as capable as anyone else of building new neural pathways and absorbing new information.
Myth #9: Seniors Isolate Themselves
While many housebound seniors do experience dangerous levels of depression and senior isolation, this is commonly regarded as the exception rather than the rule. The truth is that, through in-home care programs and assisted living facilities, seniors have access to a great deal of social programs, adult-learning classes, and fun recreational pastimes. Many seniors take great enjoyment from these things and spend their golden years leading healthy, active social lives.
Myth #10: Old Age Destroys Seniors’ Sex Lives
While some seniors suffer from decreasing libido and impotence, these are often related to preventable conditions such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Because of this, many seniors who take good care of their bodies via exercise and a healthy diet enjoy healthy sex lives well into their 70s. In fact, the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging reports that 60% of all seniors still enjoy regular intimate and sexual contact.
Myth #11: Genetics are Wholly Responsible for the Aging Process
While genetic factors may influence things like your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s or diabetes, the majority of aging comes down to how an individual lives his or her life. People with unhealthy lifestyles are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than their healthy counterparts and things like exposure to toxins, diet, and exercise all play a role in the aging process.
Myth #12: Seniors Can’t Be Creative
According to a study conducted by George Washington University, seniors who engaged in creative pursuits such as singing took less prescription medication, suffered fewer falls, and were in better physical and mental health than their non-creative peers. Creative pursuits like painting, acting, or crafting can also help seniors feel less lonely and more positive. This just goes to show that not only can seniors be creative, but it’s also very good for them to do so.
Myth #13: Seniors are Cranky
This is commonly known as the “Grumpy Old People Stereotype” and it’s just as damaging as it is untrue. Studies have shown that seniors actually become more trusting and good-natured as they age rather than it being the other way around. Seniors who are cranky are often suffering from cognitive decline, dementia, depression, or isolation – all of which can be alleviated or lessened through regular contact with friends and loved ones and proper care.
Myth #14: Seniors are Filled with Regrets
Depending upon how you look at it, old age is a time to look back and lament what you haven’t done or it’s a time to be thankful for what you have done. Studies show that the majority of seniors choose the latter option. 45% of seniors ages 75 and older believe in the power of “counting their blessings”, which is a powerful factor in happiness, satisfaction, and gratitude that can help boost a senior’s overall outlook.
Myth #15: Seniors Are Impoverished
While it’s true that many seniors are struggling with their finances, the aforementioned Pew survey states that a full two-thirds of seniors are actually more financially secure than they were at younger ages.
Myth #16: Nobody Respects Seniors
When surveyed, 60% of seniors state that they feel more respected and less stressed than they did when they were younger. Much of this is likely due to changing societal norms and an increased focus on high-quality senior care and activity programs throughout the country.
Myth #17: The Average Lifespan is Decreasing
Currently, more than 39 million U.S. citizens are age 65 or older. This is 13% of the U.S. population – a 4% increase from the year 1900. What’s more, seniors today are actually living longer than they ever have before. This is due in large part to advances in medicine and public health programs as well as nutrition and sanitation.
Myth #18: Seniors Can’t Hold a Job
Even after retirement age has come and gone, many seniors choose to continue working for the social and emotional benefits it offers. These seniors tend to be just as productive as their younger counterparts and are often more reliable and dedicated than younger generations.
Myth #19: All Seniors Fear Death
While most seniors are aware of the inevitability of death – some more than others – very few seniors are obsessed with the idea of death. Instead, seniors often view their golden years as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends and do the things they enjoy! More often than not, the perception that seniors are obsessed with death is actually a projection by younger people onto their grandparents and senior counterparts.
Myth #20: Older Adults Are Lazy
Most seniors’ days are anything but lazy and dull. According to the aforementioned Pew survey, about one in four older adults reports engaging in vigorous exercise on a daily basis, 90% talk to family, 80% read a book, two-thirds drive a car somewhere, 40% go shopping, and just shy of half of seniors spend time in a hobby every day. Contrary to popular belief, most seniors actually enjoy busy days full of things they love.
While it’s natural to have questions about the aging process, it’s clear that these 20 common aging myths can now be considered debunked. While many people believe seniors are lonely, sedentary, cranky, and depressed, most people would be shocked to know that exactly the opposite is often true: seniors are often outgoing, vivacious, engaged, and happier than ever before!