One of the reasons ageism is so rampant in America is that there are numerous erroneous and deeply held beliefs about what it mean to grow older. You’ve undoubtedly run across many of these yourself. The media is rife with aging’s negative stereotypes – from a grumpy old man to a frail older woman, society seems to be telling us that older Americans are miserable, sick and stubborn. But is this really true? Does growing older necessarily mean giving up on a life of purpose and joy?
At Webster at Rye, we deal with people facing the challenges of aging every day. We also see them enjoying their later years with the ability to fully participate in life. Growing older doesn’t have to mean growing sick or unhappy.
Misconceptions About Aging
Myth: There’s Nothing You Can Do to Mitigate the Effects of Aging
Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and beginning an exercise routine can have amazing positive benefits, even later in life. British researchers conducted a study of seniors’ activity level over the course of eight years. They discovered that those who were active and the start of the study and remained so throughout the eight years had the lowest incidents of chronic diseases, memory loss and physical disability. Those who were sedentary at the start of the study and who started an exercise program and sustained it throughout the study did nearly as well, achieving a sevenfold decrease in their risk of becoming ill or frail compared to those who remained inactive throughout the length of the study.
Myth: Memory Loss is Inevitable As We Age
It is true that Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions that cause memory loss are more common as we grow older. Many will experience certain age-related memory changes. Yet, most older adults live out their lives without any serious cognitive impairments. 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.” Additionally, there are things we can do to help prevent memory loss as we age – challenge our minds by learning new tasks, exercise, eat well, socialize with friends, and reduce stress.
Myth: Older Adults are Unhappy
It’s interesting that this myth persists, given that numerous studies have been conducted showing the opposite to be true. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that the older the person, the happier they were. A Gallup poll discovered that older people experienced less stress and worry than younger people. Of course, happiness is a complex issue. Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center for Longevity, discusses the nuances in her TED talk, “Older people are happier.” But suffice it to say, the idea of seniors being grouchy and unhappy is, for the most part, simply untrue.
Myth: Older Adults are a Burden to Their Children
A study conducted by Pew Research found that more than 90 percent of people age 65 and older live in their own home or apartment. Only 12 percent of respondents said they rely on their children more than their children rely on them, less than the number that say their children rely on them more than they rely on their children (14 percent). The vast majority of older adults continue to live independent and fulfilling lives.
Myth: It’s Too Late To [Fill in the Blank]
Do you believe it’s too late to achieve great things? Barbara Hillary, at age 75, became the first African-American to reach the North Pole. At age 79, she became the first to reach both poles. Too late to get fit? As mentioned in the British study in Myth #1, people who started a health regimen later in life were able to decrease their risk of illness. Too late for romance? A British study in 2012 found that the number of grooms older than 65 increased by 25 percent over the previous year; for brides, it was a 21 percent increase. In America, the number of people over the age of 50 living together in a romantic relationship doubled from 2000 to 2010. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as the old saying goes – if there’s something you really want in life, age should never be a barrier.