Many of us grew up hearing and seeing things that didn’t make old age a very exciting time in life to look forward to. Perhaps we had older relatives who were “old before their time” or were “stuck in their ways.” Fortunately, times have changed and today’s seniors are healthier, more engaged in the world, and maybe even sexier than ever before.
Here are some of the common myths about growing old and the reasons why we shouldn’t believe them:
Fact: Even in advanced old age, most people are not disabled, and the proportion of older Americans who are disabled is going down, not up. Only a small percentage of older people live in nursing homes; the remainder live in the community at large.
Myth: Older adults are more depressed than younger adults.
Fact: Depression occurs more commonly in people who have medical problems. Some older people have more medical conditions than younger people do, so it may seem as if more older people are depressed.
Older adults who do face depression are finding that it doesn’t carry the same stigma that it did years ago. In fact, many well-respected people like the newsman Mike Wallace have found helpful treatment for their depression. They’ve also spread the word that depression—and treatment for it—are not things to be ashamed of.
Myth: Sex stops after 65.
Fact: Sexual activity does not have to stop once someone gets older. Researchers at Duke University’s Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development surveyed 254 men and women between the ages of 60 and 94 about their sexual activity. They found that these older individuals were still interested in sex and continued to have active sex lives.
Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Fact: As we age, we may not be able to learn new things as quickly as we did when we were younger. However, learning is a life-long process. Three things that are good for our minds as we age are regular physical activity, a strong social support system, and a belief in our own ability to handle what life has to offer.*
Myth: Older adults don’t pull their own weight.
Fact: One-third of older people work for pay. One-third work as volunteers in churches, hospitals, and other organizations. Many others provide much-needed assistance to family members, friends, and neighbors.*
Myth: It’s too late or it’s pointless to change bad habits in later life.
Fact: Certainly, it’s better to start healthy habits early, but the truth is, it’s almost never too late to benefit from healthy living. Even damage from decades of too much alcohol or fat-laden food, lack of exercise, or smoking can be reversed or limited. A fresh start can help a person recover lost abilities and decrease the risk of certain illnesses. In some cases, it can even improve a person’s health.*
Myth: Mental sharpness declines with age.
Fact: An active mind and clear thoughts go hand in hand. Reading, doing puzzles, and taking classes are excellent ways to challenge our brains. Writing to friends and hobbies like knitting and woodworking are also good for our minds.