When we think of old age, we tend to envision a slowdown or a person napping in a rocking chair. The fallacy of judging another person’s state of mind, actions or behaviors based on our own experiences, state of mind, actions or behaviors propagates widespread misconceptions about aging.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no typical “older personality.” Our basic personality is formed probably before six months of age but is modifiable. Those are two underlying concepts to keep in mind as we examine the following common misconceptions about aging as outlined by Donald E. Riesenberg, M.D., in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Common Myths About Aging
Older people aren’t interested in the outside world.
The over-65 age group uses the Internet a lot. Far from being passive TV watchers, more than 100,000 individuals over age 50 participate in the non-profit Road Scholar experiential learning program each year to better understand other cultures around the world. Staying involved academically has also been a focus of many colleges and universities that have designed ongoing education programs for older residents or for the aging adult who wants to learn while on vacation. And many people, either by choice or necessity, stay involved in the workforce well beyond the typical retirement age.
Older people don’t want or need close relationships.
We are social creatures. Families, tribes, teams and whole organizations have a better chance of survival and actually thriving when they are socially connected. The need for meaningful relationships does not diminish with age. However, there may be fewer people to relate to as we get older, and there may be physical and mental barriers that arise with age. Maintaining social relationships allows older adults to reap numerous rewards—intellectual challenges, maintaining information processing skills, feedback and just plain sharing of feelings.
Older people contribute little to society.
With years of personal skills and professional expertise, older adults are highly valued employees, colleagues and volunteers. Senior Corps has more than 200,000 volunteers age 55 and older who contribute to their communities by tutoring, helping small businesses, assisting in placing foster children, providing fellow seniors who are homebound with companionship and help with daily tasks, and participating in other valuable endeavors. Older workers have a strong work ethic and are great mentors and models for younger generations.
As you age, you get more set in your ways.
Older people tend to have high levels of mental resilience. The older generation’s ability to accept and rebound from adversity has been demonstrated many times. For instance, Outward Bound was founded when the owner of a British merchant shipping line noted that the survival rates among older sailors during World War II were much higher than those of younger sailors. The intergenerational program strove to pass on skills that seasoned sailors possessed, such as self-confidence, self-sufficiency, selflessness and a general attitude of toughness, to younger generations of seamen.
Mental and physical deterioration are inevitable in old age.
There is a certain amount of loss of function as we age, but much can be done to prevent (or at least slow down) the physical and mental aging processes. Stem cells lose some of their potential and other cells weaken, but healthful habits hinder the process. Weightlifting helps retain muscle and bone integrity. Aerobic exercise and diet lessen the chances for physical and mental deterioration. Exercising the brain and continuously learning help to fight cognitive decline. Too much sedentary time spent watching TV is detrimental at any age but is particularly unhealthy for older adults, who often see their generation stereotyped in programming as feeble, forgetful, cranky and confused. Remember, what you think will happen, happens.
Read the rest of the points in this article by Dr. Allen Weiss, NCH Healthcare System.