How many times have you heard a generalization that starts with the phrase, “All old people…”? All old people are bad drivers. All old people are cranky. All old people have memory loss. And then there are the seemingly harmless jokes and cartoons that perpetuate the same ideas.
This cartoon suggests that older adults are poor drivers. The truth is that teenagers, by far, have higher crash rates, according to numerous studies by the National Highway Safety Institute. As a result, what kinds of images of aging do generalizations and jokes like this conjure in your mind about older people? And what happens when these generalizations are simply not true? Further, how do these untruths make older adults feel about their own aging?
Let’s explore some more of these myths in depth.
Myth: Older adults are all the same.
Truth: Older adults actually become more unique with age. The longer we live, our diverse life experiences continue for form our unique beliefs and personalities. As we age, we do indeed select the experiences that are most meaningful to us and this may mean a greater focus on specific outlooks and activities. However, like a diamond, every experience is just a little bit different if we look closely enough.
Myth: All older adults will get Alzheimer’s Disease.
Truth: Any kind of memory loss is not a normal part of aging. There are over two dozen types of dementia, many of which are manageable with a combination of lifestyle management, medication, diet and exercise. Alzheimer’s Related Dementia accounts for fewer than 50% of all diagnoses. We should not ignore memory loss. It may be a sign of over-medication, stress, depression or some other underlying health concern.
Myth: All older adults live in nursing homes.
Truth: Fewer than 10% of all older adults will live in any type of long term care community. Most older adults are “aging in place” which means they are living in the homes and communities of their choice.
Myth: Old age implies frailty.
Truth: 80% (or more) of elders live vibrant, active and engaged lives. Working at full or part time jobs or volunteeing 2-4 hours per week is a part of normal aging. Driving. Shopping. Exercising. Visiting family and friends. Having sex. These are all usual parts of aging…do these activities imply frailty?
The real truth about aging, is that it is something WE are ALL doing. Chances are, if we enjoyed an activity in our 20’s, we are going to do the same thing in our 80’s. So what does this mean for your aging? How will you be part of the 80% who are enjoying their aging?