Many stereotypes exist in our culture today and, unfortunately, older adults are not immune from them. Some stereotypes about aging are partly based on ignorance while others are just bizarre. The trouble with all of them is that they reduce and dehumanize older adults into caricatures (think Grandpa Simpson), instead of recognizing them as unique human beings. Take a look at some of the following myths about getting older, and see if you’ve fallen prey to any of them.
Growing older means getting depressed
A decrease in physical abilities, an increase in health issues . . . okay, we can see why you might think that growing older means getting depressed. However, there’s a saying that as we grow older, we don’t really change — we just become more of whatever we are. If you were happy throughout your life, you will likely take that positive attitude with you into maturity. In fact, older adults tend to be happier than many other age groups. Although people report their lowest levels of happiness at age forty, the levels tend to increase after that. So there you go — an aging myth debunked, plus something to look forward to!
Gain years, lose brainpower
We’ve heard it time and again – getting older means inevitable senility, turning us all into addle-brains. Not so! While there are dementias that correlate with increased age, this doesn’t mean we automatically lose all our gray matter. Much can be done to prevent age-related dementia, including performing mental exercises and puzzles to keep the mind sharp. And according to an article in The New York Times, “mental capabilities that depend most heavily on accumulated knowledge and experience, like settling disputes and enlarging one’s vocabulary, clearly get better over time.”
You’re going to be lonely
Worried that aging and loneliness go hand in hand? Don’t be. Lack of transportation may have more to do with an older adult’s isolation that anything else. By having someone provide transport to and from activities, older adults can stay engaged in their communities and enjoy a varied social life. You can also have someone come to the home regularly, such as a health aide, or attend the many day programs and activities for older people.
Say goodbye to your sex drive
Enjoyed a healthy romantic life when you were younger? Well, get ready to kiss it all goodbye, because the second you get your first grey hair, your sex drive goes down the tubes.
Wait, no. That’s a lie. Aging doesn’t automatically turn your teenage hormones off. Although many of us are uncomfortable thinking about or discussing sex and aging, many older adults want (and have) full and satisfying sex lives. The state of a person’s physical health often has more to do with their enjoyment of sex than their chronological age, which is how the stereotype may have originated in the first place.
We’re all nursing home bound
One of the biggest misconceptions about aging is that every older adult either lives in a nursing home or will eventually need to. This is an especially dangerous idea because it causes a great deal of fear, anxiety, and heartache. People may be living with the false belief that they must leave the home they know and love. In some cases, the individual has lived in their house for decades. But the truth is, many older adults are able to remain in their preferred environment with the right help, such as regular visits from a home health agency.
Fight stereotypes about aging
Despite the abundance of stereotypes about aging in our culture, there is a lot you can do to combat them. Spend some time with older adults in your community, whether it be your own loved ones, residents of a retirement village or those you know through work or volunteer activities. Get to know them and their interests, abilities, and personalities. And don’t forget the most important part – let others know how special, valuable, and unique they really are!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.