You’ve probably seen old-age stereotypes portrayed throughout popular culture where growing old means growing sick, forgetful and/or feeble. But like most overused stereotypes, myths about aging are also wrong. A study in the Journal of Gerontology found that for many, growing older is not accompanied by life-limiting declines in health.
A study by Yale University Professor of Public Health and Psychology Becca Levy, Ph.D., found that believing in myths about aging — useless, helpless, loss of value — can in fact have a negative impact on your longevity. But replacing those negative age stereotypes with positive perceptions about aging — wisdom, self-realization, satisfaction and vitality — resulted in a nearly eight-year increase in average lifespan. So looking at the myths and realities of aging to change how you see growing older can greatly impact your overall health and wellness.
Myths About Aging
Myth #1: My genes determine my health.
Reality: It’s not unusual to assume that your life span and health will mirror that of your parents, but Dr. Roger Landry, author of “Live Long, Die Short,” says 70% of how we age comes down to lifestyle choices. Eating right, getting plenty of sleep, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and getting regular exercise all play a bigger role in your overall health and longevity than genetics.
Myth #2: To be old is to be weak and frail.
Reality: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. The CDC lists a number of ways staying active as you age will help keep you fit. Regular walks, stretching, and gardening can help you build muscle mass, stay flexible and improve your bone density. Exercise can also help to reduce your blood pressure and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Before starting any exercise routine, consult with your physician.
Myth #3: Senility is inevitable.
Reality: It’s normal to have moments of forgetfulness or being unable to recall a person’s name. You’re also likely to experience some slowdown in your reaction time and problem-solving abilities. But according to the Alzheimer’s Association, only about 3% of U.S. adults ages 65 to 74 years have dementia (including the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s). Some age-related mental decline can be avoided by eating a balanced diet, staying active, and continuing to mentally challenge yourself by being a lifelong learner.
Myth #4: As you age, your ability to learn often stops.
Reality: According to Harvard Medical School, while learning patterns may change and speed of learning may diminish, your basic capacity to learn remains. In fact, as we age, the branching of the brain’s nerve cells increases, and connections between distant brain areas strengthen. This makes it easier to detect relationships between diverse sources of information and understand the global implications of specific issues.
Myth #5: I’ll end up isolated and alone.
Reality: While it’s true connections and relationships change throughout life, it’s possible to make friends at any age. A senior living community offers built-in social connections. In fact, a study by the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging shows seniors who live at a Life Plan Community (also known as a Continuing Care Retirement Community or CCRC) are happier and healthier than people living in their houses. And 69% of the residents surveyed said that moving “somewhat or greatly improved” their social wellness.
Myth #6: Older people like being alone.
Reality: As social creatures, the need for meaningful relationships remains throughout our lives. Being social gives us an intellectual challenge, helps us maintain information-processing skills, and gives us an important outlet for sharing feelings.
Myth #7: Withdrawing from the outside world is a part of aging.
Reality: According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 67% of seniors over 65 use the internet. And more than 100,000 individuals over age 50 participate in the nonprofit Road Scholar experiential learning program each year to better understand other cultures around the world.
Myth #8: Seniors aren’t interested in sex.
Reality: A 2017 University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging showed that 65% of respondents aged 50-80 were interested in sex. Seventy-six percent agreed that sex is an important part of a romantic relationship at any age. 40% indicated that they were still sexually active.
It’s not a myth: Where you live matters.
It’s a fact that older people all over the country are aging well by living in senior living communities. To see how, start researching thousands of communities with our Where You Live Matters community finder. You’re sure to find a one near you that’s busting age-old myths by embracing positive aging every day.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.