Peggy Fossen DNP, RN
Growing older seems to be accompanied with false ideas or myths. We have heard these myths most of our lives, and unfortunately some of us have come to accept them as reality. But, with people living longer and the population of those over 65 growing rapidly, these myths are being challenged. As they should be! The notion that all Older Adults are the same and all Older Adults age the same is being recognized as inappropriate and untrue.
So, what are the most common myths of aging, and what can we do to play our part in debunking them.
Common Myths of Aging
Let’s look at some of the most common myths of aging.
- Everyone gets dementia eventually.
- Depression is a normal part of aging.
- As we age we become less creative.
- Older Adults are unable to learn new things.
- Older Adults should not exercise as they are weak and frail.
- Older Adults no longer have the desire to socialize and do new things.
So, what is the truth here. What really happens as we grow older. We all know that physical and mental changes do occur as we age, but it is important to clarify between the myths and reality.
What is really going on.
Debunking the Myths of Aging
The belief that all older adults will suffer from some type of dementia is false, and this popular belief can prevent some older adults from seeking needed treatment. According to the CDC approximately 40 % of those individuals with dementia could have prevented it or delayed the progress of the disease. Also, not all memory loss can be attributed to dementia, there are many other causes for forgetfulness, such as depression, infections, poor nutrition, alcohol use, and side effects from medications. Most importantly, if someone is having episodes of memory loss, the assumption should not be dementia and action should be taken to seek out help and rule out all possible causes. While slight changes in our thinking is normal as we age, getting dementia is not inevitable.
While depression can be common in older adults, it should never be considered a normal part of aging. This myth can have serious consequences as can lead to misdiagnosis or lack of treatment. Check out my blog post on Depression and the Older Adult for some interesting discussion and facts on this!
The desire to learn and express creativity remains throughout one’s lifetime. We continue to have the capability to gain new knowledge that will lead to new skills, hobbies, and create new memories. While it is true that Older Adults may require more time to learn new things, they also have great talents to bring to the table! They offer insightful knowledge, patience, and experience and are great role models.
The belief that Older Adults become less active or do not participate in physical activities because they are frail or weak is nonsense. Some even believe that being active may be harmful for Older Adults as it could cause injury or pain. Yes, there are circumstances where some activities are not appropriate, but overall, there is some type of physical activity that anyone regardless of age and condition can participate in. Studies have shown that physical exercise improves mental and physical health and decreases the risk for injuries related to falls for Older Adults.
Does retirement, and growing older, mean less activity, and less interest in having friends, making new friends, and experiencing new things. Not hardly! For whatever reason, many Older Adults are working later in life and studies indicate that in some cases this improves mental health. Other Older Adults are staying involved and active by volunteering. Improved mental and physical health, having a sense of purpose, learning new things, and meeting new people are just a few benefits volunteering brings to an Older Adults’ life.
Older Adults are staying socially active and continue to enjoy physical and emotional intimacy. This connection is shown to have numerous health benefits and lessen depression.
The term ‘old age’ is outdated and the myths that accompany it should be also. It is obvious that staying healthy, active, engaged, and productive are the new goals for Older Adults today. staying mentally active, maintaining healthy relationships, learning new skills, volunteering, and engaging in challenging activities are all fun and positive things we can do to make these myths exactly what they are-false beliefs!
APA (2017). Older Adults Health and Age -Related Changes: Reality Versus Myth. https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/myth-reality.pdf
Baxter, S., Blank, L., Cantrell, A. et al. Is working in later life good for your health? A systematic review of health outcomes resulting from extended working lives. BMC Public Health 21, 1356 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11423-2
CDC. (2021). The Truth About Aging and Dementia. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/dementia-not-normal-aging.html
Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital (2017). Elderly Mental Health: 5 Myths That Prevent Older Adults from Getting Treatment. https://www.desertparkway.com/blog/elderly-mental-health
Langhammer B, Bergland A, Rydwik E. The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Dec 5;2018:7856823. doi: 10.1155/2018/7856823. PMID: 30627571; PMCID: PMC6304477.
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Helping People Changing Lives: 3 Benefits of Volunteering. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/3-health-benefits-of-volunteering
NCOA (2021). Why is Intimacy Important in Older Adults? https://www.ncoa.org/article/why-is-intimacy-important-in-older-adults
NIH. 10 Myths About Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/10-myths-about-aging
SCIE. (2020). Dementia-Like Symptoms: What Else Could It Be? https://www.scie.org.uk/dementia/symptoms/diagnosis/what-else.asp