As people age, society may take on some assumptions about them. Many in society view aging as a dreaded time of life. Although there is substantive evidence about many contributions that the elderly people make to their societies, there exist pervasive misconceptions, negative attitudes, and assumptions about the older people. These limit older people’s freedom to live the lives they choose and hence put limitations to capitalize on the great human capacity that older people represent.
The negative beliefs and stereotypes that society has about older adults is a form of prejudice referred to as ageism, which hurts both individuals and society. Negative connotations entangled in myths and negative attitudes about older adults often drive attitudes about caring for older adults. Society should, therefore, better understand older adults and realize they are more alike than different from the rest of the people in society despite their age disparity. Myths surrounding the aging process include assumptions and generalizations about how people of a certain age should behave and what they are likely to experience without regard for individual differences or unique circumstances. Myths of aging in contemporary culture are primarily negative.
Here are 23 myths associated with growing older:
#1 Most old people are in poor health
One of the most common myths about old people is that being old means being sick. Yes, normal physical changes occur with age such as sagging skin and thinning hair and older adults have a higher risk of developing certain diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are more common in older adults than in younger people. But even when they have one of those diseases, older people make changes in their lives so they can remain independent. Generally, older adults describe themselves as pretty healthy.
#2 Most old people are alone and lonely
This is not true at all! Family and friends are very important in the lives of older adults. A number of close friends and family remain relatively stable throughout their lives, albeit the number of casual friends may decrease. People who have close friends throughout life continue to have many close friends as they get older in life. On the other hand; those having a small circle of friendships earlier in life, tend to keep a small circle of friends even later on in life. Grandparents also tend to have frequent interactions with their grandchildren, something which keeps older adults preoccupied and thus fights boredom and loneliness.
#3 Elders become more religious with age
Not true. If someone is religious during their early adulthood, they will most likely be religious as older. Similarly, people who are not religious or committed to religious practices during their young adulthood are not likely to become involved in religious activities simply because they are older. On the contrary, older adults may become less involved in religious activities due to challenges in transportation such as difficulty in driving at night, difficulty in climbing stairs in worship places. Where older adults encounter difficulties to attend or participate in religious activities, they find alternative ways to worship such as watching religious programs or reading.
#4 Older adults are not good with technology
Another myth about older adults is that they do not know or can not learn how to use technology. Although it may take older adults longer to learn technology and pick up on the latest technology compared to young adults, they are not incompetent or unable to do so. Many older adults, enjoy learning the latest trends in technology and internet trends as it provides a way to stay in touch with the ever-evolving technological-based communication space keeping them engaged.
According to recent data, nearly 70% of seniors are now connected to the internet and are using their gadgets for a number of varying reasons including online shopping, entertainment, booking travel, and accommodation, connecting with friends and family among others. In fact, there are apps made specifically for the older populations. Apps such as Medisafe among other health apps and Google Maps that have parking spot remainders.
#5 Most older adults live in poverty
The misconception that older adults live in poverty is overrated. Most older adults especially in developing and developed countries enjoy the benefits of pension and social security schemes that enable them to live comfortably even long after retirement. The older adults who invested in different ventures throughout their young adulthood usually reap rewards out of profits and returns from such investments during their older years. In fact, most wealthy individuals in society are older adults compared to younger adults having had a long time to accumulate riches.
In America, payment schemes such as Social Security and Supplemental Security Income have played a very major role in uplifting the economic lives of the older generation. Even though most live on modest savings and limited incomes, they definitely are not poor. According to findings from the United States Census Bureau, seniors were only 9.2% of all adults considered to be living at or below the poverty threshold. From these statistics, these myths do not hold any water.
#6 Old people are more likely to be victims of crime
Crime is a serious problem in many neighborhoods and everyone is at risk and not only older adults. In fact, older adults are less likely to be assaulted, raped or robbed. This is because older adults tend to stay away from crime-prone hotspots since these places are mostly entertainment joints and the like, mostly frequented by the younger adults.
#7 Older workers are less productive than younger workers
This is simply not true. In fact, older employees in the workplace tend to produce high-quality work since they draw on years of experience to solve problems. In addition, given the opportunity, senior workers are excellent mentors for the younger workers. Seniors workers are known to have low rates of absenteeism and are highly motivated.
#8 Old people have no interest in or capacity for sexual intimacy
Researchers have found that not age but good health, is the key to sexual relationships throughout a person’s life. The way older adults express sexuality may change. Older adults may prefer cuddling and touching to maintain sexual intimacy as opposed to penetrative sex. Many older adults remain interested in sex and are sexually active as long as they remain in good health.
#9 Older adults are less adaptable to change
Adaptation to change is more of a personal preference than an age-related issue. Some people in society are apprehensive about change while others enjoy the newness and thrill of change, age notwithstanding. Senior adults have faced countless challenges and although they may be slow to adapt to these changes, they are certainly well capable of doing so.
#10 Older adults should limit physical activity
Contrary to this myth, numerous studies have proven that most conditions can be improved by some type of exercise. Generally, physical activity is a form of exercise on its own thus older adults are encouraged to engage in physical activities in order to keep a healthy life.
#11 Getting old leads to weakness, frailty, and dependency
While aging may come with a decline in muscle volume and strength, these changes can be slowed or even prevented with regular exercises. Regular physical activity throughout a person’s life ultimately results in strong muscles even in aging. Albeit the physical changes that come with aging, most otherwise healthy older adults live without frailty and can remain independent in their daily activities.
#12 Older adults want to be left in peace and quiet
Contrary to this myth, most older adults do not withdraw or disengage from social interaction. When in groups they tend to want more parties, more excursions, and more dances. Older adults enjoy being in the company of close friends and family members.
#13 Intelligence declines with age
This is not true! Most older adults’ intellect stays the same throughout their lives, although it may take longer for older people to learn something new.
#14 Providing services for older people takes away resources for younger people
This is a misconception. Many changes needed to improve the quality of older people also benefit others in society. For example, zebra crossing lines to assist older adults to cross the roads safely also benefits children and even young adults. Packaging supermarket products in smaller sizes for older people living alone also benefit students going to colleges and single people living alone.
#15 Older adults should expect to deteriorate physically and mentally
People do experience wear and tear as they grow old. Nevertheless, the myth that older adults should expect to deteriorate physically and mentally is far fetched. Regular exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in keeping one both physically and mentally fit way into older years. Much of the decline in vigor in old age can largely result from people expecting health to decline and how society perceives the role of older people.
#16 Most older people have similar needs
This is simply not true. As is with most things, one size does not fit all. People are influenced by their experiences throughout life and their opportunities or lack of them, and these differences observed therefore often become more pronounced as they grow older. This, therefore, means that the older population is the least homogenous.
#17 Older adults will gain weight because metabolism slows down
While it’s true that metabolism slows down with aging, weight gain in older adults is not a given. Weight gain in older adults can be maintained by eating smarter, physical exercises and less stress.
#18 Anti-aging skin products can “take the years off”
Dermatologists offer some topical products with an acid component that exfoliates the top layers of skin and make your face appear smoother, however, these effects are temporary. The key to protecting the skin and keeping it looking younger for longer is actually through things like quenching your skin’s thirst, avoiding smoking and wearing sunscreen.
#19 Arthritis is inevitable in seniors
Arthritis is closely linked to risk factors other than aging-related wear and tear, including obesity, genetics, and previous joint injuries. Moderate physical activity strengthens the muscles around the joints and exercise also helps keep off the extra pounds that can put extra stress on the joints.
#20 Older adults are less adventurous
Some of the older adults have worked hard and invested throughout the years just to get to travel the world during their retirement years and see new things, learn new cultures and just empty their wish list bucket.
#21 Genes determine our experience of aging
Contrary to this myth, lifestyle choices, not genetics, most powerfully determine how people age. The lifestyle far outweighs genetics in determining whether the elderly maintain high physical and mental function and active engagement in life.
#22 Depression is a normal part of aging
Growing old may involve many changes such as increased medical problems and retirement. These may cause depression which is common in older adults but it is not a normal part of aging. Talking about depression in older adults, however, is important because it will help in breaking down the stigma associated with depression.
#23 Most old people end up in nursing homes
Pure myth. According to the National Institute of Aging, 10,000 Americans turn 65 every single day yet only 5% of the aged live in a nursing home. This is proof enough that most old people do not end up in nursing homes.
Although one may be entering their “golden years”, one may worry that being an older adult means more tarnish than shine. Contrary to this though, the things people fear growing old aren’t necessarily true. Looking at the broader picture is essential to understand as well as make use of the resources healthier older adults represent. Facilitating these resources contribute to the general benefit of society as a whole. Society must understand the dynamics of a healthy aging population so that they can draw upon this to enhance their contribution, and by dispelling the myths of an aging society we can lay foundations of a society in which people of all ages celebrate and take advantage of a longer and healthier life.
Myths about aging are pervasive and they have been found to influence how older adults view other older adults, how they view themselves as well as how older adults are treated by others in society as a whole. All these have the potential to affect the holistic health of an older person and ultimately the length and quality of their life. Perceptions of growing older must change and the myths surrounding the aging process tackled through the provision of reliable data and improving data and research.