Q. I feel like I am living a pretty active and independent life, but I am uncomfortable when some family members mention my age (79) and assume I soon won’t be able to do certain activities or live alone. To me, age is just a number – is it wrong to think that way?
A. No, it isn’t! In fact, people make assumptions about aging – often without realizing it – all the time. Everyone is getting older, and it’s important to understand (and embrace) the positive aspects. Americans are living longer, healthier lives and staying active in their communities. In fact, people with a more positive self-perception of aging live more than seven years longer than those with a less positive self-perception, according to the Yale School of Public Health.
To help support a positive outlook on aging, the National Institute on Aging dispels some common misconceptions related to aging and older adults:
Myth 1. Depression and loneliness are normal in older adults.
As people age, some may find themselves feeling isolated and alone. This can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness. However, these feelings are not a normal part of aging as we grow older. In fact, studies show that older adults are less likely to experience depression than young adults. So, when should you be concerned? It’s important to remember that older adults with depression may have less obvious symptoms or be less likely to discuss their feelings. Depression is a common and potentially serious mood disorder, but some treatments are effective for most people. Talk to your health care provider.
Myth 2. The older you get, the less sleep you need.
As people age, they may find themselves having a harder time falling and staying asleep. A common misconception is that a person’s sleep needs decline with age. Older adults need the same amount of sleep as all adults — 7 to 9 hours each night. Getting enough sleep keeps you healthy and alert.
Myth 3. Older adults can’t learn new things.
Not true! Older adults still can learn new things, create new memories, and improve their performance in a variety of skills. While aging does often come with changes in thinking, many cognitive changes are positive, such as having more knowledge and insight from a lifetime of experiences.
Myth 4. It is inevitable that older people will get dementia.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Although the risk of dementia grows as people get older, it is not inevitable. Occasionally forgetting an appointment or losing your keys are typical signs of mild forgetfulness, which is common in normal aging. Talk with a doctor if you have serious concerns about your memory and thinking or notice changes in your behavior and personality.
Myth 5. Older adults should take it easy and avoid exercise, so they don’t get injured.
As you age, you may think exercise could do more harm than good, especially if you have a chronic condition. However, studies show that you have a lot more to gain by being active — and a lot to lose by sitting too much. Often, inactivity is more to blame than age when older people lose the ability to do things on their own.
Myth 6. Now that I am older, I will have to give up driving.
The question of when it is time to limit or stop driving should not be about age, rather, it should be about one’s ability to drive safely.
Perhaps this is a chance to talk to your family about how you feel and your desire to maintain a positive outlook on aging. It may help them rethink how they view their own aging journey. Good luck!
Are you caring for an older adult or need help locating healthy aging resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.agespan.org for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email email@example.com. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of AgeSpan.
First published in the Eagle-Tribune