At first glance, the plague of ageism might not seem like a serious problem, but it actually contributes to a number of false assumptions about seniors and the aging process that can end up causing serious harm. In fact, many of the notions we have about aging are prone to becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Whether you perceive your golden years as an opportunity to share the wisdom you’ve acquired over a lifetime, or believe aging is a vile fate that awaits us all, those attitudes often make all the difference between how we live the final years of our lives.
And that’s precisely why it’s so important to unravel some of the more common myths about aging. Not only will doing so better prepare you and your loved ones to defy the common stereotypes about aging, but may help to improve your lives in the process. Below you can learn about some of the more prevalent misconceptions about aging, and how seniors continue to defy them each and every day.
Myth: Aging is Depressing
While it’s true that many seniors are at risk for depression, it’s also true that they’re far-and-away one of the happiest age groups. These days, our happiness actually tends to increase after middle age, as we find new ways of being content, and new ways to enjoy living our lives. Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone. People who have a sour disposition in their youth tend to keep that outlook with their age, while people who have a brighter outlook on life tend to find happiness.
Need inspiration for shaking things up with a new hobby and staying upbeat well into your Golden Years? Look to Ruth Flowers, better known as DJ Mamy Rock, who, started a career as a British club music DJ at age 68 after joking with her grandson. Taking her newfound passion seriously, she studied DJ techniques and spun house music, electronica, and pop rock. Flowers became a popular figure in the club scene and connected with many younger people. She even released several singles of her own before she passed away at the age of 82 in 2014, leaving a legacy of music and happy times.
Myth: Seniors Are Reclusive
While there are exceptions to every rule, the aging myth that seniors are disconnected from the world couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many seniors use their golden years as an opportunity to travel the world. According to the U.S. Travel Association, people over 50 are actually the majority of travelers in America. Having finally reached the stage of their lives where they have the time and resources to see the world, more seniors than ever before are fulfilling their dreams by going abroad.
Not only is the myth of seniors becoming idle and reclusive untrue, it’s actually becoming less true with each passing day. More seniors than ever before are reaching the age of retirement, but continuing to work. Many take advantage of senior citizen audit programs at universities, which allow older adults to attend courses for free. While some seniors definitely fall into the TV-watching couch potato stereotype, it’s far from the norm.
Myth: Growing Older Means the End of Sex
You might not want to think of your grandparents being sexually active, but the idea that sex is for the young couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most people remain sexually active until they’re about 70 years old. Although sex becomes less important to us as we grow older, very few people cease having it entirely. For those who do stop having sex, it’s typically due to the lack of a partner or health limitations.
Myth: Health Deterioration is Inevitable
It’s true that our bodies lose some degree of function with age, but that loss can be slowed down considerably. Our loss of muscle mass and bone density can be drastically decreased by weightlifting. Mental deterioration can be largely prevented or reduced with aerobic exercise. Using our brains by learning new things can help prevent serious cognitive decline from ever taking place. In short, for seniors who remain active, it’s perfectly possible to continue living rich and fulfilling lives.
In fact, there are more examples of seniors shattering these stereotypes than ever before. At 100 years old, Donald Pellmann holds five world records, including records in the triple jump, long jump, high jump, javelin throw, shot put, and 100 meter dash. And Pellemann is just one of many seniors who continue to batter down these stereotypes with impressive athleticism. Men and women like Pellemann are proving that they can achieve physical fitness that rivals or exceeds the fitness of their youth, often comparing to the fitness of an average 20-something.
Myth: Seniors Contribute Little
The myth that older adults don’t contribute to society is also something that literally grows less true by the day. One of the earliest and most important advancements to the quality of life for seniors was the creation of bifocals in 1784 because they allowed many of the most experienced and intelligent members of society to spend an extra decade of their lives being productive members of society.
Today, medical science is making those kinds of leaps with clockwork-like regularity. People are living longer than ever before, and remaining productive members of society in the process. With decades of experience developing a variety of skills, older adults can be incredibly valuable employees, volunteers, and members of their community. In fact, senior volunteering is currently at a 10-year high, with over 20 million active senior volunteers contributing approximately $67 billion worth of service annually.
Many seniors are still going strong in their chosen career paths or staying active and living dreams they had when they were younger. Director Manoel de Olivera began his filmmaking career in 1927. He didn’t stop making documentaries and films until his death in 2015 at the age of 106. And at the age of 82, former Apollo dancer Jacquie Murdock became the face of fashion house Lanvin for their 2012 couture campaign — and she’s still going strong today.
When we internalize the myths and stereotypes of aging, we end up fulfilling those predictions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we understand the myths and realities about aging, not only can we continue to live rich lives well into our senior years, but we may even find happiness and contentment that we were never able to achieve in our youth. All it takes is the ability to see past social stereotypes, and a willingness to try.