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Busting Myths: 9 Common Misconceptions About Aging

Every day in Canada, thousands of Canadian baby boomers will reach their 65th birthday. 

According to Statistics Canada, there were almost 7,000,000 people aged 65 and over in Canada, including 11,500+ centenarians in July 2020. Every year, thousands more Canadians will join this elite group, which is soon projected to outnumber the number of children aged 14 and below for the first time.

That’s a lot of older adults for us to engage with! For us to reap the benefits of their experience, empathy, and wisdom, we must avoid subscribing to preconceived notions about the elderly, and judging people’s state of mind or abilities based solely on their age. 

It happened to a client of mine, who was an avid tennis player for decades, even into his vintage years. One day, he stopped turning up at the tennis club. His fellow players still used to see him around the neighbourhood, and some simply assumed that he was just “getting too old” to play, choosing instead to stay home and lead a more sedentary life.

However, the truth was that he still wanted to play. Tennis gave him a great cardio workout as well as opportunities to socialize. The problem was that he had developed arthritis and had to suspend playing while undergoing treatment to reduce the pain.

The idea that older adults simply stop being active by choice is a common misconception, much of it perpetuated by the media, who often portray seniors knitting quietly, napping on the porch swing, and avoiding any kind of stimulation.

Let’s have a look at 9 misconceptions about aging, and explore the truth behind each one:

Older people aren’t interested in the outside world: Most seniors aren’t the type to while away the days watching endless streams of television. They enjoy many outside activities such as hiking, singing, traveling, and sports, either in a group setting or as individuals. Also, many seniors – either by choice necessity – work past the typical retirement age and well into their 70s. For older adults who cannot go out due to health or mobility issues, the Internet provides limitless opportunities for education, entertainment, personal growth, and socializing.

Seniors prefer smaller social circles: People who have enjoyed an active social life for decades suddenly don’t retreat from activities with family and friends when they get older. Staying socially connected and managing personal relationships becomes even more important! The intellectual challenges, conversation, information processing, and sharing of feelings provide excellent mental stimulus as well. When it comes to the number of friends and family a senior can engage with – the more is certainly the merrier!

Older adults are in a state of mental and physical decline: Yes, a certain amount of loss of function is expected as people age. However, the idea that older adults become feeble, cranky, and confused by the time they reach their 65th birthday is completely false! Seniors are extremely capable of slowing down the aging process through healthful habits such as proper nutrition, physical activity, and mental stimulation. That’s why you see so many older adults out walking or hiking, at the gym, or doing aerobics. They also enjoy exercising their brains through sudoku, crosswords, and other challenging activities. 

Seniors stop contributing to society: Older adults have years of interpersonal skills, professional expertise, and life experience that make them great employees, mentors, and volunteers. Many local hospitals and social service organizations are supported by senior volunteers who are always helpful and empathetic when someone needs assistance. Seniors also have a strong work ethic and enjoy giving back to set examples of warmth and generosity to younger generations.

Older adults are set in their ways: You might think that decades of doing things the same way would set these habits in stone. Not true! Seniors have been through a life full of changes, and have had to learn to adapt to increase their resiliency. That’s why many older adults are tough, self-confident, and self-sufficient – and stay that way for as long as they can. If a health issue arises, they show amazing adaptation and self-sacrifice to preserve their quality of life. 

Seniors have difficulty making important decisions on their own: Older adults are very adroit at making decisions – they might appear to have difficulty because they’re bringing in their accrued wisdom based on a lifetime of experience and education. As long as the senior is competent enough to make medical, financial, or other impactful decisions, they should continue to do so, although participation from family members can also be encouraged. 

Older adults lose their desire for life: Actually, the opposite is true. Older people recognize the value of life. They’re also more pragmatic about death, especially when they have some sense of control over it, and understand mortality more acutely than most younger people. Although mental instability can cause a desire to shorten one’s own life, this can happen at any age. The same is true for mentally well people at any age – they want to live well and long.

Seniors lose interest in sex and intimacy: Although the frequency of sexual activity might decline with age, the desire for intimacy is still alive and well in seniors. A 2017 national poll on healthy aging conducted by the University of Michigan showed that almost 66 percent of respondents aged 50 to 80 were interested in sex, and that 40 percent aged between 65 and 80 were still sexually active. Another 2018 study showed a strong correlation between sexual activity and a greater sense of contentment in seniors

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is inevitable: Although the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia grows as we age, there is no guarantee that we will contract it. Many people live into their 90s without the cognitive or behavioural decline associated with dementia-type diseases. Should your parent be occasionally forgetful, such as missing appointments or losing keys, it’s not necessarily a harbinger of dementia. However, if you do notice any changes in mood or personality it’s a good idea to have them speak to their doctor sooner rather than later.   

As Mark Twain once proclaimed: “Age is a case of mind over matter; if you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter!” Indeed, life is full of fulfilling possibilities at any age. Be sure to include an elderly loved one in your next fun activity. You might be surprised at how much fun, enthusiasm, and energy they’ll bring!If you have any questions about elder care or want to learn more about our customized senior care services designed to bring joy and sunshine into the life of your elderly loved one, please reach out to us anytime.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop, specializing in providing compassionate support for individuals and families touched by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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