When you think about getting older, what comes to mind? Becoming frail and weak? Forgetful and confused? Grumpy and depressed? There are a lot of stereotypes that are associated with getting older. Many people are scared of aging because they feel that these stereotypes are unavoidable and that old age will be unpleasant. However, many of these stereotypes are misconceptions that aren't entirely based on facts. Old age can actually be a lot of fun if you ignore the stereotypes and focus on making the most out of your life. Here are 5 misconceptions about aging and the truths behind the stereotypes.
Many older adults feel that it may be too late to change their habits and start living healthy. They may feel that since they didn’t start eating healthy or exercising at a younger age, it’s too late to start. This is a misconception because anyone can benefit from healthy lifestyle habits regardless of age. It’s never too late to start practicing healthy habits.
In fact, there’s no better time to start getting healthy than in older age. Many older adults neglect exercise and eat poorly, which is one reason why they start becoming weaker and more unhealthy. Things like getting regular physical activity and practicing proper nutrition are actually a lot easier than they sound, and the benefits that they provide are tremendous. Older adults can get stronger and more active by adding these healthy habits to their routines, which helps them live longer, happier lives.
It’s a common misconception that all older adults will eventually develop dementia or Alzheimer’s. These conditions are somewhat common, but they’re not an inevitable part of aging. The truth is that 1 in 11 Canadians over age 65 live with dementia, with the rate increasing to 1 in 3 Canadians over 85. The good news is that much of the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s comes from preventable unhealthy lifestyle habits, rather than genes.
While many people assume that Alzheimer’s is mostly a genetic risk, most Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t run in families. Less than 5% of cases of Alzheimer’s are familial. Serious risk factors for Alzheimer’s include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and smoking. Adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding cigarettes can go a long way towards preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
It’s a misconception that all older adults develop weak bones and muscles and become frail as a result. While it’s true that muscle loss is common, it’s also avoidable. Sarcopenia, the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass, affects 30% of individuals over age 60 and 50% of individuals over age 80. The people at the highest risk of developing sarcopenia are those who are physically inactive and don’t get enough protein, so regular exercise and adequate protein intake are imperative.
It’s also true that many older adults develop weak bones, but again, this can be avoided. Many people don’t know that bones are living tissue that can be strengthened with exercise, just like muscles. Even people with osteoporosis can benefit from doing exercises that strengthen their bones. Regular strength training can help older adults build strong muscles and bones so they can retain their functional independence.
The majority of older adults are retired, with the average retirement age in developed countries being 65 for men and 63.5 for women. However, that doesn’t mean older adults don’t contribute to society just because they’re no longer working. In 2011, contributions made by older adults in the UK through taxation, consumer spending, and other activities were worth £40 billion more than the amount that was spent on them through welfare, pensions, and healthcare combined.
It’s also very common for seniors to be active volunteers and contribute to their communities. In 2010, the volunteer rate for Canadians was 40% between the ages of 65 to 74 and 31% for those older than 75. Additionally, Canadians over the age of 75 made the largest annual charity donations on average when compared with other age groups. This shows that even after they retire, seniors keep contributing to society in meaningful ways.
One stereotype of older adults is that they’re all grumpy, depressed, or sad. While depression is somewhat common among older adults, the prevalence may be lower than you expect. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, 15% of seniors report experiencing significant levels of depressive symptoms, but only 3-5% of seniors experience major depression.
Studies have shown that happiness levels actually increase after retirement, with one UK study concluding that people aged 65 to 79 are the happiest age group. The study offered the explanation that this age group didn’t have to care for children or elderly parents anymore or worry about balancing family and work after retirement. These factors lead to decreased stress levels, leaving older adults happy and content, rather than grumpy and depressed.
Getting older doesn’t have to mean becoming grumpy, weak, and confused like all the stereotypes imply. Misconceptions about aging are common, but they can be proven wrong with determination and healthy lifestyle habits. Healthy habits strengthen both the body and mind and help avoid muscle loss, bone weakness, and cognitive decline. Staying healthy for longer will help you retain functional independence, continue to contribute to society, and enjoy the happiness that post-retirement years can bring. By working hard to develop a healthy lifestyle and a strong support system of family and friends, you can make getting older a lot of fun. If you want to learn more about how older adults can live a healthy lifestyle, make sure to check out our blog or sign up for our newsletter to get healthy living tips delivered right to your inbox.
Wendy studies English Language and Literature at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.
Katie is a member of Welbi’s Customer Experience team! She has a background in communications and recreation and is passionate about older adults, exercise, coffee and people.
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