Five great myths of ageing

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Have older adults given up on hopes, dreams and sex? Not so, says a recent book with research that busts these stupid five myths on ageing.

As we get older, we are often pigeonholed as ‘this’ or ‘that’ – and it’s usually pretty negative stuff. So here are five mythbusters to help you fight the false claims and the discrimination that sits beneath them. Authored by academics Joan T Erber and Lenore T. Szuchman, Great Myths of Aging shines a light on the misconceptions about how we act, feel and think as we grow older. And most of the research shows it’s a pretty positive journey.

1. Older adults have given up on hopes and dreams
We all need to have hope, but it is a common perception that as we age, we give up on hopes and dreams. Not so. A study in 2002 that interviewed those aged from 70 to 103 about hopes and fears for the future revealed dynamic ‘possible selves’. But whereas younger people showed interest in careers and occupations, older respondents showed interest in health, physical functioning and leisure pursuits – i.e. the emphasis moved to a desire to remain healthy and independent, rather than be managing director of the world. Makes sense?

2. Older people are set in their ways
This myth is easily challenged, but it’s helpful to start with a definition of what it really means to be set in your ways. One description is a lack of openness to new experiences. And there is a wealth of evidence to show many older adults can’t wait to retire to have the time and opportunity to try many new things. But it is a fact that possibilities can become restricted as we age – the ability to be a supermodel or win Wimbledon – so many older adults have naturally trimmed their ambitions to suit the real options in their lives. Wanting things to be done in a certain way may also be interpreted as becoming set in your ways, but this may also merely be a sign that, if it’s not broken, why fix it.

Authors Erber and Szuchman also note that older people are quite often forced into radical changes by life events, such as widowhood, poor health, and loss of family and friends, so they adapt to new nutritional patterns, exercise habits, mobility or lack thereof, and the need to relocate. A case could be made that older adults become used to adopting new ways of doing things all through their senior years.

3. Growing old is depressing
Recent American research suggests that older adults suffer from depression at a lower rate than younger age groups, particularly those aged 18–24 years. Some studies have noted a decline in depression as people age. And some have commented that “in view of the personal losses, physical illnesses and functional disabilities that commonly befall older age groups, it is surprising that major depression tends to decline rather than increase with advanced age.”

Sadly, these numbers do not hold in aged-care facilities, where a higher proportion of depression in the elderly is recorded. Perhaps the question is, then, not whether older people are naturally more depressed (they’re not), but what can be done to make life more cheerful for those in aged-care facilities?

4. Older people are no longer interested in sex
Despite the wealth of research undertaken on this topic, in general “there is no evidence that older people lose interest in sex” is the conclusion. Various studies undertaken have show adults aged 65 and over remain sexually active, with vaginal intercourse always or usually part of this activity. Barriers are not due to age – but more to the difficulty of finding a partner. Heterosexual women outnumber men from age 40, and by age 85, the ratio is two women for every one man. Just because younger people do not like to think about older parents or grandparents enjoying sex, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening!

5. Older people are more cautious
Particularly in the realm of new technology, older people get very bad press when it comes to having a go. How many jokes have we seen about grandpa using the iPad as a chopping block, etc., etc.? This then leads many to believe that older people find it hard to make decisions. Findings on this topic are interesting. Laboratory tests of reaction times do show older adults take longer than younger ones to react to a variety of stimuli. But this is not the same as decision-making time, where older adults were shown to reach faster decisions as they chose to consider less data than younger adults did. “In short, prior to making a decision, the older retirees did not consider all of the possible alternatives to the extent that the young adults did, which would indicate that they were less cautious.”

The above information is a very brief summary of the 37 ageing myths that are busted in the research reported in Great Myths of Aging, Joan T Erber and Lenore T Szuchman, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2015.

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Written by Kaye Fallick


Total Comments: 17
  1. 0

    Vote independent for more nookie.

  2. 0

    I am involved with U3A Online — meaning all courses and other activity is done online. There are many members in the “81 and over years young” category with at least two men who are 96 and 97 still doing online courses.
    Never underestimate older people!!

  3. 0

    There are very many courses available online with a great many being free, I have learned several programming languages, have done several writing courses and have made friends with thousands of people all around the world, thus I have been able to understand other cultures and have met online some outstanding lecturers.

    • 0

      Understanding of other cultures, can you understand why somebody would want to marry a 6 year old girl even if they don’t consummate the marriage until she is 9, the mind boggles. Understanding other cultures, sheesh.

  4. 0

    Hehehe – this article must have been written by an under 40. Trust me – they are not myths. However on the other hand they have one very valuable asset,” I don’t care – I don’t have to want or need what everyone else does.” Ce la vie.

  5. 0

    A part (and a fairly big one, I believe) of all the above “myths” are do to “conditioning” from many areas (family, friends, media, etc) about how an older person “should” feel, think, conduct themselves, etc – all of which amounts to a lot of BS, as we all all different and there IS NO manual of behaviour or rules of conduct. Enjoy life and have fun, as it’s later than you think.

    • 0

      Get your leg over while you can, I say.

    • 0

      I agree Fast Eddie. Those of us in the silent majority who are bald headed broken mouthed and burned out struggle to relate to the images portrayed on the YLC site – very young looking silver foxes with perfect pearly whites, playing in the sunshine and probably a very long way off their own retirement dates.

      Sowing disatisfaction is the first step of marketing.

      Rejecting many other people’s expectations is the first step of contentment.

      Don’t get me started on the naughty step.

    • 0

      I like looking at those silver foxes with the pearly white teeth, In Outer Orbit. I like to think I look just like them. hehehe
      But I do know that if some young person asked me personal survey questions then I would most definitely take the micky out of the survey! Humour never dies.

  6. 0

    You guys make me laugh at your comments. I’m female, in early 70s. I’m a modern dresser and would love to find someone to go to the movies or occasional dinner. However I find this a hard thing to do. Maybe it’s the area I live in I don’t know but I’m happy to read Mick, fast Eddie & in outer orbit as you all make me smile. lol.

  7. 0

    When an old person dies a library is lost —

    Its a shame that more younger people don’t take more notice of their elders as they just might learn a lot

  8. 0

    Ageing is not as limited as it used to be, but open minded old folk are still limited by (not so obvious) health problems and sufficient money to have interesting goals in life.

    • 0

      Shame you can not put an older head on the younger shoulders — you can always learn from anyone —

      Like it is said
      A wise man learns from fools, a fool learns from NO ONE.

  9. 0

    Health is the most important aspect of getting old but to be healthy must start at the cradde.
    Do not expect to be healthy at 80 if you have abused your body. Smoked, drunk to exess, ate rubbish , no exercises etc… Start at least at 30 to live healthy and you might really enjoy your later on years.



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