Ditching Assumptions about Aging
Why is it so easy for so many of us to hold on to, believe, and fear some of those negative and outdated generalizations out there about aging? It’s probably because we remember “old age” as it was when we were growing up. Images of the frail older people we knew in our youth are still clear in our heads. But, our early memories of “old age” are not accurate reflections of today’s reality.
Yes, some of the old assumptions people still hold on to about aging do contain some truth, but many are exaggerated. Certainly, many of us will face some challenges, difficulties, and losses in later life, but we will be experiencing them in a world very different from that of our great grandparents, grandparents, or our own parents. We are growing older with the benefit of medical and technological advances that have increased life spans and improved quality of life for older people.
When it comes to later life, we can each decide how we want to view “old age” and how we want to live it. We can reject antiquated assumptions that could influence our lives in a negative way and stop us from appreciating and experiencing the positives that can come with getting older. We can create our own beliefs and live our own truths. Just because later life comes with challenges does not mean our “seasoned” years can’t be joyful and vibrant.
Let’s take a look at the dated, but common, assumptions about “old age.”
A few false, but common, assumptions…
Assumption: Older = Poor health
Yes, our bodies change as we age and, yes, some of those changes affect our health. But poor health is not already written on the pages of the book of our “old age.” Many of the chronic health problems most common in later life can be prevented or treated with lifestyle changes and/or medications.
There’s a lot we can do in our daily lives to stay as healthy as possible in our later years, like visiting a doctor regularly, eating a healthy diet, exercising at an appropriate rate for our age and abilities, getting enough sleep, keeping our minds active, and staying social. Not only can these steps lower the risk of health problems, they can help make life more enjoyable, help us stay independent, and help us live longer.
Assumption: Older = Lack of interest and growth
Life is an educational experience from beginning to end. It’s never too late to learn new things. Some folks view old age as a time to stick to what you’re used to or comfortable with and not as a time to venture into unchartered waters. It’s okay if that’s your own personal and informed choice, but it certainly isn’t the only approach to getting older. Later life can be a great time to throw open doors to new things.
Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we’re unable to adapt to something new or unfamiliar. Think of all the changes and transitions we’ve already had to face and adjust to on the path to reaching our later years. Looking back, there are probably too many changes to count. Many of those new things we’ve encountered along the way have actually ended up making our lives more interesting and, in some cases, they’ve even made life easier. So why stop now? We may be older, but we can still learn and we can still grow.
Assumption: Older = Loss of memory and mental agility
There are lots of things older people can do to keep our minds engaged and sharp, like learning something new, taking a class, doing mind challenge puzzles, reading, engaging in stimulating conversations, etc. When we continue to learn and challenge ourselves intellectually, we exercise our minds and make it easier for our brains to store, retrieve, and use information.
Yes, sadly, some of us will experience cognitive and memory issues as we get older that we have no control over. In some of these instances, medical interventions may be able to help. Fortunately, many older people never face challenges that completely rob them of their ability to think and function. We may become more forgetful and perhaps less attentive, but that doesn’t mean our minds will let us down completely.
If you’re dealing with issues with your memory and logic reasoning, please speak with your doctor.
Assumption: Older = Isolation, loneliness, and uselessness
As the years go by, some people find they have less social contact with others and less opportunities to be involved in life beyond their own limited world. Maybe it’s because they no longer live near family and friends. Perhaps the people closest to them have passed away. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. “Old age” does not have to be lonely.
Social interaction and feeling involved is important to our health and longevity. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to stay connected to and engaged with others as we age. We can be socially active by going to the local senior center or library. We can join clubs and take classes. We can join a church or synagogue. We can be active in our communities by volunteering. If we have friends and loved ones living in other places, we can use the Internet, our cell phones, and social media to connect with them face-to-face across the miles.