10 Myths About Aging

10 Myths About Aging.

So many of our beliefs about aging come from a social narrative full of myths. The National Institute on Aging recently featured 10 commonly-held misconceptions about aging. I decided to grade myself from A-F on how well I could myth-bust these conceptions.  I gave myself an A if I was aware enough to myth-bust the misconception entirely and an F if I believed in the myth hook, line, and sinker. I recommend you do the same.

1. Depression and loneliness are normal in older adults. 

Knowing how many adolescents and young adults are struggling with this issue, I wouldn’t say this is exclusively an issue for older adults. The U-curve of Happiness also suggests that our contentment with life grows with age. But I also know a lot of lonely older people. I’ll give myself a B.

2. The older I get, the less sleep I need.
That is not true, but there’s also a difference between what you need (I think older people need just as much sleep as others) and what you get, as I’ve read that it’s harder to get a full night’s sleep as we age. I’ve found the perfect mix of melatonin, magnesium, and Trazadone to help me sleep better than I ever have. I’ll give myself an A because I definitely don’t believe in this myth of needing less sleep.

3. Older adults can’t learn new things.
I hate this one! In fact, MEA’s curriculum is built on myth-busting this one. A+

4. It is inevitable that older people will get dementia.
Of course not. However, there is a risk that growing longevity means that more of us will be afflicted by dementia, so we do need to invest more science dollars in this area. I’ll give myself a B+ for this one.

5. Older adults should take it easy and avoid exercise, so they don’t get injured.
That’s nuts! All kinds of physical activities are good, safe, and essential for our bodies—gardening, walking, Tai Chi, swimming, etc. I get an A for that.

6. If a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, I will have it, too.
There is some truth to this, as family history can increase our likelihood, but we can also make lifestyle choices that reduce the risk. I’ll give myself a C as I think there is truth to this one.

7. Now that I am older, I will have to give up driving.
Almost one in five American drivers is 65 or older. My two parents, in their mid-80s, are still driving and probably not going to quit soon, so I don’t believe in this myth and will give myself an A.

8. Only women need to worry about osteoporosis.
While men may not be as likely to have osteoporosis because they start with more bone density than women, one in five men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. By age 65 or 70, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate. But, I only knew these facts due to reading the linked article. I thought this was purely a woman’s concern, so I got an F for this one.

9. I’m “too old” to quit smoking.
Talking about fixed mindsets. Anyone who says this has a death wish. A.

10. We lose our sex life around the time we retire.
(I substituted this one for NIA’s 10th myth regarding blood pressure because it was on this Consumer Reports list of 5 aging myths). Full disclosure, I have a fraught relationship with this myth. When I got prostate cancer, my body’s natural defense mechanism was to shut down my testosterone. After having had a very active sex life in most of my 50s, I find myself in my early 60s, preferring a bath, a book, and a massage. But I also know many people my age (and older) who are redefining what sex means as it becomes a more sensual pleasure, where you’re literally sharing love as opposed to having sex. I’ll give myself a C here because my personal experience has aligned with this supposed myth.

In sum, my scores average an A- or a B+, so I’m satisfied with that. How about you—what’s your average score?

Chip Conley

This article first appeared in Chip Conley’s Wisdom Well blog