When we think of old age, we predict a world where we slow down, sit around and watch television. But the way we view the aging process may very well determine how we age. Research has linked negative perceptions of aging in people over the age of 50 with an average 7.5-year decrease in life span. This could be detrimental to the population. In 2010, people over age 65 made up 13 percent of the U.S. population. That's about 40 million Americans, a number expected to increase to 55 million by 2020. According to the Administration on Aging, the number of people ages 85 and older will increase from 5.7 million to 6.6 million over the same period of time. Here are some common misconceptions regarding aging, according to Discovery Fit and Health:
- Older people aren't interested in the outside world. Today's older adults are taking advantage of opportunities to stay mentally and physically engaged. Many are exploring international cultures and taking part in continuing education programs. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, a network of educational programs designed for learners ages 50 and up, has locations in close to 120 campuses throughout the U.S. Also, a growing number of retirement communities are being built near colleges and universities, using access to on-campus classes and enrichment events as a selling point. According to BusinessNewsDaily, older adults are very active in the workforce. Half of those aged 65 to 69 are still working. This can be great for socialization.
- Older people don't want or need close relationships. Humans are social creatures, and just because we get older doesn't mean we don't need meaningful relationships. However, friends die, family members move away and physical and mental impairment can make short visits an ordeal. One in three people in their 60s are chronically lonely. Maintaining social relationships reaps numerous rewards. According to HealthDay News, the intellectual challenge of interacting with others has been shown to help maintain information-processing skills, like perceiving spatial relationships between objects. The more people an older adult can rely on times of trouble, the less stress he or she will experience.
- Older people contribute little to society. Nothing is farther from the truth. With years of personal skills and professional expertise, older adults are a highly valued volunteer force. Senior Corps has 500,000 members ages 55 and up, meeting community needs that range from mailing newsletters for nonprofits to fostering hard-to-place children. Older workers can be valuable commodities to businesses. In surveys, employers have reported that older workers are more reliable and have a stronger work ethic than younger workers. They also take fewer sick days.
- As you get older, you get more set in your ways. Older adults aren't necessarily opposed to change. According to Madden, the number of people ages 65 and older who use Twitter nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010. On a deeper level, older people tend to have high levels of mental resilience, which is the ability to accept and rebound from adversity, according to Berk. Also, the happiest older adults say that their perspective changed as they realized that their lives were coming to a close. The concerns of their younger days faded and they began focusing on the satisfaction of living in the moment, according to Graham.
- Mental and physical deterioration are inevitable in old age. Yes, everything starts to go as we age. Stem cells reproduce more slowly. But the loss can be tampered with healthy habits. Weight lifting retains muscle and bone, and aerobic exercise and a low-fat diet improve cardiovascular health, which can prevent certain types of dementia. Exercising the brain also helps maintain cognitive skills. Concentration gets harder and distractibility increases with age. But the ability to creatively use information that is required during a distraction may be enhanced. However, believing negative stereotypes about aging can sabotage mental capacity. According to studies, the more TV that older adults watch, the worse they view their own peer group. And the more they buy into that stereotype, the worse they're likely to be at memory recall, according to Donlon.