Why is it so easy for so many of us to hold on to, believe, and fear dated notions 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 still remain clear in our heads. But our early memories of “old age” are not at all reflective of today’s reality.
Yes, some of the older assumptions we still carry with us about aging hold some truth, but many are exaggerated. Certainly, most of us will face some challenges, difficulties, and losses in later life, but we will experience them in a world very different from that of our great grandparents, grandparents, and even 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 decide how to view it and how to live it. We can let go of any old, outdated assumptions we carry that could influence our lives in a negative way and stop us from appreciating and experiencing the many positives that can come with getting older. We can create our own beliefs and live our own truths. Just because later life has challenges does not mean the “seasoned" years can't be joyful and vibrant time.
Let’s take a look at the old - but common - assumptions about "old age."
Assumption: Older = Poor health X
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 wall of “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 lots 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, 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 live more enjoyable and help us live longer.
Assumption: Older = isolation, loneliness, and uselessness X
As the years go by, some people find they have less social contact with others and less chances 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' thave to be that way.
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 in our later years. If we have friends and loved ones living in other places, we can use the Internet and social media to connect with them face-to-face across the miles. 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 communitiews by volunteering.
Assumption: Older = Lack of interest and growth X
Life is an educational experience from beginning to end. It's never too late to learn new things. Like some folks, you may view old age as a time to stick to what you are used to and comfortable with, and you might not feel the need to adapt to the changes and new advancements that come along with the passing of time. And that’s okay... if it’s your own personal and informed choice, but the notion certainly isn’t the only approach to getting older.
Just because we are older does not mean we are unable to adapt to new things. Think of all the changes and transitions we’ve already adapted to over the course of our lives by the time we reach our later years. They are probably too numerous to count. And most have probably made our lives easier and more interesting So why stop now? We may be older, but we can still tackle anything new that comes along.
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Assumption: Older = Loss of memory and mental agility X
Yes, sadly, some of us will experience cognitive and memory issues as we get older that we may have no control over. Even in these cases, thankfully, there are often medical interventions that may be able to help. Fortunately, many older people never face these types of challenges at a level that robs them of their ability to function normally and live well. We may become more forgetful in later years and perhaps a little less attentive, but that does not mean our minds will let us down completely.
There are lots of things we 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 mind and make it easier for our brains to store, retrieve, and use information. If you are dealing with issues with your memory and logic reasoning, please speak with your doctor.