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Debunking More Myths About Aging

May 23, 2024

May is Older Americans Month, originally designated as Senior Citizens Month more than 60 years ago. Last year in our May blog post, we focused on Older Americans Month as an opportunity to dispel several myths about aging, such as:

  • Dementia is an inevitable part of aging.
  • Seniors should slow down and take it easy.
  • People need less sleep as they grow older.
  • It’s normal for older adults to be lonely or depressed.
  • It’s too hard to learn new things when you’re older, so there’s no point in trying.

See how we addressed these stereotypes of aging in last year’s May blog post.

This year, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) has chosen “Powered by Connection” as the theme for Older Americans Month. This theme, according to the ACL, “recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being.”

We can attest to just how true that statement is, based on the innumerable life-altering connections we’ve witnessed in the last 30+ years at Emerald Heights. It’s always a joy to see new residents flourishing as they form new friendships and interests. Many say they wish they’d moved here much sooner.

As we build on our earlier blog post by debunking more aging myths and misconceptions, we’ll underscore the undeniable power of positive connections.

Myth: Older people don’t contribute to society.

This may very well be one of the most destructive fallacies associated with aging (and is often the basis for ageism).

It’s not unusual for seniors to continue working well past the customary age of retirement, and not necessarily because they need the income. Many simply aren’t ready to give up the career they’ve enjoyed for decades. Others make use of their entrepreneurial spirit to start an entirely new endeavor. Some discover a new passion or pastime that leads them back into business.

And there are countless other, often overlooked, ways in which older adults continue to contribute to society. For instance, many are unpaid (in terms of money, anyway) sitters for their grandkids, providing a respite — or in some cases a sorely needed resource — for their adult children. 

Savoring the Satisfaction of Volunteering

A NationSwell article titled “How Older Adults Lead the Way in American Volunteerism” states that volunteerism in the United States generates more than $100 billion in economic activity annually. It also notes that while volunteer rates and hours served have been on the downswing the last couple of decades, volunteerism among seniors has been “comparatively resilient.”

As a result, according to the article, the proportion of total volunteer hours accounted for by older adults (age 65+) increased from 18.5% in 2002 to 28.6% in 2021. This increase in volunteerism among seniors happened even though more people in this age group were participating in the labor force — and despite the risks the pandemic imposed.

Retirees can choose any number of ways to use their newly allotted spare time to give back to their communities, such as:

  • Sharing their love with animals at a nearby shelter or sanctuary
  • Tutoring students or reading to young children at the library
  • Helping to plant and tend to a community garden
  • Pitching in at a local food bank or soup kitchen
  • Assisting their neighborhood peers at senior centers or in resident-led groups at senior living communities like ours
  • Serving on the board of a business or community organization, where they can share their considerable experience, insight and acumen

Myth: Seniors can’t adapt to new concepts and situations.

There’s a widespread notion that the older we become, the more resistant we are to changes and adopting new ways of doing things.

While there’s some truth to the maxim “old habits die hard,” it likely has more to do with the familiarity of the routine than the age of the person with the habits. Most of us have a tendency to gravitate toward what’s usual, or known, or part of our repertoire.

For those who’ve done things a certain way for decades, it might not even occur to them to try something different. This doesn’t mean they have a rigid or inflexible attitude. In fact, those decades of life experience often give them ample skills for adjusting to new situations and scenarios.

Selling the family home and moving into a new community is among the biggest changes an older adult may make. It’s more than starting a new chapter in life. It’s a whole new lifestyle, and we see people well into their 80s and 90s make this transition with great success.

Every day, we see older adults who are ready to tackle new projects, take on new challenges and step into new roles. They prove — with gusto! — that there’s no expiration date on being receptive to change.

Myth: Aging robs you of your creativity.

When you think of people who express themselves creatively, what comes to mind? Those who paint, sculpt or build, sing, play a musical instrument, perform in a theater, write, dance, dress with flair, experiment with new recipes, grow lush gardens or beautifully decorate their home?

Older adults can and do engage in these and all sorts of other creative endeavors. Some revisit talents and skills they honed in school but set aside when other priorities took over. Others discover artistic abilities they never knew they had.

“Grandma” Moses is a well-known example of someone mining their creativity later in life. Anna Mary Robertson Moses began painting with serious intent in her late 70s, had her first solo exhibition when she was 80 and kept painting for another 20 years!

Myth: Getting older makes people grumpy.

Many a novel and movie has featured an ill-tempered older family member or neighbor who makes life difficult for everyone around them. As the story unfolds, it comes to light that there’s a reason for the character’s acerbic nature. By the end of the tale, the reason has been resolved — often through some type of intervention — and the character is no longer disgruntled.

This stereotypical depiction of older adults can lead some people to believe that being grouchy, short-tempered or generally dissatisfied with life is part and parcel of the aging process.

Like other age groups, seniors have stresses that can take a temporary toll on even the most chipper among them. But most of us tend to become more “ourselves” as we age, meaning we lean even more into the traits that have shaped our personalities.

So, people who are resilient and face the world with a positive attitude are likely to maintain that outlook as they get older, whereas those who view life through a lens of negativity will probably become more irascible with age.

Sometimes, though — just like in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! — being around people with the right influence can cause a change of heart.

Myth: Once you reach a certain age, it doesn’t matter what you eat.

This might be one of the most detrimental of all myths about aging. The truth is, good nutrition may be even more important in our later years. 

For most of us, our metabolism will slow as we age and there’s a good chance our physical activity will decrease. As a result, we’ll need to consume fewer calories to maintain the same weight. It’s not unusual for seniors to experience some loss of appetite as well. For these and other reasons, older adults need to eat a diet that’s more nutrient-dense.

Our nutritional requirements also change with age. For instance, research indicates that diets lacking in certain nutrients, including vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folate, can affect cognitive functioning in older adults and may increase the risk of dementia. 

Some foods and beverages appear to exacerbate inflammation, which may increase joint pain in people with arthritis. There are also foods that seem to fight inflammation, which may be beneficial for those with arthritis pain. 

At Emerald Heights, good nutrition is always on the menu. Our chefs create their recipes in collaboration with dietitians, ensuring the meals they prepare are both nutritious and delicious. Residents can also consult with on-site nutritionists for personalized guidance.

An Invitation to Experience the Power of Connection

Residents at Emerald Heights defy these and other myths of aging through the connections they enjoy with one another every day.

Being surrounded by your peers (and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest) can help you maximize the quality of your senior years.

We invite you to learn more about our community. Contact us to arrange a visit or call 866-822-0916.