5 Misconceptions About Aging

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I’ve always been told to be careful about assumptions. It’s really a wise recommendation when it comes to aging. Generalities that once might have held a thimble of truth have been blown out of the water by the Greatest Generation and the beloved Baby Boomers. When social security was first signed into law, not many people lived more than a few years past 60. The average lifespan for a woman in the U.S. today is 79.1 years while men average a little over 73.2 years. We’re living longer and we’re living better. Old myths — they’re out of here.

Here are a few researched conclusions and a few unscientific thoughts of my own.

Myth #1 – Old People are Unhappy, Crabby People

False – While a number of older people do suffer more from chronic diseases, most don’t allow that to make them unhappy. In an article on Psychologytoday.com, people 70 and over are perhaps the happiest of all. The article went on to say that this age group has less stress and peer pressure, but my personal observation is that older people are truly grateful for their lives and do their best to enjoy each day. My parents, both in their 80s, are a great example. My mother is almost always happy, unless someone messes with her dog! Daddy is very upbeat by nature, more so now than when he was younger. Just don’t catch him when he’s trying to fix the riding lawnmower. You’ll hear a lot of “shootin’.”

Myth #2 – Old People are No Longer Able to Learn New Things

False – Again from the people at Psychologytoday.com, the opposite is actually true. Intelligence in math and reasoning skills improves dramatically throughout most people’s 60s and 70s. You can visit nearly any college in any state in America and see seniors taking classes on a myriad of subjects. While working on my gerontology degree, I was astonished at the number of seniors working on a degree or just taking courses because they love to learn. Some were learning a new language for their travels, others were just following an interest they had.

Myth #3 – Old People Isolate Themselves and Lack Social Lives

False – Older people have more time to be social and according to Dr. Margaret Gatz, a gerontologist at the University of Southern California, they’re wiser about relationships — more than at any other time in their lives. They know what people are good for them and who to stay away from. Those are lessons that younger folks need to learn. Unless seniors suffer from mobility issues, they’re more likely to get out and socialize, join a club and talk to neighbors. Younger people are busy with families and work.

Myth #4 – Old People Can’t Work and Be Productive

False – A Pew Research Center report in December, 2023, found in its survey that “roughly one-in-five Americans ages 65 and older (19%) were employed in 2023”. Furthermore, these seniors were earning higher wages:  $22 per hour ($13 in 1987). Finally, the 65 plus population tallied up 28.6% in volunteer hours in 2021.  How many grandparents do you know who are caregivers to their grandchildren or to an ill loved one? No one could call care-taking “unproductive.”

My own mother still can work circles around me and spends most of her daytime hours out working in her yard. She still finds time to watch any of the ten great-grandchildren or cook a meal for someone in need. As a reporter for my hometown paper, I see that most of those who volunteer for service groups are in their later years. Without them, there would be no meals-on-wheels, senior exercise classes, community gardens or a host of other worthy group endeavors. Nearly all of our service groups were started by seniors.

Myth #5 – Old People Lack Creativity

False — Agatha Christie wrote best-selling books until her death at 87. Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until her later 60s and Colonel Saunders was 66 when he finally made it big with his chicken. Noah Webster’s most successful dictionary, still used today, wasn’t published until he was in his 80s. Creativity is ageless.

On a personal note, I went back to university at almost 40 and then again four years later for my BA in journalism and then again four years later for my degree in gerontology! Don’t let age keep you from your passions and dreams. I’ve found that being older has made me bolder. The only failure is to not try at all! So get out there and have fun with your passions!


(This article was reviewed in February 2024 since it originally published in September 2016.)

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