There are many myths of aging — beliefs that, while widely held, are not true.
Many people have preconceived notions about how we should or shouldn’t be aging and how our bodies should reflect our aging.
Multiple media messages that tell us to do this activity to avoid aging or take this pill to stop the signs of aging bombard us daily.
Do we really need to stop the signs of aging or should we want them to stop?
Prevention of a disease that can change your life is certainly a goal for us all.
Aging is not a disease, though. We are likely not going to halt aging, no matter what choices we make.
Aging is a simply growing older. As George Burns said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” That should be more our goal in life – avoiding getting old.
Let’s dispel some myths of aging and hopefully help ourselves and our senior loved ones move toward staying well to avoid getting ‘old.’
There are many myths or preconceived notions that we have about aging. Some people seem to fear aging based on their unsubstantiated beliefs. This fear could be keeping us from being proactive to stay healthy and well as we age.
Here are some common myths:
- We are going to lose our teeth and will need dentures.
Truth: We can take steps to prevent poor dentition with regular checkups and daily oral care.
Many people overlook the importance of keeping their teeth and gums in good health. It has been estimated that only a third of older adults see a dentist. We know that dental care is not covered under Medicare and hopefully this will change in the future so that seniors can stay healthy.
Poor dental care can lead to serious health complications, including heart disease, muscle loss and malnutrition. Even ill-fitting dentures or dentures that aren’t cleaned properly can lead to health trouble. Quality of life can be negatively affected when our seniors’ teeth are not in good condition.
Seniors need to brush and floss daily to prevent cavities, gum problems and missing teeth.
Poor dentition, including improperly fitting dentures, can cause seniors to have difficulty eating, which will lead to poor nutrition, weight loss and ill health.
- Eye health in aging eyes can’t be benefited by eating healthy foods.
Truth: Aging eyes that get adequate amounts of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxantin found in colorful fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of macular degeneration, which can lead to loss of vision.
Age related macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of vision loss in seniors. Good nutrition was found to help reduce vision loss in people over 50.
- Confusion or cognitive impairment is inevitable.
Truth: Cognitive function will not spontaneously decline with age.
As we age our bodies may slow down but our brains, which grow older along with our bodies, don’t slow down unless there is a specific reason. Confusion has a cause that should be examined and treated.
There are a variety of potential causes for cognitive decline and confusion in older adults, including dehydration, pain, constipation, infection, head injury, medications, inadequate nutrition, and chronic diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
The aging brain can learn new things and enjoys being stimulated with activity.
- Muscle loss is unavoidable as we get older.
Truth: Sarcopenia or muscle loss associated with aging is not a foregone conclusion.
Recent research has shown that we tend to slowly lose muscle mass, as much as 8%, as we age, but if we maintain our physical activity and get recommended amounts of exercise we can prevent this loss. One study showed that the loss of muscle as we get older was not the consequence of aging but instead inactivity.
The loss of muscle comes with loss of strength, which can lead to falls for our seniors. Unfortunately, it could mean a loss of independence.
Physical activity and good nutrition go hand in hand to maintain our strength as we age.
- Depression is a normal part of aging.
Truth: Depression is not a regular consequence of aging.
Depression often comes after a person suffers a tragedy, such as a loss of a spouse or close family member like a child, stress, pain, certain medications, isolation, lack of fulfillment, retirement or a loss of independence that might change the course of their life.
The problem with people thinking depression is ‘normal’ is that they don’t seek help to overcome it. Untreated depression puts a senior at risk for health complications and can negatively impact their current quality of life.
Untreated depression can also lead to suicide, which is the highest in those people over the age of 75.
- Older bodies don’t heal after injuries.
Truth: Older bodies take longer to fully heal after being injured but they will heal with time.
As we age, our bodies have more difficulty healing from injury quickly because they have a slower response to the need to rebuild injured tissue.
That doesn’t mean that older bodies won’t heal.
Still, it is important to prevent injuries as we age so we don’t have to overtax our bodies function to heal injury.
- It’s too late to change my lifestyle and help my health because what I do won’t make a difference at my age.
Truth: We are never too old to make positive changes that improve our health. Lifestyle changes we make today can enhance mobility, balance, creativity, social engagement and sense of purpose as we age.
Having the best quality of life, putting life in our years, is important for us at any age. The choices we make now and as we age will influence our quality of life.
We can impact our longevity with healthy choices in eating, socialization, physical activity and health prevention activities. Getting our vaccinations, connecting with our communities and feeling a sense of purpose through engagement are as important as eating right, quitting smoking, reducing stress and taking our medications as prescribed.
Health maintenance as we age must be deliberate on our parts, it won’t just happen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that our lifestyle choices have a greater impact on our successful aging than our genetics.
It is important that we shatter these myths so that we can all take action to preserve our health and well-being and sail into our golden years with the greatest quality of life as possible.
Family caregivers can help their seniors achieve successful aging by helping them adopt healthy lifestyle habits and by modeling healthy habits.
We can make a difference in how we age – it’s never too late (or too early) to make a positive change!
“Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.” ― Robert Browning