Common Aging Myths



1. Age is related to how sick you are


This is not true! Age does not define your health status; you can be a very independent, active 80-year-old or a sick 50-year-old. The way you live your life, keeping up with good behaviors such as eating well, exercising, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking can keep you healthy. Stress and genetics also play a role in your health. For more information, read the GeriAcademy blog on What Happens When We Age.


2. Older people are going to get dementia!


Dementia is not a normal part of aging, it is a disease process, and not everyone will develop dementia. Occasionally, older adults can have mild memory problems, such as forgetting where they placed their keys or remembering a name they later recall. Age itself is a small risk factor for developing dementia. Age coupled with other risks, including family history, lifestyle, other medical problems.


3. Older people can't learn new things.


Certainly not true. Older adults without a memory disease can learn new things. It may take longer for older adults to learn new tasks, but they can learn and retain information. Physical and mental exercise can improve an older person's working memory and enhance learning.


4. Older people generally avoid exercise and physical activities to prevent injury.


Not true. Many older adults maintain an active lifestyle. Physical exercise is actually very beneficial. A program involving strength, balance, and cardiovascular exercise can help an older adult remain independent and prevent injury such as falls. However, consult with your physicians before starting any exercise regimen to avoid injury.


5. Older adults don't get depressed.


Depression is a common disease often unrecognized or undertreated in older adults. Loss of a spouse or loved one, lack of social support, financial hardships, multiple medical problems, lack of resources place older adults at high risk for developing depression. For more information on aging and depression, read the GeriAcademy blog on depression. Due to generational beliefs, often, older adults may perceive depression as a sign of weakness and delay in seeking help.


6."I'm too old to quit smoking."


You are never too old to stop smoking. You will be breathing better and experiencing the benefits from smoking in as early as 1 year and heart benefits as early as 3 months. So it's never too late to quit smoking.


7. Older people don't enjoy socializing.


Socialization is an essential part of life. Unfortunately, older adults may have chronic disease barriers, lack of transportation, or lack of funds that prevent them from having active social lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant contributor to isolation. Hopefully, with vaccination efforts, this problem will be solved. Identifying the barriers that prevent older adults from having active social lives is the key.


8. "If my blood pressure is not high today, I don't need my blood pressure medications."


Some medical conditions are chronic and will likely need treatment for a long time, possibly a lifetime. You need to take your blood pressure medications as directed by your doctor. High blood pressure is a disease that requires constant monitoring and management. On occasion, your doctor may decrease or discontinue a blood pressure medicine as you age or your health changes. Adjustment of medications on your own can be very dangerous. Skipping blood pressure medications can increase your risk of stroke or heart failure. Also keep in mind this is not this should apply to other disease processes such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart failure, COPD etc. Do not stop or change chronic disease medication regimens without the guidance of your doctor.


9. Older people are not interested in sex or intimacy.


This is entirely false! One research study from the University of Michigan found that 75% of people aged 65-80 are sexually active. Sexual activity and intimacy are essential elements of any romantic relationship regardless of age group.


10. "I'm old, and I have been through a lot, so I don't care if I have many good days left."


life expectancy has nothing to do with the quality of life. You should enjoy your life regardless of how much life you have left to live. Geriatric physicians focus on the quality of life by placing their patients at the center of the discussion.


11. "I need to take supplements because I'm old and can't absorb nutrients through my diet."


This is a common myth. Unless you have a disorder that impairs your body's ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, you do not need supplements and over-the-counter medications. You may need to take a couple of vitamins in addition to your dietary needs, such as calcium and vitamin D. Taking too many nutritional supplements will just cost you more money without any added health benefits. For more information read the GeriAcademy blog post on vitamins and herbs.


Summary


I hope you enjoyed reading this post by Dr. Shuxin Wang. See other posts on the GeriAcademy blog, listen to my podcast and follow me on social media.

Dr. Wang is currently a Geriatric Fellow at Carolinas Health Care System Blue Ridge. Her training prior to fellowship was in Internal Medicine. She has had experience working as a hospitalist caring for older adults.