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Myths about getting old and ageing

Last Updated at June 25th 2021
Ageing is a gradual process and you don't always know what to expect. While you may see what ageing looks like from an outside perspective, the actual experience of getting older can be quite different.

Key points:

  • Dementia is not a normal part of ageing or the ageing experience

  • Older people love to learn new things and expand their knowledge and skills

  • Older Australians contribute hugely to the country's economy through volunteering

Older couple happily together
There are a lot of assumptions made about old people and ageing that aren't necessarily true. [Source: Shutterstock]

There are a lot of beliefs or assumptions about older people and ageing that may not be true. These myths can lead to a negative attitude towards aging and older people and even age discrimination.

Here we have mythbusted some common assumptions and beliefs about older people and the ageing process.

Myth: "Losing memory is normal as you age"

While becoming forgetful can be common for ageing people, struggling with remembering things is not a normal part of ageing. Most older people will not experience issues like memory loss, and if you do, that could be an indicator of health issues like dementia.

Older people maintain their intellect and creativity as they age, and for most seniors, is an important part of their personalities.

So experiencing issues with remembering things could be an indicator of a more serious illness or could mean you need to start practising some brain stimulation exercises, like sudoku or crosswords, to help exercise your cognitive abilities.

While ageing does increase your likelihood of developing dementia, dementia is not a normal part of ageing and should not be expected when you age. It is not fully known how dementia occurs or how to stop it, but there have been significant research inroads that are paving a way to prevention and treatment measures.

Myth: "I'm too old for risky activities and strenuous exercise"

Avoiding risky activities or intensive exercise is not necessary for older people as long as there are no serious health concerns. While you may be more frail as an older person, doing any level of exercise can be really important to your overall health and your mobility skills.

Additionally, avoiding things that are harder to do can encourage you to lose the capacity to do basic mobility activities. This can eventually lead to an increased likelihood of falls.

It is healthy to take risks that will encourage you to live life and upkeep your current abilities.

And if you are struggling with exercise, try to rebuild your fitness from the roots. For instance, go for daily walks and slowly start introducing strength training.

Talk to your doctor about your health and fitness or visit a physiotherapist to put together a fitness reablement program.

Myth: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

A common phrase used by people to describe someone who doesn't change and is set in their ways, and it's often used to describe older people.

While being stubborn can be a trait in an older person, the same can be said for younger people as well. It also doesn't mean that older people don't want to learn new things.

Studies have shown older people that are still in the workforce want to get further training and education to develop their skills and grow in their career.

Older people tend to turn to interests and hobbies after they retire, the University of the Third Age was created for the purpose of providing a space for older people to pursue university level degrees and studies around their interests.

It is also not uncommon to have a mature aged student sitting in university lectures and tutorials in a bid to learn more about the world.

Everyday you learn something new and older people are more than capable and happy to continue learning into their later years.

A lot of older people are embracing technology, becoming tech savvy, and love how technology has improved and enhanced their lives.

Additionally, after living a long life, older people tend to have strong resilience as they have had problems come up during their lives and they have rebounded on from it.

Myth: "Older people become grumpy"

If you have noticed an older loved one has been grumpy, depressed or sad, be careful to brush it off as them just 'getting old and grumpy' but you should actually consider whether they are doing okay.

It can be easy to write off your father as "grumpy" but have you considered whether that could actually be stemming from underlying mental health issues?

Most people know that mental health can affect you at any age, yet they often don't think it's the issue affecting an older loved one. Around one in 20 people over the age of 65 will experience a depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder.

Older people can experience a lot of grief in their later years, and losing a partner or close friends can be incredibly difficult. Similarly, feelings of loneliness and social isolation can manifest in depression and anxiety, which may appear like "grumpiness".

Research has shown that even medical professionals can be very dismissive about mental health issues among older people, and can put down problems of depression and anxiety as "expected'' for an older person.

But no mental health issues should ever be expected and is not normal so if you notice your loved one experiencing mood swings it may be something to look into more.

Myth: "Older people don't make a contribution to society"

This myth is rooted in ageism. All people have something to contribute to society and older Australians are not different.

Older people have a wealth of experience and knowledge over their lifetime, which can be given back to their community through mentoring and teaching sessions.

One of the biggest contributions older people make to Australia is through volunteering. The largest base of volunteers in the country is older people and provide the most hours of volunteering.

In Australia, volunteering is an incredibly important part of the economy and helps most industries run smoothly, especially health care sectors.

Additionally, older people often are the ones supporting their adult children by looking after the grandchildren when they need to go to an event or want to spend some time away from the kids.

What myths do you want debunked about ageing and getting old? Tell us in the comments below.

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