This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.
AGING AT HOME IN AMERICA REQUIRES CHANGING THE WAY WE VIEW THE AGING PROCESS
Those of us who grew up living with or near our grandparents have formed an opinion about what it means to grow old. Good or bad, we saw it, smelled it, heard it, touched it and felt it. The aging process, for us, is based on what was imprinted on our impressionable young minds. For everyone else, it has been created by culturally constructed stereotypes.
Neither view is necessarily correct.
Counting Gray Hairs
There are many signs of aging in America. More than 13% of the people who were counted in the 2010 U.S. Census were over the age of 65. It is projected that by 2056 more people in the country will be over 65 than under 18. That’s evidence enough that we need to rethink what it means to be old.
The image of aging I took away from my childhood is based on the contrasts between my two grandmothers, with neither one a source of inspiration. Both did their aging at home, right to the very end. One grandmother was very soft and meek; the other was hard and stern. One needed to be taken care of from the moment my grandfather died until she died 16 years later. The other lived on her own for 28 years after her husband died, and she repelled anyone who tried to help her.
Since May is when we celebrate Older Americans Month, I find myself wondering what kind of impression I’m making on my grandchildren about aging. I certainly don’t want to be defined by inaccurate stereotypes. But since we Baby Boomers have never been conformists, I’m prepared to keep the revolution going a while longer as we drive our VW Minivans into the sunset!
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of some signs of aging you’ll want to avoid if you don’t want to age yourself. Be alert for these comments and complaints:
6 Signs of Aging That Aren’t True
I’ve always had a good diet so can continue to eat this way the rest of my life – Having had a good diet pays off by reducing our risk for diet-related diseases, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement as we get older. Our nutritional needs continue to change throughout life, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and beyond, and one diet doesn’t fit all. As we get older our ability to fully digest what we eat and absorb the nutrients our meals provide also impacts the quality of our diets. Plus, many medications and diseases can interfere with our appetite and ability to stay properly nourished.
There’s no point in making lifestyle changes now – Any time we make an investment in our own health we can be rewarded with an improved sense of well-being, even if we can’t reverse the damage done by lifelong bad habits. Some changes, however, can reap measureable benefits, like quitting smoking, exercising more and including more fiber in our diets.
I can’t learn anything new at my age – The ability to learn new things never stops. What changes is the speed at which we grasp new ideas and technology, but our capacity to embrace new information continues throughout our lives. We need look no further for evidence of this than at the 40% of people over the age of 65 who use the Internet.
I’m forgetful, it must be dementia – Memory loss can be caused my many things, such as poorly controlled medical conditions, side effects of medications and untreated depression, so rule out these possibilities before jumping to conclusions. Forgetfulness is a sign of dementia, but only 6%-8% of people over age 65 have dementia and only a third of those over age 85. Depression should not be viewed as a normal part of growing old, so if the symptoms are present, treatment should be sought.
I’ve been alone for so long, I’m used to it – Our basic human needs for love, companionship, and social interaction do not change as we get older. Fear of being a burden or losing one’s independence can lead to isolation and loneliness, but these conditions are not easy to accept at any age.
Everyone my age has the same problems – The truth is our physical and psychological needs grow more unique as we age, not more similar. The longer we live the longer our individual genetic make-up, environmental and lifestyle influences and personal medical conditions have had a chance to differentiate us from other people our same age. It is more important than ever to treat the person, not the age.
What myths about aging are you ready to bust?