Since turning 60 a couple of years ago, my interest in aging well and happy has ramped up considerably. For the longest time, I claimed that I was middle-aged and for some ridiculous reason felt that I would stay at that stage of life for decades to come. But something in me switched at 60 and the midlife label no longer felt true. The problem was, calling myself a senior or old person didn’t fit either. Since then I’ve been thinking, talking and writing about the process of aging from all sorts of angles. Surprisingly, something that is becoming more and more clear to me is that most of us hold a lot of bogus ideas about what aging means. And while I’m not usually one to use profanity, the term B.S. applies to a number of those erroneously held beliefs.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 myths that I have learned are simply not true. They are:
- When you get to a certain age it’s all downhill. Wrong! Everything I’m reading, and many people I talk to who have reached advanced age prove that this is NOT TRUE. The majority of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s continue to enjoy a high quality of life. Are things different from when they are young? Do we lose some physical abilities? Sure. But being older carries a number of advantages that younger people don’t realize—especially in the mental, emotional and spiritual sides. The best examples are the freedom of caring far less what others are thinking about us, having more courage to be more authentic, and the wisdom to know what really matters. Those are priceless gifts of old age.
- When you get older you’ll automatically feel old. Not true! On the surface, I don’t feel any older than I did 10 or 20 years ago although in some cases I actually feel healthier. When I was young I took my good health for granted. Now I eat better, stay more active, and exercise my brain. I also now refuse to put up with stuff that I don’t like. I will admit that there are some things I can’t do that I could do when I was younger. But now I am far more grateful for the things I can do, and I appreciate my mind and body more than ever before. That’s not old, that’s SMART!
- AARP is only for old people. When Thom, my husband, first turned 50, I remember us both laughing as we threw the AARP solicitation we received in the mail in the trash. We didn’t care if there were discounts, education or benefits—surely none of it applied to us? We were very wrong. When we finally became members in our late 50s we realized that the benefits of having AARP as an advocate to our increased age went far beyond a few discounts. Oh, and their monthly newsletter is filled with helpful ideas and information, too.
- You’ll always think about aging the way you now think (at whatever age you are) about aging. Back in the late 70s when I first introduced Thom to my parents we considered them old. Yet, at the time, both of my parents were only in their early 40s. Unfortunately, we were under the very ageist perspective of thinking anyone in their 40s+ was old. Boy, were we wrong! By the same token, I am now 63 and I am very aware that what I think about getting old is bound to change as well. The truth is that we don’t know what we don’t know. However, I am extremely optimistic about growing older in spite of the fact that I won’t really know how it will feel until I’m there. But, as I’ve written about before, staying hopeful about aging can add up to seven and a half years to a person’s life. Why wouldn’t all of us do everything we can to stay optimistic?
- Forget about good sex when you get older. After 41 years of marriage, I can personally attest to the fact that this myth is B.S. In the right relationship, love-making can and does get better. Enough said.
- The three “D’s”—disease, decline, and dependency—are unavoidable parts of your old age. If you listen to the news there is a good chance that you’ve been told the bogus story of how we are all headed health wise towards a dismal future. No wonder young people don’t want to get old! However, if you take the time like I have, you will find that the vast majority of older people live a very independent and relatively healthy life for all but a very limited time before passing. Yes, we’ll all pass on at some point, but that doesn’t mean that the years preceding that time are only filled with the three D’s.
- You don’t need to save money because you probably won’t live that long anyway. Unfortunately, far too many older people live as though this is true—but it’s not. Studies show that if we live to be 65 we have a good 20+ years remaining in our lives and we would be wise to make sound financial arrangements. Ten years ago, Thom and I did it by choosing to rightsize our lives. We not only scaled back our lifestyle to include those things we really valued and appreciated, but we also worked hard to become debt-free and live far below our income. By rightsizing, we didn’t sacrifice our quality of life but instead ended all the superficial spending that comes from a consumer lifestyle. We now hope to live well, happy and financially secure far into the future.
- You only work if you absolutely need the money when you get older. As I’ve written about before, much of the old model of retirement came from a generation of workers who put in their 40+ years at the same company and then hopefully retired the last few years of their lives. Our current world is much different. I get that some people just put in their time to receive a pension so they could retire. But perhaps a better option is to find an occupation that a person doesn’t need to “retire from” in the first place? In other words, if you love your work and can adjust for your physical needs as you age, why quit? Sure, we all want freedom and time to do the things we love, but why not create that kind of work model from the beginning? My husband Thom and I are what we call semi-retired. We have designed our work with freedom, flexibility, enjoyment, and income, and hope to do it for the remainder of our lives.
- Most old people live in nursing homes. Wrong again. Only 4% of the oldest old Americans live in nursing homes. We’ve all heard horror stories of being forced into a Nursing Home when we get older, but this simply isn’t the case in the lives of most people. According to studies, up to 80% of us stay in our own homes with the other percentage moving into alternative housing arrangements as they age. Every day new choices are being uncovered. One thing is for sure, our aging will not be the aging of our parents.
- Most old people are sad and depressed. False! According to a Gallup Research Survey, Americans over age 55 “thrive at significantly higher rates across five elements of well-being” as opposed to those in younger ages. Those elements are; eating better, smoking less, less worry and stress, a higher standard of living, less worry about money and more freedom. And let’s not forget about not caring as much what other people think of them! In my personal experience I am far happier and content than I was in middle age—and from what I’ve been reading, it just gets better.
Sadly, we are still living in an ageist society that values youth over advancing age. But I believe this is changing—especially if we take the time to refute bogus claims like I’ve listed above. Let’s all stop telling each other that aging is something to dread and start relishing in the fact that our lives can become more rewarding and content as the years add up. As always, it’s SMART to remember that we can choose to age well and happy—and remind each other that the best might be waiting in the days to come.
Note: This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. As always, all perspectives are 100% my own.
Okay, your turn! Have you ever believed in a myth about aging that you now know isn’t true? What was it? Please share in the comments below.