After a workout, I went home and sat down and realized that both of my knees were aching. I immediately thought, "It's tough getting old." I then remembered, I will be turning 40 this month. Wow! Time does go by fast. If we are fortunate, healthy aging eventually will be a concern for all of us. So, how does one, "grow old graciously?" First, we need to consider what the myths are and what the facts about healthy aging really are.
Myth 1: "I am too old to learn anything new."
Fact: Healthy older adults have an equal ability to learn any new activity they so desire. Sometimes it's the daunting task of setting out on the new path that can be quite intimidating. However, older adults are just as capable of learning new activities. In fact, older individuals can bring a lot to the table with unique insight from their own knowledge of the past. When older individuals begin to believe in themselves and realize their true potential, the above myth dissolves.
Myth 2: "As we all grow older, we will experience poorer health."
Fact: The above statement couldn't be further from the truth. It is true some diseases are more common with advanced age. However, there are no diseases that are guaranteed to occur simply because an individual is getting older. The same advice is given to young adults as to older ones. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, exercise, and good sleep hygiene are all cornerstones to a healthy life regardless of age.
Myth 3: "Everyone will suffer from memory loss with advanced age."
Fact: It may take a little longer to recall specific memories, but substantial memory loss with age is not the rule. If an individual exercises their mind along with their body, an older individual can keep up with a younger person intellectually. Exercising the mind is just as important as physical exercise. Daily reading and crossword puzzles are two relatively easy activities that can keep the mind working.
Myth 4: "Old people can't drive."
Fact: This statement is completely false. A driver who happens to be up in his or her years does not mean they lose the mental nor physical ability to drive an automobile. However, physical ailments (some of which are experienced by younger drivers, as well) such as decreased visual acuity and decreased range of motion of head and extremities, may cause a decrease in driving performance. However, with certain medical intervention, (such as visual testing by an ophthalmologist or physical therapy) many of these ailments can be overcome. Furthermore, many of these medical disorders certainly aren't experienced only by people with advanced age.
Myth 5: "Older individuals have very little stress."
Fact: Many older men and women have been through a lot of change. They may have experienced a death of a spouse, sibling or even a child. There may have been a necessary move from their home of many years. These and many other major life changes would certainly cause additional stress to anyone regardless of age.
Myth 6: "Elderly people can't take care of themselves."
Fact: A person who simply has a large number for their age doesn't mean they can't take care of themselves. I have seen plenty of individuals who have thrived living on their own. There is pride in taking care of your own home. Autonomy is important to everyone, whether the individual is young or old. Being of advanced age certainly doesn't mean that a person cannot physically or mentally provide for themselves. If there are other medical concerns with living independently it would be best served to have an open discussion with their loved one along with their physician present.
Myth 7: "There are very few activities for older individuals."
Fact: It is a common misconception that there aren't too many activities for older adults. However, many communities have taken an active role in improving the variety of activities for older adults. Whether it is within church groups or other entities, such as community activity groups, more older adults are not only getting more opportunities to participate, they are truly needed to have a successful activity. Having older folks volunteering for local events brings a needed perspective that can be truly helpful.
Myth 8: "Older folks are very isolated."
Fact: Isolation can occur at any age. As any of us begin to lose people within our circle, it can be intimidating to branch out and seek new friendships. This certainly can be intimidating at any age. It is important to spend time with people you enjoy and who make you feel upbeat. It is also important for anyone to know that you are not alone. Everyone enjoys a friend. We sometimes just need to get out there and meet some of them.
Myth 9: "When we get older, we can't enjoy food."
Fact: Enjoying good food is one of the many blessings we should not have to lose just because we are getting older. However, there are changes that occur during our aging process. Knowing these changes and making adjustments will mean that anyone, regardless of age, can continue with the foods they love. Metabolism slows with age — this can affect appetite. Also, the way our gastrointestinal tract reacts to our diet can change with time, as well. We may see an adverse reaction with certain types of foods that we didn't 10 or 20 years prior. The easiest way to find out what foods have a potential to upset the stomach or other gastrointestinal problems is to consider a diet diary for a few weeks. You very well may come up with a few surprises. Take this diet diary into your physician or health care provider for an in-depth review.
Myth 10: "The elderly hate change."
Fact: Change can be extremely frightening. This fright can be found in any age group. When any of us are frightened, the first reaction is to either show fear, or more often, anger. This is a common occurrence with change in any age group. If an individual is concerned about a change, whether it be a change in living conditions, loss of a spouse, or even the loss of a child, this should be vocalized to your physician or health care provider. With the assistance of family, friends and your physician, change can occur without such intensity of fear.
No matter the age of a person, life brings new challenges and with it new rewards. Regardless of age, life can bring new meaning to the ones who live it. As Henry David Thoreau once said, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."
As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.
Dr. Weintz is the author of, "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician at Stanton County Family Practice.