Carole Carson: Adventures in Aging – Seven myths about getting older | TheUnion.com
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Carole Carson: Adventures in Aging – Seven myths about getting older

Carole Carson
Columnist
Carole Carson
photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

How many of these myths do you accept as reality?

Myth 1: “When it comes down to it, aging is just another disease,” asserts professor David Sinclair, PhD, a Harvard professor.

He is convinced that aging, like obesity, is a pathological condition that scientists will eradicate.

Reality: “If aging is a disease, it must be highly contagious because all my patients get it,” says Dr. Todd Bouchier, a Grass Valley physician. “And everyone over the age of 65 has an advanced case.

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“Humor aside,” Dr. Bouchier continues, “aging is not a disease. Over time, mountains crumble, barns collapse, and cells degenerate. Aging is a fact of nature. Scientists get excited about the possibility of escaping the preprogrammed aspects of cellular aging. No doubt, we’ll make gains and eventually live longer but won’t eliminate aging. Making the final years as meaningful as possible is the goal.”

Myth 2: All seniors are alike and are best described as sexless, toothless, prune juice-drinking dribblers who watch daytime television and shuffle like Tim Conway.

Reality: People live more diverse lives over time. People in their 20s are more alike than folks in their 80s. We even age differently. Four distinct “ageotypes”— metabolic, immune, hepatic (liver), and nephrotic (kidney) — determine how and where in the body biologic aging occurs.

As for sex, studies show that seniors enjoy sex and variations of sexual activity beyond middle age. Moreover, the need for intimacy — touching, hugging, or holding hands — is timeless.

Myth 3: Old timers are a drain on society, sucking up resources the younger folks need. The fewer seniors in a community, the healthier it is. The coronavirus can “thin the herd.”

Reality: Over 1,200 nonprofit and 501(c) organizations operate in Nevada County, enriching our community in immeasurable ways. Funding and volunteer support (estimated at 10,000 hours annually) rely heavily on seniors for these civic and social activities.

Plus, increasing numbers of seniors work. And even those who aren’t on a payroll still work as grandparents and caregivers.

As for welfare, older people have emerged as the wealthiest segment of our population.

Myth 4: Seniors don’t need or buy much, hence, commercials focus on young people, except for depressing pharmaceutical ads.

Reality: The 65-and-older population is the “mother of all untapped markets,” according to Barron’s. In 2015, the spending of Americans ages 50 and up accounted for nearly $8 trillion worth of dollars spent. By 2030, the 55-and-older population will have accounted for half of all domestic consumer spending growth.

And even when household income for older people is at or below the median, they have as much or more disposable income as young people with the same income.

Myth 5: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Technology is wasted on seniors. Humans are born with a finite number of brain cells that die off with aging.

Reality: Learning patterns may change and the speed of learning may diminish, but the basic capacity to learn is retained. As for technology, in 2000, 14% of those aged 65 and older were internet users; now 73% are.

Moreover, through the process of neurogenesis, brain cells adapt and reconnect — even regrow and replenish. Thanks to brain plasticity, we old dogs can teach young dogs some new tricks!

Myth 6: To be old is to be irritable and grumpy. Depression is inevitable given the declining trajectory of deteriorating mental and physical health.

Reality: Depression is not a normal part of aging but rather an illness requiring treatment. The course of depression in the elderly is identical to that of younger persons, and the response to treatment appears as positive as that of people in other life stages.

Myth 7: Senior moments signal the onset of dementia, a disease no one escapes if they live long enough. The lights are still on, but the voltage is low.

Reality: Forgetfulness occurs at all ages, but we’re more inclined to notice as we age. The good news is that the rate of dementia is declining and occurring at older and older ages. Only 5% of people over age 65 have dementia. In addition, some memory loss is caused by medications and medical conditions unrelated to aging.

The best news is that aging and dementia are not inextricably linked. Evidence is growing that regular exercise, healthful eating, and mentally challenging activities can preserve cognitive functions independent of age.

Accepting these myths holds us back. It cuts us off from opportunities that are jumping up and down in front of us seeking to get our attention. Knowing the truth, on the other hand, sets us free to explore our options while we celebrate the simple joy of being alive.

Next Month: Your body over time

Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: carolecarson41@gmail.com.


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