It’s a given: If you live long enough, you’re going to become cranky, creaky and senile, right? If you said yes, it might be time to dispel some myths about getting older and show that, indeed, with age comes wisdom.
Myth 1: Seniors are frail and sick
“Aging doesn’t necessarily mean having a long list of health problems,” says Jennifer Martin, MD, with Kettering Physician Network Primary Care in Springboro. “Leading a healthy lifestyle can help you remain healthy and strong.”
Dr. Martin suggests seniors try these healthy practices:
Exercise regularly: Physical activity reduces the risk for many illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also help maintain the strength you need to keep walking unassisted—a key element for staying independent.
Exercise that makes your legs stronger and improves your balance, like tai chi, helps reduce your risk of falling.
Eat for the ages: A good diet supports overall fitness of the body, mind and spirit. Stock your kitchen with lots of high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Get screened: Health screenings can spot problems early so they can be treated before they become more serious. Ask your doctor which screenings are right for you.
Myth 2: Depression is a done deal
Despite the challenges aging can bring, the majority of seniors are not depressed, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One reason may be that with age comes more time for things that support mental health, including hobbies, volunteering and socializing.
Nevertheless, seniors are at higher risk for depression. “For some, it happens after a difficult life event, such as losing a partner,” notes Dr. Martin. “Like any other illness, depression should be treated. Counseling, medication or a combination is effective for many older adults.”
Myth 3: Old dogs can’t learn new tricks
“Though some parts of the brain shrink with age,” Dr. Martin says, “that doesn’t automatically mean overall brain power diminishes.”
Research has shown that if given enough time, folks in their 70s and 80s score as well on cognitive tests as younger people. In fact, in areas of verbal knowledge such as vocabulary, elders often outperform their younger counterparts. One possible reason: To compensate for areas that shrink, the brain may activate other networks.
To boost brain power as you age:
Try something new every day. Switch hands to brush your teeth, follow a different route to the store, or solve word or math puzzles.
Tackle unexplored territory. Pick a country whose language or cuisine you admire, and take cooking or language lessons. Have you always secretly wanted to play a musical instrument? Sign up for lessons.
Tie in to social connections. Volunteer in your community, start a book club or travel with a group.