Top 10 Aging Myths…. Dispelling Them One By One

Aging MythsEvery culture has had myths. We may be most familiar with Greek and Roman ones. As defined by Merriam-Webster, a myth is “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” One more thing. myths are not the truth. That is my personal definition. Myths are often misconceptions of reality, what we think, rather than what can be proven true.  Again, my personal definition and accurate when it comes to discussing aging myths.

What are the top 10 Aging Myths:

  • Old = Sick
  • “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
  • Too late for changes in lifestyle to make a difference
  • Older adults only take from society and do not contribute
  • Most older adults live in nursing homes
  • Engage in few activities other than watching TV
  • Most older adults are unable to adapt to change
  • Older workers cannot work as efficiently as younger workers
  • Most Older Adults experience significant memory loss
  • Older Adults only want to relax and lead a life of leisure

Let’s look at the first 5 in-depth: 

1. Old=Sick 

The first and most common myth is that to be old means to be sick. The older population is not al the same in regard to health. Many older adults are very healthy and physically strong. However, it is important to understand that there are segments of the older adult population that experience health issues. Some experience several of them. A study by the Department of Health and Human Services from 2014 found that,

  • 43% of people over 65 who lived at home reported excellent or very good health
  • there was little difference between male and female responders
  • chronic conditions among those over 65 include
    • 71% heypertension
    • 49% arthritis
    • 31% some type of heart disease
    • 25% cancer
    • 21% diabetes [1]

At the same time, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are increasing in prevalence among older adults as well.

  • Worldwide there are 47.5 million people affected, with 7.7 million new cases each year; and 5.3 million people, or 1 in 9 over age 65,  in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It is estimated that by 2050, 7 million people over the age of 85 will have Alzheimer’s disease.[2]

This is not a myth of aging, but a reality of aging in the U.S. and around the world. Churches are developing plans and ministries to serve the population affected by both Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s dementias.

[1] “A Profile of Older Americans: 2014” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12.

[2] “Alzheimer’s Statistics.” Accessed February 06, 2016.

2. You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Research shows that older adults can learn quite effectively, but it may take longer.[1] Organization experts actually claim that older adults might even retain the information longer because of experiential references that they have that younger people simply do not possess.

[1] Hogan, M.J. “Divided Attention in Older but not Youner Adults Is Impaired by Anxiety,” Experimental Aging Research. 29 (2003), 111-36.

3. Too late for changes in lifestyle to make a difference

Another myth is that it is too late in later years to make changes to improve well-being, and that genetics determine one’s health. However, genetics, once thought to be solely determinative of health, is now regarded as just one factor that acts in concert with lifestyle and environment. The field of epigenetics explores how gene expression can be influenced by several factors including age, environment, and lifestyle.[1] Lifestyle changes, even those made later in life can dramatically affect the quality of life of older adults.

[1] “Epigenetics: Fundamentals.” What Is Epigenetics. Accessed February 05, 2016.

4. Older Adults Do Not Contribute to Their Community 

This is a misconception as well. In actuality, older adults provide home care to their aging spouses, and care for their grandchildren often on a part-time and in many instances a full-time basis. Just as important is that many donate many volunteer hours to churches and community organizations. Furthermore many older adults often stay active in work force well beyond expected retirement age. One example that is close to home is my father-in-law. After retiring from a 40 year career as an  engineer, he chose to work pursuing a hobby. He is a life-long model train enthusiast. In his retirement as an engineer, he went to work for a model train manufacturer and just retired from there after 18 years. [2]

[1] Houston and Parker, 112-119.

[2] Houston and Parker, 119.

5.  Most older adults live in nursing homes

In addition, a sixth myth is that most older adults live in nursing homes. In actuality, long-term nursing home care is not the fate of most older adults.

  • 1.5 million or 3.4% of people over 65 live in some type of institutional setting such as  skilled nursing facilities
  • The percentage increases as we age
    • 1% ages 64-74
    • 3% ages 75-84
    • 10% ages 85 and older ”[1]

[1] “A Profile of Older Americans: 2014” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, p. 5.


Coming Soon: 5 More Aging Myths to Explore




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