Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
Growing older is one of the few universal experiences. If we’re lucky, we will all experience what it is like to earn a couple wrinkles on our faces and watch our hair gray or have it fall out of our head. However, despite the fact that we are all growing older, there is a lot of inaccurate information about aging. The prevalence of inaccurate information has significant impact on our health and well-being as we age. Thus, here are 5 myths about aging and what actual statistics say.
Myth #1: Aging adults are an economic burden.
There is often this perception that older adults don’t work and drag down the economy. In truth, participation in labor in men over 60 is at 35%, which is an increase from 26% in 1996. Women are working later in life as well, with participation in the labor force rising from 15% to 25%. Many retired adults still contribute to the economy. Currently, adults over the age of 50 generate a minimum of $7.1 trillion each year to the economy, this is projected to grow to $13.5 trillion by 2032. Furthermore, the Corporation for National and Community Service estimates that volunteers age 55+ contribute about 3.3 billion hours of service to their community each year, with a price tag of $75 billion. Individuals over the age of 50 also donate about $100 million dollars each year to charity, which is approximately 70% of annual charitable donations.
Myth #2: Most aging adults have dementia.
While the percentage of individuals who have Alzheimer’s increases with age, dementia is not a guaranteed effect of aging. Only 3% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have dementia, and only 32% of individuals over the age of 85 have dementia. Furthermore, it is important to note that memory loss isn’t necessarily a sign of old age or dementia. Memory loss can be tied to medicines that are being taken, depression, stress, or other medical conditions. It’s also important to remember that sometimes, we just forget things.
Myth #3: Good aging is all about what’s in your genes.
The World Health Organization estimates that genetics only explain about 25% of the differences in life longevity. This means that the other 75% of our longevity is dependent on external and environmental factors like smoking, exercise, financial resources, stress, and sleep, in addition to many other factors. The accumulation of life experiences and circumstances is one of the main reasons why there is more variety in terms of change and development among older people than youth.
Myth #4: It’s lonely growing old.
In actuality, it’s people who are middle aged who are more likely to report feeling lonely as opposed to older adults. One survey found that 43% of adults aged 45-49 reported feeling lonely, while only 25% of individuals over the age of 70 reported feeling so. Additionally, while society tends to desexualize older individuals, many enjoy a robust and healthy “sex life.
Myth #5: Aging is miserable.
Many people assume that older people are less happy. Traditionally, researchers have found that individuals are happiest toward the beginning and end of their life. Additionally, researchers have consistently found that older individuals are happier than people who are middle aged, but there’s also some evidence to suggest that today’s older individuals may also be happier than those who are currently in their twenties.
Chances are, we are all familiar with these myths about aging or may have thought they were factual before we read this article. The next article in this series will discuss the prevailing force behind these myths and the articles afterwards will discuss steps we can take to age with dignity. It is critical that we address the sources of these myths to create a better world for not only those who are older but for ourselves to grow old in.
References & Additional Readings:
- Disproving Beliefs About the Economy and Aging
- What Growing Life Expectancy Gaps Mean for the Promise of Social Security
- The Longevity Economy
- Value of Senior Volunteers to U.S. Economy
- World Health Organization: Misconceptions on Aging and Health
- All the Lonely People
- Why People Get Happier As They Get Older
- Thomas, ML, CN Kaufman, BW Palmer, et al. 2016. Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging: A Community-Based Study of 1,546 Adults Aged 21–100 Years. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 77(8) : 1019-1031.