Ageing Myths

by Research Team in USA
A comprehensive study on ageing, conducted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, (a philanthropic institution in the USA) supports the notion that lifestyle choices are the key to healthy ageing. In their book, Successful Aging, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D discuss the results of the MacArthur Foundation study – results which debunk some of the common myths of ageing. Below are the myths (in the words of the researchers) as well as some interesting facts from the study:

To Be Old is to Be Sick – The notion that old age brings disease and disability is not the case at all. The study found older people to be in remarkably good health, with fewer disabilities and infirmities, and in most cases, living on their own, rather than in nursing homes. (In fact the latest Census showed that only a small percentage of older people in Australia live in nursing homes.)

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks – If you think old age means that you can’t learn new things, think again. Research shows that older people can, and do, learn new things. Three key factors predict strong mental function in old age: (1) regular physical activity; (2) a strong social support system; (3) belief in one’s ability to handle what life has to offer. This myth also relates to the mistaken notion that seniors are set in their ways and won’t willingly move out of their comfort zone. Many seniors today are keeping up in a number of ways, evidenced by the fact that an ever-increasing number of people 55 and over use computers. Attitude plays a key role here; seniors who believe in themselves and their abilities don’t find it so hard to learn new things, adapt to life’s changes, make new friends (young and old) and enjoy life.

The Horse is Out of the Barn – Are you convinced that the bad habits of your youth are irreversible? That the damage has already been done, and that it is too late to do anything about it? Wrong again. The study found that new habits of healthy eating, regular exercise, mental activity and a strong social life are remarkably effective in combating the by-products of yesteryear’s bad habits and unhealthy living. So, it is important to start changing your ways now.

The Secret to Successful Aging is to Choose Your Parents Wisely – In recent years much has been made of the influence of genes. Contrary to popular belief, heredity isn’t everything when it comes to ageing. In fact, one of the most important findings of the study by the MacArthur Foundation was that lifestyle habits are almost more important indicators of successful and healthy ageing than heredity.

The Lights May Be on, But the Voltage is Low – Many people assume that mental and physical abilities decline with age. While this is true to a certain extent, the study found that everyone’s experience is different and that mental acuity and physical ability are greatly affected by attitude and lifestyle habits.

The Elderly Don’t Pull Their Own Weight – This myth is tied to a couple of incorrect assumptions. One is that most seniors are unemployed and that non-working people don’t share the burden and the expense of society. The other is that older people are useless, that they have nothing to offer society. The study debunks these ideas and demonstrates the productivity of the older population, claiming that one third work for pay, another third act as volunteers in a wide variety of ways as well as providing informal aid to family members, friends and neighbours. Seniors play some of the most important roles in society both in formal positions within the community and, more importantly, in their informal roles as parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours.