is a Kalamazoo County initiative that brings attention to the issues of aging, challenging myths and misconceptions so elders can reach their full potential no matter what their circumstances are, benefiting themselves, their families and communities. In this article, we will explore the myths and realities of aging. Myth #1 – Dementia is a normal part of aging. FALSE
Getting a little forgetful is a normal part of aging. It is normal to forget milk at the store, or to forget someone’s name. It is not normal to become so forgetful that it is impossible to manage the tasks of everyday life.Dementia
is a severe form of memory loss and is not normal. There are a variety of causes of dementia and some can even be reversed. Malnutrition, depression, dehydration and drug interactions can all lead to dementia. Depression can be treated with talk therapy or medication and the dementia from depression may be reversed. Once the person receives proper nutrition and/or adequate liquids, the dementia may lift. Physicians should always be informed of all medications a person is taking to avoid the dementia that can result from bad combinations of drugs.
More severe and long-term forms of dementia are caused by diseases such as Parkinson’s
or brain injuries
. Alzheimer’s disease
is the most common kind of dementia and causes severe memory loss and confusion. Alzheimer’s disease creates physical changes in the brain and people with it eventually fail to recognize their own family members and sometimes themselves. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the cause is still unknown. According to the 2016 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures Report published by the Alzheimer’s Association
, one in nine people 65 and older (11%) have Alzheimer’s disease. About one-third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.Myth #2 – As people grow older, their intelligence declines significantly. FALSE
Current research evidence suggests that intellectual performance in healthy individuals holds up well into old age. The average magnitude of intellectual decline is typically small in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s there is more average decline observed, although even in this age range there are substantial individual differences. Little or no decline appears to be associated with being free of cardiovascular disease, little decline in perceptual speed, at least average socioeconomic status, a stimulating and engaged lifestyle and having flexible attitudes and behaviors at mid-life. TIP: Intellectual decline can be modified by life-style interventions, such as physical activity, healthy diet, mental stimulation and social interaction.Myth #3 – Most older people are in poor health. FALSE
The myth of being old means being sick is simply not true for the majority of adults 65+ who rate their health positively. In fact, more than two-thirds of people over 65 told researchers that they are in good, very good or excellent health and more than half over 85 said that too. Older people make mental adjustments in their reference point of judging their own health and will typically see themselves as more healthy than they originally expected for their age, or compared to others their age.
However, older people are much more likely than younger people to suffer from chronic conditions (lasting 3 months or more), such as arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Most of us will have some type of chronic condition as we age, and many of us will have at least two. The good news is that there are proven programs that can help us live better with these chronic conditions, such as the Stanford Personal Action Toward Health programs and Matter of Balance Falls Prevention Program offered through the Area Agency on Aging IIIA
in coordination with community partners and Enhance Fitness and Arthritis Programs offered by the Portage Senior Center
, Senior Services Southwest Michigan
, and YMCA
What’s important is how we as older adults cope with the aging process and how our community responds. Staying active and engaged in our communities, whether that is volunteering with non-profit and faith based organizations, schools, having a part-time job, helping out our relatives and neighbors will pay dividends as we age. For those elders who due to more debilitating conditions cannot get out much, as a community we need to make sure they can stay at home with the supportive services needed and also determine how to keep them engaged with purpose in their lives.Myth #4 – Older adults are less anxious about death than are younger and middle-aged adults. TRUE
Although death in industrialized society has come to be associated primarily with old age, studies generally indicate that death anxiety in adults decreases as age increases. Some of the factors that may contribute to lower anxiety are a sense that goals have been fulfilled, living longer than expected, coming to terms with the end of life, and dealing with the death of friends and relatives. However, this shouldn’t obscure the fact that some groups have great concern about death and dying, and that the process of dying might be feared more than death itself.
The topic of death and dying is not one that people want to discuss, but it is something that needs more understanding and discussion by everyone, including the medical community and long term care facilities that are often a part of the end of life journey.*Contributors to this article are: Judy Sivak, Director, Region IIIA Area Agency on Aging, Vicki Martin, MA, LPC Administrator, Senior Services Southwest Michigan, and Breytspraak, L. & Badura, L. (2015) Facts on Aging Quiz (revised; based on Palmore (1977; 1981).