Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The 5 Myths of Aging
A Roundtable of Jewish Home Residents Takes on the Big 5
In a era that is redefining the way Americans age, many myths still surround what we can expect in our senior years. The Jewish Home recently brought together a group of residents to explore some of the attitudes that have traditionally cast doubt on the potential of senior years.
Myth 1 — Advanced Age Means Illness
While most seniors acknowledge making adjustments for changes in balance and eyesight, a vast majority of the routine challenges of aging are easily handled with good medical care, dietary accommodations, and physical conditioning, and do not impair functioning.
According to "Older Americans 2008," a federal study of how older Americans are faring, 54% of women and 43% of men report having arthritis, percentages that are actually far lower than was commonly supposed.
Though about half of senior Americans have high blood pressure, it is easily managed with medication. And as health care and awareness improve, fewer American seniors are battling heart disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer, and diabetes.
Myth 2 — Your Learning Days are Over
"That's a lot of baloney," says Dorothy Creager, 88, who teaches classes to fellow residents at the Jewish Home, and witnesses the transformation of people who, after years of living alone or in a learning-poor environment "come in with long faces and go out loving themselves."
The explosion of senior education opportunities in "Emeritus" universities and community colleges throughout the U.S. is another testament to the ongoing desire to learn, share, and apply knowledge at every stage of life.
Computer skills, arts training, and memory enhancement classes are all well-subscribed and appreciated by residents of the Home, who recognize that the exercise of the mind is a cornerstone of self-fulfillment and well-being at every age.
Myth 3 — Social Contact Declines
For the vast majority of us, social experience is simply matter of opportunity. Socializing among seniors is no different, and is facilitated in residential settings.
Given the proximity of people and events at places like the Jewish Home, resident Shelly Balzac, 81, pointed out, "It's actually pretty difficult to avoid the social interaction!" Mealtime conversations are often a whirlwind of exchanges about politics, the arts and current events, club and family news.
Resident Bette Dashoff, 85, finds it much easier to socialize today than she did living independently. Getting dressed and out to dinner with friends, while one of the great pleasures, became more and more of an effort. "The minute I came here," she said, referring to new social opportunities, "I became a different person."
Myth 4 — Depression is Inevitable with Age
While depression can affect older adults, it is not the norm as the "Older Americans 2008" report reveals. Only 17% of women and 11% of men experienced clinical depression when data were gathered between 1998-2004.
"Mood swings can and do happen," said Dorothy Creager, but she compares them, only half-jokingly, to teen mood swings.
"Health problems can be discouraging," noted Shelly Balzac. But like most seniors he's learned to adapt and accept the health challenges that come with aging.
When the blues set in, Irving Mandel, 90, takes a step back and counts his other blessings. His bottom line about being blue or bored is: "I don't have time for this!"
Myth 5 — Sexual Interest and Activity Decline
"Guess again!" said Dorothy Creager. "As long as we have blood in our veins, there is not a problem."
Jeannette Schlesinger, 83, also took exception to the myth. "I don't feel any differently than when I was a young woman," she said.
Ellis Simon, 85, pointed out that romance and sexual desire seem to be alive and well among members of his generation, pointing out the many couples who met and began relationships at the Home.
A recent University of Chicago research project reflects this never-give-up attitude, as well. Researchers found that most people 57-85 still consider sexuality to be an important part of their lives. Sexual activity is still common, the research found, among people in their 70s and well beyond.