Boomers are changing what we have culturally believed about growing old. We're putting our own twist on everything from compression socks to adaptive home designs. Together with advances in science and technology we're expanding America's ideas of what's possible in later years. We're living at home longer, staying fit longer, and dressing in jeans---- regardless of our age. Yet some stereotypes about aging persist. This blog is my attempt to bust the top five.
#1) We spend less money as we age.
Financial planners estimate, on average, a 30% drop in our financial needs after retirement age. However, more sophisticated planners note that our post retirement savings is variable with our pre-retirement income. Higher earners with more family and job related costs during their professional life tend to need less in retirement by virtue of those costs moderating. Families/Individuals earning $40,000 a year or less may save just 10% in retirement. However the rising cost of health care is an often ignored wild card for low and high end earners. Healthcare costs are inelastic. In other words we can't opt out of them... we pay the price or forfeit. Prescription drug prices increased 10% in 2016. Health Care plans and benefits are spiking with deductibles in the range of $6000-$8,000 in 2017. Medicare helps with insurance costs but not all physicians accept Medicare patients. Medicare doesn't cover Assisted Living costs which hover around $43,000 a year now with an approx 4% rise annually. Medicare also doesn't cover the cost of in home care which averages 21$/hour. Dementia care can drive costs even higher. These costs coupled with rising food, clothing, and entertainment and simple increases in utilities, property taxes and communication bills will cost some families more post-retirement income than they needed in pre-retirement days.
#2) Memory loss will happen as we age.
I classify this a myth because the increasing rise in dementia tends to worry us when, after the age of 50, we notice that we forget the name of a friend we haven't seen in years or what we were going to say. Dementia is more than memory loss and it can occur with age but is not exclusive to aging. It can also strike in younger years. It is not a normal outcome of growing older.
There's a qualitative and a biological difference between forgetting and dementia-related memory loss. In fact forgetfulness happens to people of all ages and can happen as a process of aging without being dementia. For instance, we may find that we forget where and when we arranged to meet someone. That type of forgetting is in the normal range we can expect as our brain ages. If we are reminded but don't remember ever making that arrangement we move further out on the spectrum. If we forget that we were just reminded we move even further out of the normal range of forgetfulness.
Want to learn more about kinds of forgetting? This Harvard health bulletin explains some of the causes of normal forgetfulness. Any persistent or disruptive forgetfulness warrants a medical consultation. Medicine, depression, trauma, and vascular problems can cause forgetfulness. Malnutrition and some diseases manifest with memory loss. So investigate because there may be help. If your forgetfulness impacts your health (forgetting pills for instance) or your finances consider hiring someone to help. To bust this myth: give your brain a boost by continuing to learn and taking on mental challenges and take time to explore brain healthy diets.
#3) Aging causes lack of interest in sex
Many people maintain sexual connections throughout their lives. However, your sexuality may change as a result of medications, poor health, changing desires, or hormonal shifts but if sex was an important part of your younger life and you stay sexually active (there are "use it or lose it" aspects to sexual functioning) you may always enjoy sexual intimacy. Medical Daily reports, "A study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found people, up to 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women, between 50 to 90 years old, reported having sex at least twice a month. The findings suggest our level of overall activity remains high in the later years and breaks down the old-age sexuality barrier. Indeed, sex at old age is possible and extremely healthy." Your sexual interest can change throughout life but enjoyment of touch and affection tends to stay steady.
#4) Aging is depressing
We are at our highest risk of developing depression between the ages of 45 and 64 because of natural changes in our aging bodies. That can leave us vulnerable to crises or deaths. Loss of our friends, family or abilities test our capacity to adapt. Bust this myth and mitigate depressive risk by maintaining social ties, staying engaged with our interests, eating a nutritionally balanced diet and meditating or exercising where possible. Aging is a natural process over which we have minor control yet, unless you experience clinical depression, how you perceive aging is up to you. Some research indicates that satisfaction with life broadly continues to increase into our seventies. However, if you or someone you know experiences depression there are supports and medicines that help. Please, take action and contact a mental health professional today.
#5) Learning and creativity suffer as we age
Learning is possible at every age. Our brains may not retain information like they did in younger years but depth of understanding enhances educational learning. In fact more people are returning to college than ever before. Almost every major campus has a program for adult learners and many colleges allow older adults to audit classes for free. Interested? Going back to school or learning a new subject can help you bust myths 2 and 4.
Creativity also endures throughout our life. Artists often find their peak productive time in later years [think Pablo Picasso's final years for instance]. In fact creativity is a sustaining force for healing and expression in times of illness. The painting at left by Suzanne Garden is part of a large catalogue of paintings by people with Dementia. Did you know? Creativity is often discovered for the first time by people living with Dementia. In fact the drive to create can be a symptom of Frontal Temporal Dementia. Creativity is an ability that endures while other functions are fading from Alzheimer's. Paint, sing, dance! Creativity is life.
So, readers, bust those myths and expect better things from your tomorrows. We're redefining ways to age.
Update: Jan 5 2021 In this video Dr Sanjay Gupta says we can surely slow dementia onset and possibly reverse dementia with lifestyle changes.