Common Myths About Older Persons

To enhance my skills in working with older persons, I’ve recently started an online course in gerontology. In the first of 11 modules, I was reminded about the common stereotypes that many people have about seniors. But before we try to influence others, first check our own assumptions and beliefs. How many of the below statements are accurate about older adults?

  1. Most end up living in nursing homes
  2. Many are faced with increasing health issues, and are unable to continue to lead productive lives.
  3. Most should consider stopping work at the traditional retirement age of 65, or soon after.
  4. Many are socially isolated, lonely and live alone.
  5. Most are best off living in 55 & over communities where they can primarily socialize with each other

Here are the realities:

  1. Less than 5% of older adults currently live in nursing homes.
  2. While health challenges do increase with age, many seniors are able to continue to lead active, productive lives into their 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
  3. If someone enjoys their work and is productive in their role, there is no reason to retire at an arbitrary age. Continuing to work, at least part-time, can provide a continuing purpose to life that many seniors lose when they abruptly retire.
  4. Only about 4% of older adults are socially isolated, and often it is a lifelong pattern. Many nonprofits I currently work for such as Dorot and Selfhelp sponsor programs which are specifically designed to enable seniors to have continuing social interaction with others.
  5. Some older persons may decide to live in retirement communities in warmer climates, but they’re not for everyone. Continuing to engage with people of all ages is important, especially when we start to lose family members and friends later in life.

Older adults are a very diverse group, probably more so than any other generation. As they age, most individuals are interested in remaining a vital part of the world around them and want to remain active and engaged in life as much as possible. Most older persons are healthy and engage in normal activities. For those who are able to live independently, over 80% have no limitations in activities of daily living.

As Ashton Applewhite writes in her book and blog and anti-ageism clearinghouse, it is time to question the common stereotypes that exist about older people. Beyond your immediate family, take the time to include seniors in your life and you will find what an invaluable resource they are for us all.

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