Watch enough television and your image of older adults may become skewed. You'll see them in commercials with bladder control problems or as stubborn cranks in sitcoms. And strong leading roles played by older adults in the movies are scarce.
A large study by the Pew Research Center reveals, though, that old age is not what most of us think - especially if you're young. When surveyed, young adults viewed aging as fraught with illness, memory loss, inability to drive, absence of sex, loneliness, depression and money problems. The reality? Older adults answering the same questions reported having these problems far less often than young people projected on every count.
The fact is that aging is not a steep downhill journey for most people. Entering your 70s, 80s and 90s doesn't doom you to senility and a walker.
The truth about getting older
The average American today will live to age 78. With improvements in preventive care, ED medications and treatments, more seniors are enjoying active, independent lives. Nursing home care is not the norm.
While aging can bring aches and pains, many come out ahead on the happiness scale. According to the Pew study:
- Six in 10 of those 65 or older said they felt younger than their age.
- Seven in 10 over age 65 say they enjoy more time with family.
- Two out of three elders say they are more financially secure now.
- Six in 10 say they feel less stressed than when they were younger.
- Forty-five percent of those surveyed over age 75 said their life turned out better than they expected. Only 5 percent said it was worse.
It's all in your head
It's not just your physical health and genes that matter as you age. Attitude plays a major role, too. Upbeat people with high expectations of their senior years are often rewarded with better health and quality of life. Those with negative views about aging tend to fulfill their own poor prognosis in studies.
Even being labeled "old" by others or being talked to in a patronizing way can have an impact. Researchers observed that nursing home residents who were told they were fragile started to become more helpless than others.
The secret is not to think of yourself as over-the-hill. In a seven-year study of 1,558 healthy seniors, those with positive outlooks were much less likely than the pessimists to show signs of frailty as they aged. Frailty was measured in the study by weight loss, exhaustion, walking speed and grip strength.
Fight aging with attitude
Do you dread the thought of growing old? It's time to adjust your attitude.
- Reject stereotypes about aging and feebleness. Think of yourself as smart, capable, dignified and experienced.
- Some health problems are related to your genes, but that's not a free pass not to exercise, eat whatever you want or ignore health screenings. Healthy lifestyle habits can make a huge difference in aging well.
- Do you expect your health to decline? If so, this may cause you to ignore treatable symptoms. Problems like depression, loss of bladder control and chronic pain are all treatable and not normal signs of aging.
- Discouraged you are slowing down? Cut back on how much you do, but spend more time on those activities you enjoy the most and do best.
Feeling good about yourself and your life seems to have a protective effect against functional and physical decline. Studies show a positive outlook can even help you recover faster after an illness or surgery. More research is needed, but scientists think that upbeat emotions may alter the chemical balance of your body. And that's reason to get happy!