When, in 1995, I began to research what ageing is all about, there were hardly any non-academic books about it (and so it remained until 2005 when the media caught on that the oldest baby boomers were turning 60 and ageing became a hot topic).
Before the subject of ageing took off, one of the least dense, most useful books was written by a Harvard specialist in cognitive ageing, Douglas H. Powell, titled The Nine Myths of Aging. As you would expect, it refutes entrenched ideas and false beliefs that had been (and still are) prevalent about old people.
The most important myth, the one that supports all others is this: All old people are pretty much the same.
As you may have heard, if you've met one old person, you've met one old person. Way too many younger people lump us all together under whichever stereotypes about age they believe in.
But my favorite of Powell's myths is an extra, a tenth one he included: “Aging is a boring subject.” It certainly has not become so for me through these two decades.
Other writers, before and after Powell, have issued their myths of aging and although they don't usually acknowledge the lists that came before their own, they are the same - or close enough. And that is all the more reason to keep repeating them until the world gets it.
Most myths-of-aging lists contain nine or ten items. The latest book, Great Myths of Aging, contains 37. Excessive, thought I, but I like the specificity that shorter lists necessarily skim too quickly. A few of the 37:
3. Older people worry too much about falling
(no they don't)
14. Wisdom comes with age, so older adults are wise
(Not necessarily and not all of them)
29. Older workers are inferior to younger workers
(No they are not)
35. A majority of older adults end up in nursing homes and stay there until they die
(No they don't; by miles they don't)
The authors of the highly readable “New Myths” are Joan T. Erber and Lenore T. Szuchman, both professors emeritus in psychology. This week, they shortened their long list to the more traditional 10 for an article in The Guardian.
They start off with what I call the “eew” myth. “Eew” because there is not a person alive who wants to know anything at all, not a smidgen, about sex and their parents which is probably the biggest reason the majority believe “Older people lose interest in sex.” The writers explain:
”Many surveys prove this to be false. In one study, 74% of women and 72% of men aged between 75 and 85 said that satisfactory sex is essential to maintaining a relationship...
“When we desexualise older couples by calling them cute, this might be disrespectful and can result in harm, such as neglecting to educate older people about sexually transmitted diseases and failing to make privacy possible in nursing homes.”
Here they are on “Old people are stingy:”
”This negative stereotype misses the distinction between stingy and frugal. One of the difficulties older adults face after retirement is deciding how to expend their resources wisely, given the uncertainty about the amount of time those resources must last.
“Many people fear becoming financially dependent on the younger generation. Financial help often flows from the older to the younger generation (such as help with adult children’s and grandchildren’s expenses) until very late old age – hardly a sign of stinginess.”
This one, that I mentioned above, is important because it is too many elders themselves who believe it – but at their peril. “Older people worry too much about falling:”
”In reality, they may not worry enough. Each year, one out of three adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall. Up to 30% of older adults who do fall suffer moderate to severe life-changing injuries (hip fractures or head trauma, for example).
“Yet, a significant number think falling is someone else’s problem and do not recognise the precautions they should take in the home, which is where many falls occur.”
You can read the list of 10 myths at The Guardian. Although I have some quibbles with the book, they are few. It is available at all the usual outlets.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: In the Morning...