Not Too Old for Another Surprise
Crabby Old Lady on Cutting the Cable Cord

10 Myths About Ageing

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...


Ronni, an interesting discussion about the myths of aging. I wonder how these get started. Maybe we old people are not marketing ourselves correctly. We need a PR firm to help us out! Just kidding, but it is amazing to me why younger people believe all these myths. Adults are living longer and have the opportunity to interact more, so why should there be MORE myths rather than FEWER? It's a mystery to me.

Those 37 aren't really adding 27 new myths to the traditional 10. The authors just broke down 10 broad ones into smaller pieces that makes them more specific.

I had a hair cut last week. As a widow for 18 months now, my ears perked up when the conversation at the hairdressers' turned to sex. Someone was saying that the rate of STDs is incredibly high in 55+ communities (here in FL). I had not even given that aspect a thought, I had to admit. I got a grave warning to insist on protected sex until test results were available--should the opportunity someday avail itself. I really don't know if I would have thought of this on my own. So myths can be dangerous.

While we shouldn't lump all old people into one category, we should be aware that there are at least two types of old people. There are baby boomer old people and old, old people.
Fitting into the former category at 69, my views and abilities are very different from that of a person 10 years my senior. My values are those of a postwar world when life became more complicated.
Unfortunately, young people don't see us this way. At 69 I am bald, gray haired, walk with a cane and look old. But in my head, I can keep up with the best of them.
I agree with Rin, we need better publicity.

Thank you for this articles and for all the others, Ronni dear


I must be the exception to the forth myth about falling. I do worry about it all the time. I've fallen four times and broke bones each time. I have done everything in my power to make me and my house as safe as can be but the worry is always tucked in a corner of my mind.

On the stinginess myth: I don't have kids but every senior in my family who does has given their adult children tons of financial help. Maybe that myth prevails because a lot of older people try to watch what they spend so they'll have more to leave to their kids.

Like Jean I fit into the 'fear of falling' category. In December I fell twice within 3 days. Thankfully, I did not break any bones this time, but I got a shiner and remnants are still visible on my cheek. I also skinned my shins and my BP shot up to 220 so there was trauma involved.

I now use my walker inside as I maneuver from room to room but, even so, the fear of falling is ever present. There is justification for that fear as our sense of balance decreases.

I know stingy old people and generous ones, just as I knew stingy young people and generous ones. Old people are just young people who survived long enough to be elders.

Two thoughts: Remember that old people are a foreign land to young people. We oldsters have the enormous advantage that we ourselves have been young, so we understand that land very well. But young folks have never experienced being old. I try to take myself back in time and remember how I viewed old people, and I was just as misinformed then as young people today. So have some patience with them.

The second thought is how sex by elders is viewed with "Ewww." My theory is that the only kind of sex any of us want to visualize is sex between movie-star-beautiful people. Do you want to think about your landlord doing it? Your neighbors? No, they're both "Ewwww". The reason all old people are "Ewww" is simply because we aren't movie star beautiful (and most of us never were). It's not a plot against old people.

Even when we were in our fifties (we're now in our sixties), as soon as my husband and I held hands or whispered to each other while dining in a restaurant, some young jackass would rush over to us and declare us "so cute."
My husband can never understand why that bothers me so but it's right there in the article: Desexualize.

I do think that Karla's comment about old age being terra incognito to the young is very kind.
I'm just not that kind.

Another myth is that old people don't know anything about computers. When I have to deal with a new doctor's office and I call to make an appointment, I always get the "Do you have access to a computer?" question in terms of using the facility's website to enter my info or filling it out when I come in for my appointment.

Computers have been around for a long time, and many of us have used them at work and at home for decades and continue to do so.

I refer to falling as "my bone density tests." So far so good since I insist on going places and doing things that sometimes include falling. When I do fall, I feel more and more a shocking blow. No more leaping up for me at 67.

I do understand that I should combine caution with my more adventurous efforts. On the other hand, I insist on doing what I love as age comes on. :-)

Ditto on what Janinsanfran wrote, except I am 77. My most recent fall was Monday - while at the ice rink (I'm trying to learn to skate - it was my 4th outing). I got banged up pretty good and will hurt for a while (and I am very Technicolor!), but whoever would have foretold that 9-1-1 would have been called? (If they plan to call 9-1-1 each time I fall, I have a problem here!)

I must say that the EMTs were great. After finding my BP to be normal and feeling no bumps on my head, they were happy to let me refuse transport to a hospital.

Kids jump up from great falls like Jack-in-the-boxes; adults take 1/2-second longer; I take 10 minutes.

BTW: I find a lot of young couples "cute"; but, I'm not naïve enough to believe they do not have sex! So, I wouldn't take offense if younger people found Hunky Husband and me "cute".

I disagree with one: It's true that wisdom comes with age. Older adults ARE wise. (At least, that's what I tell my kids.)

Although I'm active, I'm not much of an athlete. I've always been a bit of a klutz, so stumbling over my own two feet (among other impedimenta, including our cats occasionally) is nothing new. Cop Car, you're amazing for attempting to ICE SKATE. I couldn't do that when I was 17 (see first sentence on athletic ability) let alone 77. Hope you recover quickly.

So far, I've been lucky. At 78 I've had no serious falls. I do try to watch where I'm going a little more closely now. When painting or pruning, I move the ladder instead of reaching too far and possibly hitting the ground with a resounding thud. I (foolishly) wouldn't have taken these precautions 10-15 years ago.

I find the myth about older adults and computers amusing. I've been computer-literate (at the user level) since around 1990. I'm much less adept with smartphones, though. I find them downright annoying, in addition to crazy-making. Still, I'm trying to keep an open mind.

Elizabeth R--Thanks for the thoughts. I, too, was formed in the klutz mold - and am slow, to boot. Always have told people that I have 2 speeds, slow and slower.

I "skated" 2 or 3 additional circuits after the EMTs left, Monday, and for about 20 minutes on Wednesday; but, recovery will take much longer, of course.

One concern regarding fear of falling is that, if too prevalent, it causes the body to tense up and may precipitate the fall that would not happen otherwise. So here, as most everywhere, balance (not just int the physical sense) is key. Be concerned but not too concerned...

Dear Cop Car
Do you run over to tell them how cute you think they are?
Do you think that they'd be flattered or charmed?

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