Debunking More Myths about Getting Older

Work & Family Life, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Debunking More Myths about Getting Older


Much of the conventional wisdom about aging is being challenged. For example, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging has found that older people are as flexible as younger people, that the ability to cope improves as we get older-and that people who were cheerful and assertive at 30 are likely to be the same at age 80. Here are some more myths about aging that have been debunked by researchers:

* You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Actually, older people are good learners because they have broader knowledge to begin with, a better vocabulary and more perspective than younger people, says Robert N. Butler, M.D., coauthor of The New Love and Sex after 60. Older people are also better at integrating knowledge and seeing connections-such as linking a piece of music with its historical context. On the job, they typically provide "institutional memory." And, many have learned to exercise their brain through problem-solving, crossword puzzles, reading and discussing what they've read, learning a new language and mastering a new technology.

* Intense exercise is dangerous. Tufts University researchers have found that people who push themselves as they age are the most likely to be able to live independently. Intense exercise, of course, is different for a 90-year-old than for a 50-year-old. It might take less brisk walking or heavy lifting to get a "glow"-and what's considered "brisk" or "heavy" changes as the body does. It's important, of course, to get a doctor's okay before beginning an exercise program but, generally speaking, here are some good things older people can do for themselves: take out the trash, get down on the floor with grandchildren, ride a bike, take ballroom dancing lessons and engage in aerobic and strength-training activities.

* Older people lose their senses of taste and smell. The effects of aging on taste and smell are overstated, says Richard Mattes, Ph. …

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