AGE AND AGING
Myths & Stereotypes of Aging.
I recently came across a blog posted by American Jeff Anderson in which he listed eight “Myths & Stereotypes of Aging,”
I have spent most of my life opposing stereotypes of all sorts…racial, national, colour, class, gender, so it was a surprise wakeup call I received from Anderson…at 74, I might be a victim of stereotyping myself!
I felt anger, for as with any form of bias, ageism creates widely false assumptions about me and my contemporaries.
Although agreeing with Anderson that the myths and stereotypes he lists do exist in some people’s minds, I still decided to question their validity in the light of my own experience.
Myth 1: Aging is Depressing
It certainly can be, without positive thinking. For example, I am still an active athlete who has kept training logs since I was at school. It would be very, very, depressing to look back at my physical decline. At 65 I looked back at the time when I could run 400m close to 47 seconds. At that age I was struggling to run it in 74 !
However, I maintained positive. Okay, I would never run that fast again, BUT I could run just as HARD! I could never hope to beat a young middleweight in the boxing ring but felt confident I could still hold my own against an opponent of my own age and weight. (but don’t tell Elizabeth!)
I have undertaken an MA course with students many of whom were younger than my own grand-children and comfortably held my own. What I might have lacked in speed of response was more than compensated for by experience and forty years more reading!
This point has been made not to boost my own street cred, but rather to illustrate ways in which many of us come to terms with the aging process in a positive manner to dispel depression.
Myth 2: Aging Leads to Loneliness
This is worrying. Living in a rural area myself with villages declining into dormitories, there are very real problems for those who have lost partners, access to a motor car, a bus service and who cannot afford taxi services. W.I.’s are closing, church attendance and social activities are declining, pubs are closing, younger incomers have little in common with local elderly. Then there are those who settled in the area having left their families behind in other parts of the country and who suddenly are left without a car.
However, for many of us Baby-boomers born in the war years or soon after, have never had it so good… we have inherited the houses owned by our parents, the proceeds being split between on average only 2.4 children; we have occupational as well as the state pension; we live in our own homes. We can afford to travel, top up state health provisions, and need spend only a minimum on household necessities. For us, Life is Good but sadly this is not true of everyone our age. For some of us, ours is probably the last generation to be so lucky. Alternatively there is my late mother’s approach. Ever a private person who valued her own company she always stoutly maintained that “being alone and being lonely are two completely different things.”
Myth 3: Aging Dulls Wits and Inevitably Causes Dementia
For sure, short term memory does decline. (Now what was I just saying?) It is very frustrating searching for words on the tips of our tongues or wracking our memories for what was on the shopping list laying forgotten at home.
However, long term memory is much stronger-probably because we have referred to it so often in the past.
I suspect that many folk are like me…we might not be so good on detail but now clearly see much more of the picture as a whole.
“While aging can create cognitive changes, older people may perform better in certain areas of intelligence and poorer in others. For example, while seniors may have slower reaction times or solve problems slower than younger adults, “mental capabilities that depend most heavily on accumulated knowledge and experience, like settling disputes and enlarging one’s vocabulary, clearly get better over time,” (Patricia Cohen in the New York Times).
What’s more, dementia is anything but inevitable. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (of America), only 5% of those over age 65 will develop symptoms.
Myth 4: Aging Makes You Unproductive
Though we retired people may have left the work force, we are hardly unproductive. We contribute countless hours to activities like helping with child-rearing and volunteering, which makes an enormous difference to society. As I have written elsewhere, we save the state an enormous annual billion pound bill for homecare of the elderly, whether even more elderly parents, our ailing partners and sadly our own children.
Myth 5: Aging Makes You Less Creative
There are countless examples that dispel the myth that aging makes you less creative. In fact, many artists actually find their calling or achieve mastery in their later years. A great example is the immortal “Grandma Moses.”
On a less exalted level, ordinary mortals who can afford to buy equipment, travel to distant courses buy entry into a whole range of creative activities…photography, painting, needlecraft, gardening, creative writing, cooking, pottery, sculpture, jewellery making, metal crafts etc. have access to a wide range of creative activities.
Myth 6: Aging Makes You Unable to Adapt to New Situations
Most of us older people are not only able to adapt to new situations but are experts at it. By the time we became seniors, we had to have to adapt to innumerable changes and transitions in life, many of which have certainly been challenging. In my own case…different schools, student in London, hospitalisation, starting teaching, marriage, birth of children, divorce, remarriage, moving houses, death of a child, nursing parents, deaths of parents, retirement, making and losing acquaintances, death of friends, accidents, increasing immobility, successes, defeats and disappointments.
However sad it might be that Seniors are slower to change their opinions, one of humanities’ greatest traits, adaptability, is generally retained as we grow old. We are experts at it.
Myth 7: Aging Erases Your Libido
Discussing the sex lives of seniors is largely taboo in our culture and has led to the stereotype that the elderly are sexless. Every generation imagines itself to have been the first to discover sex and that everyone over 40 is past it.
I fondly recall a conversation I overheard a long time ago at the bar of the “Duke’s Head” in Gorleston High Street between two seasoned drinkers…
“Spose yew heard owld Turkey Watts up an’died?”
“Yiss oi did.” [Pause}
“An’ dew yew tha laast thing he ever did?”
“Bludda hell bor! Ut wooz onler last munth he tarned 90!***
I rest my case M’Lud!
Myth 8: Aging Makes You More Religious
Seniors certainly have a higher rate of religious attendance than younger people, but this is a generational phenomenon rather than an aging phenomenon. If you regularly attended church growing up, you’re likely to continue to do so as you age. Today’s senior’s haven’t become more religious with time. Instead they grew up in a time when more people went to church, which is why seniors are the most religious age group. Also as one finds oneself getting gradually eased nearer to the end of the twig…
So what does this suggest about the truth or otherwise behind the prejudices that Jeff Anderson highlighted?
Is there an equator at a point in our lives south of which we are mainly young and happy and north of it, mainly old, depressed, lonely, heading towards intellectual dullness, unproductive, uncreative, unable to adapt to change, a low libido and seeking compensation in religion?
OR is it more likely that miserable old gits have developed from the miserable young gits they once were? Are happy, contented, active, creative, adaptable seniors enjoying their lives because they have always done so?
Of course dispositions depend on individual attitudes and experiences but how likely is it that those to whom the bottle is half empty or half full in youth will change their outlooks approaching old age?
REMEMBER GENTLE READER…
As you are now, so once were we,
As we are now, so shall you be!
***Translation from my native Norfolkian…
“I suppose that you have heard old Turkey Watts has just died?
“Yes I did!” [Pause]
“And do you know the last thing he ever did?*
“Bloody hell boy! It was only last month he turned 90!”