Don’t Buy into These stereotypes

Old age is often portrayed as a time of loneliness, depression and significant cognitive decline. But most research shows that the opposite is true for most people.

Among the common myths about getting older…


No one loves the physical changes of age, let alone the likelihood of dealing with age-related illnesses. But the emotional prospects are better than you think. The rates of major depression, for example,­ actually go down with age. A recent study that tracked participants for about 10 years found that their feelings of well-being increased until they reached their 70s. The feelings plateaued at that point but still didn’t fall.

People who develop serious medical problems or experience traumatic life events (such as the death of a spouse) obviously will be more likely to suffer from depression than those who have an easier path. But even in the face of adversity, older people are resilient—they’ve accumulated enough wisdom to help them through hard times.


One of the inevitabilities of aging is the loss of friends and family members. Older people do spend more time alone. But that’s not the same as feeling lonely or isolated.

A number of studies have shown that the quality of relationships improves with age. You may have fewer close friends in your 70s than you did in your 50s, but you’ll probably find that the connections have matured and become richer and more fulfilling.

Remember your earlier relationships—how often were they tumultuous and emotionally fraught? Studies have shown that older adults tend to be more positive about their relationships and less likely to experience social tensions.


Yes, it will, in some ways—but the typical “slips” that most people experience will be offset by improvements in other mental ­areas.

Take memory and the ability to concentrate. Both start to decline by middle age. You won’t be as quick at math, and your verbal skills won’t be quite as sharp. You’ll retain the ability to learn, but new information will take longer to sink in.

At the same time, you’ll notice improvements in other mental abilities. You’ll have a lot of accrued knowledge, along with an edge in reasoning and ­creative thinking. You won’t keep up with the youngsters on cognitive tests, but you may perform better in real-world situations.

To keep your mind active, take up painting or other hobbies. Read challenging novels. Learn another language, or learn to play a musical instrument. People who stretch themselves mentally can improve memory and cognitive skills and possibly slow the rate of subsequent declines.


In surveys, older adults often report more sexual satisfaction than is reported by their younger counterparts. They might have sex less often, but they tend to enjoy it more.

A national survey of sexual attitudes, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that, on average, the frequency of sexual activity declines only slightly from the 50s to the 70s.

And the sexual attitudes among seniors are sufficiently frisky to make their grandchildren blush. About 50% of people ages 57 to 75 reported engaging in oral sex. More than half of men and about 25% of women ­masturbated.

Good health (and an available partner) are among the best predictors of a robust sex life. Sex-specific disorders—such as erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women—now can be overcome with a variety of aids and treatments. Even when sexual activity does decline (or disappear), older adults enjoy cuddling and other intimacies.


Falls are never a normal part of aging…and they’re not merely accidents. Anyone who is unsteady on his/her feet has a health problem that needs to be addressed. It could be osteoporosis, reduced muscle strength, impaired ­vision, disturbed sleep or side effects from medications.

Warning: Falls are the main cause of more than 90% of hip fractures and a leading cause of emergency room visits and deaths.

People who get any kind of exercise—a daily walk, working around the house, digging in the garden—are much less likely to fall or to suffer serious injuries should they have a misstep.

Important: A good night’s sleep. We’ve found that people who don’t sleep well tend to have more disorientation and balance problems, particularly if they happen to be taking sleep medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine.

Practice good sleep hygiene—go to bed and get up at the same times each day…avoid sleep distractions (such as watching TV in bed)…don’t drink caffeinated beverages late in the day…and drink a soothing cup of warm milk or chamomile tea at bedtime.