Busting myths about aging

Navigating aging can be difficult. Determining what’s OK and what’s a concern can be compounded by myths and stereotypes around this different life stage.

According to Jasneet Parmar, a care of the elderly physician at the Misericordia and Grey Nuns community hospitals, there are many misconceptions about aging. And with seniors making up a large portion of the population, it is more important than ever to stop the spread of aging myths. 

“It's important to recognize that there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under 16. Currently, about one in six Canadians are over 65, and in a decade we might be looking at one in four,” says Jasneet.

Many of the misconceptions have been around since she began her training as a physician, Jasneet says.

“When I trained 30 years ago, our awareness of Alzheimer's disease was low. The perception was that it was part of getting older, and it was often termed ‘senility.’ Now we have a good understanding of such diseases, and we are better at assessing, diagnosing and managing them,” Jasneet explains.

She also believes that media and the big screen are other common reasons why aging is often viewed in a negative light.

“Whether it's the media or what we see on TV, the representation of seniors is mostly when they aren't doing well. We have not done enough to shine the light on seniors who are aging well, which in turn will dispel the myths,” she says.

And there are many things we can do to help our aging journey.

“The middle years are important for prevention,” says Jennifer Stickney-Lee, a care of the elderly physician and consultant with Covenant Health and Alberta Health Services. “There is good evidence that physical activity, 15-20 minutes daily, can help prevent issues such as cognitive impairment, dementia and mental health concerns. Eating properly, watching your consumption of alcohol, visiting your doctor regularly and making sure you have a good understanding of your medications will also help you as you age.”

Although there are many things we can do to help us age well, Jennifer and Jasneet both agree that there is one important rule to highlight, and that is staying active. 

“Staying active is the most important. It could be staying active physically, mentally and/or socially, but the best is the combination of all three,” says Jasneet.

Jennifer and Jasneet provide further insight into common aging myths in the video below.

More aging myths busted by Jennifer and Jasneet

Falling more often is expected as you age.

Falling is not viewed as a natural or normal part of aging. If falls are happening, review by a family physician is recommended. An in-depth review of medications and a balance assessment by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist may also be necessary.

Older adults are early risers.

Our sleep habits and natural tendencies usually continue into our old age. If you are naturally an early riser, you will likely continue with that pattern as you age. The same is expected if you tend to sleep in later.

Many older adults experience issues with memory.

As we age, we develop physiological changes in memory that usually start when we are in our 40s. These changes can affect how we receive and process information, our reaction time and our ability to multitask. However, memory in seniors can remain intact and highly effective.

Depression increases with old age.

The number of people with depression goes down as we age; however, there are still a significant number of seniors who suffer from depression. It is important to get diagnosed and to seek proper treatment.

For more resources and supports for aging, call 211 or visit ab.211.ca.

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