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Sharp Health News

Debunking aging myths

Sept. 15, 2022

Senior couple cooking in kitchen

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, adults 65 and older are expected to outnumber children in the U.S. by 2034 — the first time in our country’s history.

Dr. Kim Ann Dang, a board-certified family medicine doctor affiliated with SharpCare Medical Group, and Dan McNamara of the Sharp Grossmont Senior Resource Center, help dispel some common myths about the aging process and how it impacts our health.

Myth No. 1: Feeling isolated and lonely is normal as I get older.

Many aging people find themselves feeling isolated and lonely, which may lead to depression, anxiety and sadness, says Dr. Dang. But feeling isolated and lonely is not a normal part of aging.

“Aging comes with many emotional and mental health benefits,” she says. “For example, seniors can experience a sense of freedom in how they spend their time. They can look forward to many milestones, living a life of leisure with more time to spend with family and friends.”

While some studies show that older adults are less likely to experience depression than younger people, living with depression can still greatly impact older adults’ quality of life. There are effective treatments available. Talk with your doctor about treatment options if you or a loved one have mental health concerns.

Myth No. 2: Quitting smoking won’t make a difference at my age.

Quitting smoking at any age offers many benefits for improved health. In fact, within a few hours of quitting smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood begins to decline. In a few weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

Additional, immediate benefits of quitting smoking include:

  • Fewer colds and flu
  • Lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Improved breathing and well-being

Long-term benefits of smoking cessation include improved blood pressure levels and a decreased risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and lung disease.

Not only will your health improve by quitting tobacco, but your loved ones will also benefit. Their risk of secondhand smoke exposure is reduced. It is never too late to reap the benefits of quitting smoking while also setting a good example for children and grandchildren.

Myth No. 3: I can’t participate in the physical activities I enjoyed when I was younger.

Physical activity continues to be very important as you age. Loss of mobility is the result of lost physical and mental health, not aging itself. Many older adults may feel hesitant to continue being active. However, your health and longevity are at risk when you have a sedentary lifestyle. Prioritizing physical and mental health — along with managing chronic diseases — helps keep aging adults independent longer.

“For seniors looking for a fun way to be more active, an activity like the Grossmont Mall Walkers Program is a fantastic way to exercise while also socializing with others,” says McNamara.

Myth No. 4: The older I get, the less sleep I need.

A common misconception is that a person’s sleeping needs decline with age. Older adults need the same amount of sleep as all adults — 7 to 9 hours each night.

As you age, your sleeping pattern may change. Some people may have a harder time falling asleep, while others may find themselves waking during the night or in the early morning hours.

Older adults tend to wake up more often because they spend less time in deep sleep. Other common causes of poor sleep include needing to urinate, anxiety, and discomfort or pain from chronic illnesses. Because older adults respond differently to medications than younger adults, it’s very important to talk with your doctor before taking sleep aids.

Myth No. 5: Memory loss is inevitable.

The brain can produce connections at any age. When memory problems begin to interfere with your daily life and activities, that is not considered a normal part of the aging process. However, your lifestyle, habits and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain.

It is important to keep in mind that simple forgetfulness — for example, misplacing keys — and delay or slowing in recalling names, dates and events is considered part of the normal aging process. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your or your loved one’s memory or cognition.

Myth No. 6: Older adults can’t learn new things.

Older adults can still learn new things, create new memories and improve existing skills. In fact, according to Dr. Dang, there are many benefits to the aging mind.

“There is a foundation of knowledge and insight from previous experiences that are advantageous in learning new things too,” Dr. Dang says. “The act of learning new skills can help retain memory and cognitive function in adults.”

Sharp HealthCare offers resources and classes for older adults, including a Caregivers Resource Awareness event on September 21, Fall Prevention and Balance Screening event on September 23 and Sharp HealthCare Aging Conference on September 29. For more information on resources available to seniors, please visit the Sharp Senior Resource Center or email src@sharp.com.

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