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Misconceptions About Aging

We all know that elderly folks are those who sit around in rocking chairs all day, either puffing on a pipe or keeping busy with some knitting. They go to bed early, are always cold, and keep a constant watch on their digestive systems by eating only bland, dependable foods such as oatmeal and well-cooked meats and vegetables. Wrong!

Go Figure

A nationwide poll showed that 25 percent of retired people said they stopped working too soon.

The definition of elderly—much like that of middle age—depends on where it comes from. Lately, though, we've seen this breakdown of age:

  • Young-old is defined as 55 (yikes!) or older

  • Old is defined as 65 or older

  • Elderly is everyone over 75

Can't say for you, but 55 doesn't sound anywhere close to old to us, and at 75, we don't think you're ready to head to the rocking chair for good.

In fact, the current generation of older folks, those in their 60s, 70s, and into their 80s, are redefining the way society looks at, and thinks about aging. Many people are vibrant and active well into their 80s and beyond.

A book getting a lot of attention lately is Successful Aging, by John W. Rowe, M.D., and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D. The book reports on the findings of a major scientific study of aging in America by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The study, as reported in the book, reveals six prevalent myths regarding older people.

These myths, which our society has bought into for years, are as follows:

  • Most elderly people are sick.

  • Elderly people don't pull their own weight in society.

  • Elderly people are set in their ways (you can't teach an old dog new tricks).

  • Elderly people aren't mentally or physically sharp and alert.

  • Ailments caused by poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, can't be improved upon or undone.

  • Physical aging is primarily predetermined by genetics.

If you're tempted to go along with these assumptions concerning elderly folks, you'd better think again. The study revealed that most older people are, indeed, not sick at all, but generally healthy. Nearly 90 percent of those between 65 and 74 who participated in the study reported no disability whatsoever.

And the study showed, most elderly people more than pull their own weight in society. One-third work for pay, and another third are busy volunteering in churches, hospitals, and charities. Most elderly people report that, to varying degrees, they help out family members, friends, and neighbors.

Scientists are increasingly convinced, the study reports, that only about 30 percent of physical aging can be blamed on genes. The rest is due to lifestyle and environment. The good news, however, is that we're learning that problems caused by poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking or years of eating fatty foods, can be slowed down or even reversed when positive changes in habits occur.

While some elderly people might be resistant to change, there are many actually looking for new experiences. Older folks are using the Internet for shopping, keeping in touch with family members, and learning about all sorts of topics. They're attending college classes, taking art lessons, and scheduling trips to Prague, Alaska, and Scandinavia.

And as far as physical and mental sharpness goes, plenty of elderly people are still running their own businesses, running in road races, and running for office in various organizations and groups.

As we age, isn't it nice to know that aging isn't something to be feared or dreaded? Getting older is a blessing, when you consider the alternative, and we must be sure not to let myths and misconceptions cloud how we view our futures.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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