Common Myths of Aging


When people think of growing older, they often have images of deprivation, poverty, poor health, loneliness and loss of mental capacity. Does the prevalence of this view mean that it’s likely to be accurate? How true is the stereotype? Is this the future we all have to look forward to? Is it true of most older people? Or are some of these beliefs simply myths about aging that we’ve come to accept because of their repetition?

The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health has developed a questionnaire to help you test your knowledge of the facts about aging. It is reprinted below, with updates from more recent research.

           1.  Baby boomers are the faster growing segment of the population.  True    False

Fact:   There are more than 3 million Americans over the age of 85. That number is expected to quadruple by the year 2040, when there will be more than 12 million people in that age group. The population age 85 and older is the fastest growing age group in the U.S.
The correct answer is False.

  1. Families don’t usually bother with older relatives.  True    False

Fact: Most older people live close to their children and see them often. Many live with their spouses. An estimated 80% of men and 60% of women live in family settings. Only 5% of the older populations lives in nursing homes.
The correct answer is False.

  1. Everyone becomes confused or forgetful if they live long enough.   True    False

Fact:  Confusion and serious forgetfulness in old age can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that result in irreversible damage to the brain. But at least 100 other problems can bring on the same symptoms. A minor head injury, high fever, poor nutrition, adverse drug reactions, and depression also can lead to confusion. These conditions are treatable, however, and the confusion they cause can be eliminated.
The correct answer is False.

       4.  You can become too old to exercise. True    False

Fact:   Exercise at any age can help strengthen the heart and lungs and lower blood pressure. It also can improve muscle strength, and, if carefully chosen, lessen bone loss with age.
The correct answer is False.

  1. Heart disease is a much bigger problem for older men than for older  men. True    False

Fact: The risk of heart disease increases dramatically for women after menopause. By age 65, both men and women have a one in three chance of showing symptoms. But risks can be significantly reduced by following a healthy diet and exercising.
The correct answer is False.

6.  The older you get, the less you sleep. True    False

Fact: In later life, it’s the quality of sleep that declines, not total sleep time. Researchers found that sleep tends to become more fragmented as people age. A number of reports suggest that older people are less likely than younger people to stay awake throughout the day and that older people tend to take more naps than younger people.
The correct answer is False.

7.  People should watch their weight as they age. True    False

Fact:  Most people gain weight as they age. Because of changes in the body and decreasing physical activity, older people usually need fewer calories. Still, a balanced diet is important. Older people require essential nutrients just like younger adults. You should be concerned about your weight if there has been an involuntary gain or loss of 10 pounds in the past 6 months.

The correct answer was formerly considered to be True. However, recent research suggests that older people live longer if they are somewhat overweight! This is apparently  because it gives them more reserves at times of illness. The jury may not be in yet for the best weight in older people. (Being overweight is not ideal for younger and middle-aged people, however. Only for older people.)

      8.  Most older people are depressed. Why shouldn’t they be? True    False

Fact:  Most older people are not depressed. When it does occur, depression is treatable throughout the life cycle using a variety of approaches, such as family support, psychotherapy, or antidepressant medications. A physician can determine whether the depression is caused by medication an older person might be taking, by physical illness, stress, or other factors.
The correct answer is False.

  1. There’s no point in screening older people for cancer because they can’t be treated.  True    False

Fact:  Many older people can beat cancer, especially if it’s found early. Over half of all cancers occur in people 65 and older, which means that screening for cancer in this age group is especially important.
The correct answer is False

        10.  Older people take more medications than younger people.  True    False

Fact:  Older people often have a combination of conditions that require drugs. They consume 25 percent of all medications and can have many more problems with adverse reactions. Check with your doctor to make sure all drugs and dosages are appropriate.
The correct answer is True

        11. People begin to lose interest in sex around age 55.   True    False

Fact: Most older people wish to and can lead an active, satisfying sex life.
The correct answer is False

       12.  If your parent had Alzheimer’s Disease, you will most likely get it.  True    False

Fact: The overwhelming number of people with Alzheimer’s disease have not inherited the disorder. Even when a genetic risk is present, there are life-style habits a person can adopt that make dementia less likely to occur or occur later. In a few families, scientists have seen an extremely high incidence of the disease and have identified genes in these families which they think may be responsible.
The correct answer is False

       13.  Diet and exercise reduce the risk for osteoporosisTrue    False

Fact:  Women are at particular risk for osteoporosis.  They can help prevent bone loss by eating foods rich in calcium and exercising regularly throughout life. Foods such as milk and other dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, salmon, sardines, and tofu promote new bone growth. Activities such as walking, biking, and simple exercises to strengthen the upper body also can be effective.
The correct answer is True

       14.  As your body changes with age, so does your personality.  True    False

Fact: Research has found that, except for the changes that can result from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, personality is one of the few constants of life. That is, you are likely to age much as you’ve lived.
The correct answer is False.

       15.  Older people might as well accept urinary accidents as a fact of  life.   True    False

Fact: Urinary incontinence is a symptom, not a disease.  It can be caused by specific changes in body function that can result from infection, diseases, the use of certain medications – and frequently, simply from weakness in the pelvic floor muscles. A variety of treatment options are available for people who seek attention. Pelvic floor biofeedback, for instance, can re-train weak muscles.
The correct answer is False.

(For more on treatment of urinary incontinence caused by pelvic muscle weakness, see my article, Biofeedback for Urinary Incontinence, which also refers to urinary incontinence in men and to fecal incontinence in both men and women.)

       16.  Suicide is mainly a problem of teenagers.   True    False

Fact: Suicide is a serious concern among people age 65 and older. Fortunately, the rate among seniors has been falling, but it is still higher than most other age groups except the middle-aged. An older person’s concern with suicide should be taken very seriously and professional help should be sought quickly. It is generally because of depression and depression can be treated. (Interestingly, despite this statistic, people age 65 and older also report the greatest levels of satisfaction in their lives, compared to other age groups!)
The correct answer is False

       17.  Falls and injuries just naturally happen to older people.  True   False

Fact: Falls are the most common cause of injuries among people over age 65. But many of these injuries, which result in broken bones, can be avoided. Training in core strengthening and balance exercises is important. Regular vision and hearing tests and good safety habits can also help prevent accidents. Knowing whether your medications affect balance and coordination is a critical.
The correct answer is False

       18.  Everyone eventually gets cataracts.    True   False

Fact: Not everyone gets cataracts, although a great many older people do. Some 17 percent of people over the age of 40 have cataracts, while more than 50 percent of those over 80 have the problem. Cataracts can be treated very successfully with surgery; more than 90 percent of people say they can see better after the procedure.
The correct answer is False.

       19.  Extremes of heat and cold can be especially dangerous for older people.  True    False

Fact: The body’s thermostat tends to function less efficiently with age, making the older person’s body less able to adapt to heat or cold.
The correct answer is True.

       20.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  True    False

Fact:  People at any age can learn new information and skills. Research indicates that older people can obtain new skills and improve old ones, including how to use a computer.
The correct answer is False.

.…Reprinted with permission by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health, with updates where there is more recent research and statistics.


Were you surprised by some of the answers? Many people are. The next time you hear someone say one of these things, you can enlighten them. To be sure, getting older has its challenges. But let’s don’t exaggerate them!