Test your knowledge about the aging process with these 12 statements about aging. Read each one and determine whether it is true or false.
1. _As people age, they experience reduced muscle strength.
2. _Oral health declines as a result of the aging process.
3. _Approximately 25 percent of all older adults develop corneal cataracts.
4. _It is normal to become more forgetful as you age.
5. _According to the National Institute of Aging, 85
percent of all those over 85 years old live in residential communities or nursing homes.
6. _Senility is inevitable in older people.
7. _Women's sexual desire declines sharply as they age.
8. _Incontinence is a normal part of aging.
9. _Elders should prepare themselves and their fam ilies for their deaths by withdrawing from family activities.
10. _The effects of prescription drugs diminish as we age, so larger doses are required to gain the same effects as before.
11. _Seniors experience less stress because of their relaxed lifestyle.
12. _75 percent of seniors dread getting older.
All the statements in the quiz you just took are false. They are all common misconceptions of the aging process.
The changes in our physical and mental abilities presented in this chapter are generalizations. The exact amount of the change is not the same for each individual. For example, you know individuals whose hearing has declined (some more than others) and other individuals whose hearing remains unchanged. So when you read research results or articles in newspapers that say "this" happens as we age, remember that "this" is not written in stone. "This" depends on individual characteristics, such as health and lifestyles and may be true for some and not for others.
Speaking of research results, it is important to you as a consumer of information to understand the manner in which experimental results regarding the effects of aging are obtained. Many research projects are cross sectional in format. That means the comparisons are between, let's say, a group of
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20-year-olds and a different group of 70-year-olds. In some ways, this is like comparing apples to oranges. You don't know what educational, economic, or environmental background the participants experienced as they reached their present age. Their health and lifestyles may be quite diverse. The relevance of such tests sometimes is questionable when discussing the effects of age on cognitive and physical functions of individuals. However, a longitudinal study, in which specific individuals are tested as they progress in age, yields a true comparison of aging effects on an individual. Not as many longitudinal studies are performed as cross-sectional studies because of the expense and difficulties involved in tracking and evaluating people through many years.
Another problem with many of the tests administered is the lack of connection of the tests to real life. Many tests are abstract in nature. Seeing how many numbers you can memorize, how quickly you can turn a lever, and so on are not relevant to a senior's life. Some experts believe that the seniors do not compete or try as hard as the younger participants, who may have participated more recently in test situations in school.
Many studies concentrate on anticipated declines of abilities. Researchers feel the need to find declining abilities to try to prevent or minimize these declines. "Information about cognitive abilities that remain stable or increase with age, although perhaps desirable to provide a more balanced portrayal of the true capabilities of older adults, has a lower priority among many researchers because it has been presumed to be of less value in contributing to the ultimate elimination of age-related cognitive problems."1
Thus, many of the results of aging that have been published are disheartening, to say the least. However, retirement also would be distressing if we were not fully prepared with compensation strategies (part-time jobs and mortgage prepayment to stretch our dollars) and accommodations (volunteer work and travel to fill free time). So let's take a hard look at aging's effect on our bodies and minds. Then you can begin to prepare compensation and accommodation strategies to have enjoyable and successful senior years.
Retirement is an accepted, normal part of aging, and if prepared for properly, a time of life we cheerfully anticipate. We prepare for retirement by evaluating present circumstances and anticipating future changes in our economic situation. Some individuals start earlier preparations, use better strategies, and thus are more prepared than others.
Just as we want to be one of the more successful designers of our economic future, we want to be one of the more effective analyzers of our physical and mental supply and demand. It is critical to our successful aging to be aware of potential changes in our bodies and mental supply and demand. You must prepare to maximize the good and minimize the bad effects of the aging process.
"Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it you have to start young." — Fred Astaire
The younger you are when you begin to plan for aging, the healthier and more active you will be mentally and physically for more years. However, as the old saying goes, Better later than never. Don't wait until tomorrow or next week to start. Determine today that you are going to take charge of how you age and not just accept whatever happens to you. Only 35 percent of how you age is determined by genetics; the rest is determined by your lifestyle, environment, and other factors—many of which you can control and alter.
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