There are lots of myths we assume or hear about old people, particularly in regard to how older brains function and elder health. Many of these myths stem from outdated science and untrue sayings like, “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks”. So, we’re here to dig in to some of the great untruths about the elderly and bust some myths.
Myth #1: Elders Can’t Learn New Things
Not only can older brains learn new things, it’s actively encouraged for improving cognitive health. From Aleksander Hemon, who went from speaking no English at the age of 28 to becoming an award-winning writer in the language, to a 90-year-old woman learning to read and write alongside her great-great grandchildren, recent neuroscience suggests there’s no limit to what we can learn at a later age.
It may take longer, and we may not reach the same heights of skill and perception as if we started the activity at age 6, but we can learn anything with enough determination and patience.
Myth #2: Brain Games Should Be Your Go-To Mental Stimulation
Brain games, or cognitive training programs, can help to keep your brain in good health. They certainly won’t do any harm, but you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in that basket. As we’ve stated above, we can learn something new at an older age, but it’s hard, and that difficulty is very beneficial! Learning a new skill such as a language, mastering yoga or taking up an instrument will give your brain a workout and improve cognition, memory, and long-term health.
Myth #3: You Will Inevitably Get Dementia as You Age
Aging does not automatically mean you will get dementia. And, if you’re a little forgetful, it doesn’t mean dementia is developing either. Both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role in your risk of developing dementia, as well as health issues such as having a stroke, which ups the chances of dementia developing. However, you are not guaranteed to get dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease just because you grow older, have a contributing health condition or relatives who developed the condition.
Myth #4: You Shouldn’t Tell Anyone If You Have Memory Problems
While you may feel that denying the problem will make it go away, you’ve probably tried that tactic before and seen that it doesn’t really bear fruit. If you start to develop memory issues, talk to a doctor and find out the cause.
Your memory loss could be a natural part of aging, the side effect of a medication, a temporary result of depression or anxiety, or a number of other causes. If it is the cause of a developing illness, finding out early is always the best way to get the right treatment to alleviate or slow the problem.
Myth #5: Depression and Loneliness are a Normal Part of Elder Life
Many older people actually have a lot of defences against depression, such as long-held friendships, large families of loved ones, time to focus on activities they love, and the experience to care less about what others think or about circumstances out of their control. It’s not a certainty or inevitability that elders will become depressed just because this is a common fear or perception of the elderly.
However, some older people do become isolated and get depressed, so if you’re reading this and have elderly relatives, keep a lookout for the signs. Signs of depression include sleeping and eating too much or too little, memory issues, slower speech, lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed, irritability, and any signs of hopelessness or despondence.
Myth #6: Older People Need Less Sleep
Most people who say they don’t need as much sleep as other people are simply used to functioning on a lack of sleep. If you regularly get 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night, you will function at your best. And it’s no different for older people.
The common misconception of older people needing less sleep likely comes from the fact that elders can have trouble sleeping due to aches, getting up in the night to urinate, and other factors. In fact, not getting enough sleep can contribute to poor brain health over a long period and contribute to a risk of developing degenerative conditions like dementia. You can read more about the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Myth #7: Seniors Should Limit Physical Activity
It’s another myth that old people should strongly limit their amount of exercise and physical activity. No, don’t deadlift a huge barbell without any prior experience, but that doesn’t mean you need to settle in for a sedentary life after you hit 65. In fact, as with good sleep, older people need to exercise just as much as the rest of us. Modern research into health is now taking a wholistic view and working out both our brains and bodies keep our whole self ticking over much better than if neglected.
So, whoever you are reading this, if you have any fears about slowing down as you age, we hope that busting these myths on older brains and health has made you feel a little more confident about the future. Growing old doesn’t have to mean slowing down!