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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

Myth: Old People Should Just Get Used to Being Old

I find this one of the most confounding ideas of ageism I have ever come across. Authors Bruce E. Blaine and Kimberly J. McClure Brenchley, in their book, The Psychology of Diversity, note that unlike other minorities—racial, LGBT, women– older people acquire their membership as a senior citizen with no gradual induction into this particular group. We have no time to become accustomed to being older or to understand the ensuing bias younger people hold against seniors.  We are most often not prepared to handle the sudden ageism we experience. However, since younger people feel themselves to be eternally young and fearless, unaware and uncaring of what lies ahead for them, they see the struggle we seniors experience with abrupt stereotyping as a situation we just need to accept: we’re now old. Get over it!

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MYTH: Fine Craftsmanship is Only for The Young

As I read an article about quilting artists in my Craft Magazine, I could feel my heartbeats speeding up, my hackles rising. I was appalled at how the author put her prejudice against older artists so blatantly on display. How could someone think that artistic expression, fine craftsmanship, and intricate needlework are limited to the young?

I have been a part of the creative arts world since I could barely walk. In all of that time, I have looked to older artists for insight, wisdom, and solutions to gnarly problems beyond my skill level. They are the true masters and mentors, and I thank the Heavens for them!

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myth: Only 12% of all older adults are aging successfully

 “Only 12% of all older adults are aging successfully.” Dr. Bruce Blaine and Dr. Kimberly J. McClure Brenchley, Understanding The Psychology of Diversity (2007, 2017)

My blood pressure has gone up at least 10 points as I write this response to the misguided people who wrote this myth originally in 1986, (John Rowe and Robert Kahn), and those above who continue to perpetuate this myth. It makes me absolutely crazy when seemingly intelligent, educated people (the authors quoted above) buy into flawed research based on what we would now call the “Top Three-Percenters,” which is the only group whose members might qualify for aging successfully. The criteria was so narrow. I disagree with the choice of the word, “successful,” the virtually impossible, near-perfect health conditions Rowe and Kahn put forth, and the fact that books continue to be printed based on erroneous ideas.

Here is the truth as I see it: First, as I have said in my articles and videos, the word “successful” was the wrong word choice from the get-go, and using it sets up the perfect counter-belief for failing at aging (well), if Rowe and Kahn’s rigid criteria is not met. Secondly, almost all the researchers in the years following 1986 challenged this rigid criteria and found it wanting, to the extent that in the last ten years, no one ever qualifies aging in terms of success or failure. Imagine my surprise finding not only the term, but the accepted definition of the term, “successful aging” used in a book updated in 2017. And lastly, as a gerontologist on the ground, working with seniors, I can tell you that so many of us think we are aging well, despite some limitations. As we also now know, what you believe influences your biology more than any single factor (genetics coming in at 20%) and I’m not about to tell these vibrant seniors they are full of hooey!

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Myth: People Like Their Bodies Less When They Get Old

This is a great myth to bust, especially since our youth-obsessed culture and every media outlet would lead us to believe that seniors despite their ages, only loved their bodies when they were young. However, the results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll, gives us a more accurate view of reality.

After interviewing 85,145 American adults, pollsters reveal that our perceptions of our bodies actually peaks when we reach our seventh decade, clearly telling us we like what we see in the mirror when we reach our seventies and eighties.

I feel much better knowing the truth, don’t you?

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Myth: All Older (OLD) People Are the Same

mythbuster older people

When questioned, many younger people have very limited views of older people. Pioneer researcher, Dr. Mary Lee Hummert found this to be true when comparing the views of younger and older people. Further research expanding on Dr. Hummert’s findings show that younger people think seniors are all pretty much the same. This is especially true for older seniors, who get distilled into having the same few traits. From the multitude of facets making up the personality, disposition, and physical attributes of any person, younger people condense this host of identifying characteristics into a few simplified traits which all older people share. Of course, the older adults in the studies cited many more nuanced aspects, and a far more complex view of themselves and folks older than themselves.

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