L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Myth: There Are No Myths Regarding Aging

November 9, 2019

I somehow think I should have started these posts with this myth, but sometimes I am a little late to the party—that way you don’t have to stay there as long!  😉

Dr. James Thornton, now professor emeritus at the University of British Colombia, researched the universal practice of creating stories, which over time become “myths” or legends– as in the Loch Ness Monster, King Arthur, Robin Hood, or Paul Bunyan. Traditional myths and folklore defined personal experience. They shaped social life, and offered hope, and meaning to the unexplainable in times when there was little scientific advancement.

However in today’s world, with science influencing every aspect of our lives, current myths of aging strongly influence our present culture. But, like all myths, these anti-aging mythologies are based on half-truths and false knowledge. Unfortunately they are usually stated as culturally accepted stereotypes, in our case, ageist stereotypes.  Current misconceptions of aging often reinforced in the media and the literature of aging are not merely folklore. They are intentionally misrepresented statements pretending to inform, often in order to sell products and services. But in reality these proclamations only reinforce misunderstandings, and give wrong information about aging as experienced by the vast majority of older people.

The good news? As I love to say, there is a sea-changing coming! So many good people and so many different sources from the media (Think “Grace and Frankie,” Sophia Loren’s new movie, and those silver-haired beauties in print and TV ads) are changing the way us older adults are portrayed. All of these create a more realistic picture of what it looks like to have some experience under our belts.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Anti-Aging is Possible

October 19, 2019

Let me lay my cards right on the table. I hate the term “anti-aging.” Why? First because there is no such thing, just like there are no such things as partial forgiveness or being a little pregnant. Secondly, this term goes to the heart of our cultural problem of ageism—that stereotype of negative attitudes toward older folks. Dr. Jill Chonody, author of Social Work Practices with Older Adults, writes, “Antiaging norms have become a regular part of American culture and as a result they are readily expressed through and reinforced by an ‘anti-aging movement’ which dictates that physical signs of aging should be hidden by ‘anti-aging products’ to cover age-related ‘flaws.’ ” Dr. Chondoy cites stats that show more than a 100% increase in the number of surgical and non-surgical procedures (from $80m to $114m), from 1997-2014. When we add in the last four years, that figure soars to over $120m. She goes on to say, “The marketing of these products goes without much notice much like greeting cards. No magazine or products are labeled anti-black or anti-woman, but anti-aging is a very common label for commercial products, including books. Why do we spend money on these products, why would we have unnecessary surgery to hide the physical signs of aging? Social messages repeatedly tell us that aging is unattractive and should be avoided at all costs and we believe it without question.”

So, as we all know, there is only one true way to avoid aging, and that isn’t really a great alternative!  😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Aging Makes You Unproductive

September 6, 2019

The findings from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks this myth wide open. It seems that as the kiddos leave the nest, so do the parents. According to the latest data, a whopping 29% of the population, the highest number of folks who volunteer, begin giving back around age forty-five. This number dips a little to 24% for seniors sixty-five and over. People in the last half of their lives supply an immeasurable number of hours in both helping with child-rearing and volunteering at worthy organizations. Women make up the majority of volunteers, especially in caring for the grand wee ones and elderly parents or relatives, but the men aren’t far behind them in the overall number of volunteering hours.

The contribution of those at mid-life and beyond makes an enormous impact on our society. Heaven save us from where we would be without the blessing of time us older ones have to give. The statistics also show that seniors are the happiest age group of all. Maybe it’s the giving back. Could there be a correlation? I’ll keep that topic for another day.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Seniors have no style

July 26, 2019


Yes, Virginia, many younger people believe they invented cool”and “hip,” just like they think they invented sex. (No kidding.) Actually, thanks to the jazz world, these terms became part of our conversations over seventy years ago. They were not invented in the 1990’s as many young people think, nor were the attributes that made one cool and hip or a “hipster.” Now as far as style is concerned, well, to quote one researcher, “Seniors have been around the block a few times. Which means they know how to shake a leg, how to cut a rug, and more importantly, how to dress to the nines.” We may have traded our stilettos for cute wedges or flats and given up torturing shapewear (um, girdles) under our skintight spandex dresses, but  even now, using the data base in our heads that is filled with decades of fabulous fashion tips, we can still make an entrance that leaves mouths open and eyes filled with awe and admiration. That’s style!  

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Myth: Older People in the Workplace

June 7, 2019

Please don’t shoot me, I am only the messenger, but this myth does raise my hackles almost to Mars! An important review done in 2009, studied stereotypes of older people in the workplace by bringing together the findings from over 100 studies of age-related stereotyping at work. What the researchers found was that stereotypes of older workers have three strong themes. First, we are perceived as less motivated and competent at work. This dovetails with the myth I refuted in April, Seniors Are Warm-Hearted, But Impaired, that older people are viewed as warm but not very competent—but in fact, there is little evidence that our work performance declines with age. Some studies even show that, relative to younger people, older people are more productive at their jobs! Imagine that. 

Second, numerous studies show that older employees are seen as harder to train or retrain, making them less valuable as employees. This assumption reflects the low-competence myth I busted. And, it highlights the assumptions of older employees’ inability to change, our likely shorter tenure with the company, and our lack of potential for development. 

Last, we seasoned workers are perceived as being more expensive employees because we have higher salaries and, due to declining health, use more health care benefits. This piece of the stereotype reflects the widespread, though exaggerated, assumption that old age and illness are one and the same.

On a positive note, although it would appear that the stereotypes of older workers are uniformly negative, there exists a substantial amount of research showing older employees, compared with their younger-age counterparts, as more trustworthy, stable, sociable, and dependable. (Score one for our team!) These beliefs reflect a warmer and more positive view of older workers. Also, while younger people think that we older workers are less worthy of advancement and less interpersonally skilled, we are seen as more reliable, compared to younger workers. (Gee, no kidding?) 

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