Cardinal Bay Aging Myths Series
PART THREE: Myths Related to Mental Health in Older Adults
If you’re seeking simple tips to help yourself or a loved one age with confidence, join us in reading through our Aging Myths Series to gain a deeper understanding of the myths and misconceptions that can impact a senior’s ability to age well.
Previously, we discussed some of the frustrating myths about aging, especially the misconceptions regarding physical changes in seniors and why they can be risky. In this third part of our series, we’ll explore another critical topic and take a closer look at five misconceptions about an elder’s mental health.
Misconception #1: Mental decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia are inevitable.
- According to experts at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Office on Aging, most older adults actually:
- Report good mental health and fewer mental health problems than younger age groups.
- Experience age-related changes in thinking that are usually mild and don’t significantly interfere with daily functioning.
- Are capable of learning new skills and demonstrating wisdom and creativity.
- Outperform younger people on intelligence tests that draw on accumulated knowledge and experience.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not inevitable, either. The APA notes that “Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia) is not a normal part of aging. Approximately 5% of individuals between 71 and 79, and 37% of the population above age 90, are affected.”
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the risk of Alzheimer’s may be higher if there is a family history of dementia since certain genes can increase its likelihood. And the risk of dementia does grow as we get older. However, having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease does not guarantee a diagnosis of the disease. Many people thrive “into their 90s and beyond without the significant declines in thinking and behavior that characterize dementia.”
To reduce the risk of cognitive decline, individuals can educate themselves about their family history and remain aware of associated factors to modify and avoid, such as physical and mental inactivity, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, depression, and exposure to pollutants.
While mild forgetfulness, slower reaction times, and reduced problem-solving abilities are very common, speak with your physician if you have concerns about changes in memory, thinking, behavior, and personality. With the support of your healthcare team, you can gain a better understanding of the root cause to best treat, slow, or reduce cognitive decline. However, those with critical memory conditions may want to consider the peace of mind provided by a memory care community to best manage cognitive changes and support a healthy and independent lifestyle.
Misconception #2: Brain power fades as we age.
While some older adults do experience changes in cognition as they age, the positive reality is that certain functions can improve with each passing year. Verbal language and math abilities, abstract reasoning, and a senior’s built-up knowledge – often referred to as “crystallized intelligence” – can improve as we get older. Perhaps this is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even encourages workplaces to integrate older adults into their staff. The CDC affirms that employers will appreciate better job performance, particularly in complex roles focused on services and information.
Looking for the key to keeping the senior brain healthy and free of degenerative conditions? Begin with engaging and stimulating its function and memory through physical exercise, mental exercise, and social interaction, every single day.
Misconception #3: Stress levels decrease in our senior years.
It’s a popular, but perhaps, unrealistic assumption that once we stop working, we’ll have more time to enjoy our lives, and our stressors will simply disappear. Unfortunately, retirement alone doesn’t keep stress from impacting our lives. Many seniors encounter anxiety and the significant mental, physical, and emotional health outcomes that come along with it.
In our four-part Stress Management Series, we examined this subject in great detail, including evidence that older adults may be more susceptible to stress and stress-related threats. Numerous factors can cause stress levels to increase, and when left unmanaged, this can lead to or worsen a wide range of physical and mental issues – high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and much more.
Fortunately, there are established ways to recognize and relieve stress in your own life or the life of aging loved ones and ourselves. One opportunity to experience the relaxing life stage we’ve all dreamed about and deserve is to depend on a senior living community. Older adults living in a community can rely on a supportive network of friends, neighbors, and meaningful activities which can help them stay active and engaged in life. This connected living environment can help to prevent isolation and reduce the stress of life’s ups and downs in our later years.
Misconception #4: Seniors are naturally unhappy.
Forget what you’ve been led to believe – that advanced age brings misery. According to recent studies, the reality is that older adults are less likely to suffer depression than younger adults, and they are often happiest during their retirement years. Many seniors find a renewed sense of self and purpose as they age and choose to spend their time only on what is most important to them – resulting in a much happier lifestyle.
However, be sure to remember that seniors with depression might hide it well, displaying less obvious symptoms and being less likely to talk about how they’re feeling. Stay aware of this serious mood disorder to ensure the senior experiencing this struggle receives effective treatment. Then, they can take full advantage of having lots of time to pursue the hobbies, interests, and relationships they’re now free to enjoy, minus the responsibilities that used to hold them back.
Misconception #5: Older adults always endure loneliness.
For a variety of reasons, some people find themselves alone and isolated as they grow older – a situation that can lead to sadness, anxiety, depression, and other troubling conditions. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Aging brings an array of surprising benefits, among them: is a bounty of hours you can devote to rewarding connections with friends and family members.
These days, older adults can share in a multitude of social activities, including senior centers, club and church memberships, volunteer opportunities, and more. Residing in a senior living community also provides the kind of companionship proven to positively impact our health, happiness, and longevity. At Cardinal Bay, we’ve cultivated a relationship-centered approach to living that supports a senior's health and well-being, while fostering a sense of belonging and the feeling that every individual is a valued contributor to community life.
Watch our blog for the final installment of our Aging Myths Series. We’ll be covering more common misconceptions about aging – in particular, the realities of the lifestyle expectations of seniors.
Truly Thrive with Purposeful Senior Living
Achieve your potential for leading a healthier, richer, and more fulfilling life throughout your golden years. Cardinal Bay provides first-class independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities in Texas and Oklahoma. Explore our relationship-centered senior living options in your area, where our residents benefit from daily social interactions and a wealth of stimulating activities – and greet each morning with greater vitality and enthusiasm. Schedule a complimentary visit to understand how we strengthen seniors’ physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional wellness.
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