Aging is a biaaatch but thank God for it! According to researchers, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. A longer life represents an important opportunity, not only for older people and their families but also for societies as a whole. As a matter of fact, the number of folks age 60-plus will rise from 900 million to 2 billion between 2015 and 2050.
Think you know all there is to know about aging? Take this for example, did you know that some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities that are similar to many 20-year-olds? There are people who experience declines in physical and mental capabilities at much younger ages. Experts on aging agree that healthy aging is entirely achievable by every older person.
One thing’s for sure, aging provides the chance to pursue new activities such as furthering education or a long-neglected passion while continuing to make valuable contributions to family and community. So if you think you know all there is to know about aging, take the Facts on Aging True or False Quiz developed by University of Missouri at Kansas City sociologist/gerontologist Linda Breytspraak, Ph.D., and put your knowledge to the test; there might be some surprises in store for you!
- T or F–As people grow older, their intelligence declines significantly.
- T or F–It is very difficult for older adults to learn new things.
- T or F–Most old people are set in their ways and are unable to change.
- T or F–Older people perspire less, so they are more likely to suffer from hyperthermia.
- T or F–Older adults are less anxious about death than are younger and middle-aged adults.
- T or F–All women develop osteoporosis as they age.
- T or F–Retirement is often detrimental to health–i.e., people frequently seem to become ill or die soon after retirement.
- T or F–Remaining life expectancy of Blacks at age 85 is about the same as whites.
- T or F–Social Security benefits automatically increase with inflation.
- T or F–Most older drivers are quite capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
- T or F–Older employees cannot work as effectively as younger ones.
- T or F–Research has shown that old age truly begins at 65.
- T or F–Older females exhibit better healthcare practices than older males.
- T or F–Most old people lose interest in and capacity for sexual relations.
False. Although there are some circumstances where the statement may hold true, current research evidence suggests that intellectual performance in healthy individuals holds up well into old age. The average magnitude of intellectual decline is typically small in the 60s and 70s and is probably of little significance for competent behavior. There is a more average decline for most abilities observed once the 80s are reached, although even in this age range there are substantial individual differences. The good news is that research data now indicate that this is a life stage programmed for the development of unique capacities and that intellectual decline can be modified by lifestyle interventions, such as physical activity, a healthy diet, mental stimulation, and social interaction.
False. Even though learning performance tends on average to decline with age, all age groups can learn. Research studies have shown that learning performances can be improved with instructions and practice, extra time to learn information or skills, and relevance of the learning task to interests and expertise. It is well established that those who regularly practice their learning skills maintain their learning efficiency over their lifespan.
False. The majority of older people are not “set in their ways and unable to change.” There is some evidence that older people tend to become more stable in their attitudes, but it is clear that older people do change. To survive, they must adapt to many events of later life such as retirement, children leaving home, widowhood, moving to new homes, and serious illness. Their political and social attitudes also tend to shift with those of the rest of society, although at a somewhat slower rate than for younger people.
True. Perspiration and quenching of thirst help to combat overheating. Older adults perspire less, are less aware of thirst and less able to feel or adapt to extremes in temperature than younger persons. Less sensitive skin sensors and less insulation of fatty deposits under the skin and the less efficient functioning of the hypothalamus (the temperature regulating mechanism in the brain) occur in older adults. Prolonged time for older adults to return to core temperature after exposure to extreme heat or cold begins at age 70 years and increases thereafter. Education and taking precautions may prevent most deaths related to temperature extremes. Increased fluid intake, gradual accommodation to climate change, rest, minimizing exertion during heat, use of fans and/or air conditioning, wearing hats and loose clothing and avoidance of alcohol are some strategies for hyperthermia.
True. Although death in industrialized society has come to be associated primarily with old age, studies generally indicate that death anxiety in adults decreases as age increases. Among the factors that may contribute to lower anxiety is a sense that goals have been fulfilled, living longer than expected, coming to terms with finitude and dealing with the deaths of friends. The general finding that older adults are less fearful of death than middle-aged counterparts should not obscure the fact that some subgroups may have considerable preoccupation and concern about death and dying. Some fear the process of dying much more than death itself.
False. Osteoporosis (“porous bone”) is associated with increasing age and is more common in women (especially White and Asian women) than men, but it is not an inevitable outcome. Gradual loss of bony tissue causes brittle bones to fracture more easily in both men and women as they age. Deficiency in bone mineral density occurs in 50% of women over 50 years to 57% of women 70 years or older but decreases to 45% for those over 80 years. Women rarely develop osteoporosis until age 70 years. Low bone mass that is not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis is referred to as osteopenia. Prevention of osteoporosis begins with adequate calcium intake in one’s teens and thereafter with increased attention to getting adequate amounts after menopause. Adequate vitamin D (from sunlight, foods, or supplements) is essential to absorbing calcium. Weight-bearing exercise, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), decreased alcohol, protein, salt and caffeine consumption, and smoking cessation can also minimize bone loss.
False. While studies show both negative and positive correlations between retirement and health outcomes (including mortality), there is no clear evidence that retirement actually has an effect on health declines or mortality. With the exception of some who retire due to involuntary job loss, for most the retirement event does not appear to influence declines in either physical or mental health. Health decline is related to age or previous health problems, not retirement per se. Retirement may actually improve functional health by reducing stress on the individual. Studies have shown increased happiness and life satisfaction and reduced loneliness among retirees.
True. Although the remaining life expectancy of Blacks at age 65 is about 1.5 years less than that of whites at age 65, by the time they reach 85 remaining life expectancy is slightly higher for Blacks (6.8 vs. 6.5 years). The slight excess for Blacks holds for both males and females. One possible explanation for this convergence effect is that Blacks who make it to the oldest ages do so in spite of many disadvantages and are “survivors” who have developed physiological and social psychological survival advantages.
True. Beginning in 1975 Social Security benefits are periodically automatically adjusted for inflation. Current law ties this increase to the consumer price index (CPI) or the rise in the general wage level, whichever is lower. For example, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans increased 1.7% in 2015.
True. Some older adults do have visual, motor, or cognitive impairments that make them dangerous drivers. Many drive more slowly and cautiously or avoid driving in conditions they consider threatening in order to compensate for these changes. Until approximately age 85 older adults have fewer driver fatalities per million drivers than men 20-years-old, but they do have more accidents per miles driven. Unsafe speed and alcohol use are leading factors in accidents for young drivers, while right-of-way violations are the leading cause of accidents involving older drivers–which implies a breakdown in such cognitive-perceptual components as estimating the speed of oncoming cars or reacting too slowly to unexpected events.
False. Negative perceptions of older workers persist because of health issues, diminished energy, discomfort with technology, closeness to retirement, and reaction to change in the workplace — all associated with older adults. According to research, older workers with regards to their presence in the workplace have low turnover, less voluntary absenteeism, and fewer injuries. Recent high ratings of older workers from employers cite loyalty, dependability, emotional stability, congeniality with co-workers, and consistent and accurate work outcomes.
False. Old age is a social construct. Meanings, definitions, and experiences of aging vary across cultures and throughout history. What people consider to be “old” has changed significantly just within the past 100 years in the U.S. as people live longer and healthier. Being identified as “old” is related not only to chronological age, but also to health, functional ability, social roles, and self-perception. Age 65 is an arbitrary marker that has been associated with eligibility for governmental programs such as Social Security and Medicare (although the age of eligibility for Social Security is gradually being raised to 67 by 2027)
True. In general women throughout adulthood are more likely to attend to minor symptoms than are men. Men are more likely to have been socialized even as children to be stoical, and consequently are less likely to see a doctor for health problems until they become clearly symptomatic. When they do get sick, they are likely to have more and longer hospital visits. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to have had regular contact with the health care system through childbirth, attending to their children’s health, and having regular screening procedures for cervical and breast cancer. Although women report more chronic conditions than men in later life, the severity of their problems tends to be less than that of same age men, probably due to earlier healthcare interventions — hence the phrase “women get sicker, but men die quicker.”
False. Sexuality includes the physical act of intercourse as well as many other types of intimacy such as touch, hugging, and holding. Sexuality is related to overall health with those whose health is rated as excellent or good being nearly twice as likely to be sexually active as those whose health is rated as poorer. The particular form it takes varies with age and gender. In general, men are more likely than women to have a partner, more likely to be sexually active with that partner, and tend to have more positive and permissive attitudes toward sex.Normal aging physical changes in both men and women sometimes affect the ability of an older adult to have and enjoy sex.
A woman’s vagina may shorten and narrow and her vaginal walls become thinner and stiffer which leads to less vaginal lubrication and effects on sexual function and/or pleasure. As men age, impotence (also known as erectile dysfunction – ED) becomes more common. ED may cause a man to take longer to have an erection and it may not be as firm or large as it used to be. Additionally, the loss of erection after orgasm may happen more quickly or it may take longer before an erection is possible. Medications taken for chronic conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, incontinence, stroke, and depression might cause sexual problems leading to ED in men and vaginal dryness and difficulty with arousal or orgasm in women. Patient education and counseling and ability to clinically identify sexual problems can help resolve some of these issues.