It’s important for us to know the different between what is normal aging and what is a troublesome symptom. The assumption used to be that aging equaled a steady and predictable decline in our physical and mental abilities, but we have found that this isn’t true.
Aging does not inevitably come with a slow and steady decline in our physical and mental abilities. We are more likely to develop certain health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis, but geriatricians emphasize that not all changes are age related; some changes may be from treatable conditions.
Here are 5 myths about aging that should send you to your doctor.
Myth 1: Forgetfulness
There are going to be times when you misplace your glasses, or it takes longer to remember someone’s name; experts tell us that these changes are normal due in part because your brain contains more information as you age.
Only 6-8% of people over 65 have memory challenges due to dementia, so don’t go jumping to conclusions. If you notice you are having many “senior moments” or are experiencing confusion along with more serious memory loss this may come from a treatable condition. A variety of conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, depression, sleep problems, chronic pain, changes in medication, urinary tract infections and metabolic disorders can all cause forgetfulness or confusion. See your doctor to discuss your memory challenges and your pharmacist to review your prescription medications and over-the-counter medications.
Myth 2: Tooth loss
Good oral care and regular check ups play an important role in maintaining good oral health amongst seniors. Compared to the oral health of citizens in other developed countries, Canadians have good oral health and it continues to improve. With that being said, 20% of Canadians 62-79 are without teeth (edentulous) and 30-35% of Canadians have no dental insurance.
Many people avoid visiting a dental professional due to concerns of cost. Poor oral health is linked to poor nutrition, social isolation, heart disease and dementia. Modern dentistry is helping many seniors keep their natural teeth longer, and regular checkups can identify some health conditions early.
Myth 3: Muscle weakness
While muscle volume and strength will gradually decline with aging, these changes can be slowed or prevented with regular physical activity. Age does not limit what physical activities you can do!
With regular physical activity most healthy seniors live independently and without frailty. How quickly you will lose muscle strength is a matter of genetics, and it is important to know a “use it or lose it” attitude. Regular exercise will increase your energy, keep your mind sharp, and help you stay independent. Speak to your doctor about a “prescription” for an exercise program that’s right for you and considers any current health conditions.
Myth 4: Vision problems
Some visions changes are common, such as difficultly focusing while reading, but with regular eye exams some types of vision loss could be prevented or reversed. There are age related conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetic eye disease that can be treated before serious damage is done. Cataract surgery today is restoring the sight of many seniors, leaving some with better vision than what they had when they were younger!
Myth 5: Depression
Many studies find that seniors are among the happiest age group, with happiness following a U-curve shape with self-reported levels of happiness lowest at 40 and then growing thereafter. Despite this, depression is most common in seniors but is completely treatable.
Growing older can involve many changes including retirement, the death of loved ones, and increased medical problems; it is normal to feel sad about these changes, but depression is a medical condition that interferes with normal functioning.
Depression can result from alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, chronic pain, or poor sleep. Seniors who are experiencing persistent sadness and loss of interest in things they once loved should be evaluated by a health professional. Depression is treatable with counselling, medication, addressing underlying health conditions, fixing nutritional deficiencies, and adding in lifestyle changes such as exercise and increasing social connection.
Aging can bring certain predictable changes, but everyone ages in their own way.
It’s vital not to judge yourself by the standards of others, but to find a way to live well at whatever age you’re at. Aging does not necessarily have to come with memory loss, depression, or a loss of independence; if you are experiencing health challenges see your doctor for assistance.
The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. Please talk to your doctor about physical, mental, or emotional changes that are troubling you, especially if the changes come up suddenly.