WSJ: Six Common Aging Myths Busted

Contrary to popular belief, aging is not a time of loneliness, depression and physical or mental decline, especially when looking at recent research that dispels many of the common myths of aging, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The concept of aging may carry a negative connotation for many people, however, some of the most common presumptions about growing older are simply myths, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

In a recent article, the WSJ debunked six common myths about aging, from prevalence of depression and the inevitable creep of cognitive decline, to why exercise might not always be the best way to improve health and longevity. 

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“Contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of loneliness, depression and decline, a growing body of scientific research shows that, in many ways, life gets better as we get older,” writes the WSJ.

Myth #1: Depression is More Prevalent in Old Age

Contrary to what may be assumed, older adults report high levels of well-being, despite assumptions regarding aging and its affect on declining health, increased chance of disability and higher mortality rate. 

Research indicates that emotional well-being improves until a person reaches their 70s, when it begins to level-off, WSJ notes, citing a 2014 study by Stanford University’s Center on Longevity that reported even centenarians “report overall high levels of well-being.”

To gauge the well-being among older adults, Stanford scientists from 1993 to 1995 distributed beepers to 184 adults, ages 18 to 94. For a week, researchers paged participants at five randomly selected times each day, prompting them to fill out questionnaires asking them to assess—on a scale of one to seven—how much they felt of 19 emotions, including sadness, anger, amusement, boredom and joy. 

Researchers also repeated the same exercise five and 10 years later. What they found: as participants aged, their moods—as measured by the ratio of positive to negative emotions—steadily improved.

Additional data from the National Institute of Mental Health helps support the findings. Only 5.5% of adults age 50 and older said they experienced a “major depressive episode” in 2012, while for those ages 26 to 49, the rate was 7.6%, and for 18- to 25-year-olds it was 8.9%.

Myth #2: Cognitive Decline is Inevitable

It’s easy to assume that as one’s body ages, the mind fades as well. That’s not necessarily the case for older adults, as several studies have shown that certain activities can enhance cognitive function and perhaps even slow age-related cognitive decline.

In two studies published earlier this year, Denise Park, a professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, tested the memories of 239 adults ages 60-90, approximately one-half of whom spent 16 hours a week over three months learning news skills, including how to quilt, use an iPad and take digital photographs, the WSJ noted.

Compared with peers who did puzzles or engaged in social activities, and other tasks that required no new skills, those learning the new skills “showed greater improvement in memory, with some also showing improvement in processing speed,” said Prof. Park. 

Furthermore, Park believes that older adults who learn challenging new skills are able to tap more “diffuse brain circuits and pathways to compensate for age-related deficits.”

Myth #3: Older Workers are Less Productive

Depending on the job, younger workers may be more suited or even more qualified than their older counterparts, and vice versa. But to say that older workers are less productive than younger employees is simply just another stereotype of aging.

A majority of academic studies shows “virtually no relationship between age and job performance,” says Harvey Sterns, director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron, in the WSJ article. 

In some circumstances, age does provide older workers with an edge, according to a study conducted by Munich, Germany-based nonprofit research organization the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

Researchers examined the number and severity of errors committed by 3,800 workers on a Mercedes-Benz assembly line from 2003 to 2006, and determined that over the four-year period, older workers committed slightly fewer severe errors while younger workers’ severe error rates increased. 

See the rest of aging’s myths at The Wall Street Journal.

Written by Jason Oliva

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