Senior Myths Shattered

I am a 67-year-old woman and always found it incongruent how I was supposed to feel at this stage of my life. I only realize that I am this age when I look at myself in the mirror; otherwise I feel exactly the same as I did when I was twenty years younger. Labels like: my brain doesn’t work well anymore, I don’t enjoy sex as much, my social life is down the toilet, unhappiness is the way of life or there is no way I can learn anything new, somehow do not fit me.

I am relieved to find that some of the most prominent researchers in the U.S. have once and for all shattered those stereotypes. The research conducted among a significantly large sample group found that there is a gap between chronological age and “felt” age. Senior moments, increasing isolation, inability to grow and change are largely proven to be wrong according to the results. Scientific America’s research found that a large percentage of seniors 75 years and older enjoyed sex and were sexually active. Respondents of a survey conducted by the Journal of economics reported being the happiest they have been all their lives. Level of happiness seems to dip around age 40 years and then goes up. An empty nest does not contribute to unhappiness, just the opposite. Respondents to a New York Times survey reported that now they had more time to work on their relationship and uninterrupted time contributed to their quality of life.

Seniors are better at sizing up people and understanding how relationships work and are more socially active. But the most important finding came out of research conducted by the American Psychological Association that dismissed the myth that our brain stops working after a certain age. A process called neuroplasticity, that basically changes the structure and function of the brain in response to experience, is responsible for a higher ability to handle verbal and math problems and the improvement in spatial and abstract reasoning. It may take us longer to solve a problem but the final product is so much better.

I remember arriving in Palo Alto, back in 2006, to receive the first Purpose Prize award. This award is given to individuals over the age of 60 that have made lasting and important contributions in resolving a critical social problem. In the room were over 200 individuals, average age 70 years, whose innovative power had revolutionized the way foster care works, adoption systems in China, drastically reduced carbon footprint by changing the design of buildings and so much more. My first reaction was that we must show the world that how they think about us is all wrong and we must work to remove the disconnect that exists between young and old. The conclusions made in these research reports will go a long way in achieving this. At last.

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