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Aging


The Myths of Aging...

   
     Demographics of Aging
    Perceptions of Aging
      Myths of Aging Myths of Aging
      Age and Ability
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Design decisions made on the basis of erroneous assumptions or myths about any group will reduce the overall utility and effectiveness of products and environments for all.
 
 

Whatever your age, someone thinks of you as "young" and someone thinks of you as "old."

   
 
   
 

How old is "old"?

Unfortunately, too many of us—young and old—still believe the tired myths and preconceptions about age and aging. Here are some examples*:

   

   
  The Myth of Senility    

   
  The Myth of Disability    

   
  The Myth of Homogeneity    

   
  The Myth of Lonely Isolation    

   
   The Myth of Dependency    

   
  The Rocking Chair Myth    

   
  The Myth of Inability    

   
  The Myth of Retirement    

   


* Pirkl, James J. (1994) Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population. New York: Wiley.


  The Myth of Senility

Myth:  Older persons "naturally" grow more confused and child-like, become forgetful, and lose contact with reality. They become "senile".

Reality:   Senility is an outdated term referring to abnormal deterioration in the mental functions of some older people, linking the process of growing old to symptoms of forgetfulness, confusion, and changes in behavior and personality.

Such an image is false, stereotypical, and is neither a normal sign of aging nor even a disease. The word "senility" implies an assumption about elderly people that, because they are old, they are also mentally deficient.

This insidious myth, still prevalent, discriminates by causing or promoting social isolation, dependency, and loss of independence.

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  The Myth of Disability

Myth:   Older persons with severe functional disabilities experience a greater number of associated diseases than those with less severe disabilities.

Reality:   There is no correlation between the severity of a functional disability and the number of associated diseases.

While incidences of both increase with age, the number of diseases affecting a person does not equate with either the severity of a disability or the magnitude of functional loss.

Vigorous people can acquire several diseases and remain independent. Conversely, many older people with severe functional disabilities remain otherwise healthy.

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  The Myth of Homogeneity

Myth:   As we age, we lose our individual differences and become progressively more alike.

Reality:   Aging does not affect us as a person; our personality remains fairly constant. Not only do we retain our individual differences throughout our lives, these differences become even more pronounced as we get older.

We generally become more like our youthful self; a talkative teenager, for example, becoming a talkative older person and a stubborn youngster carrying the trait of stubbornness into old age.

Except for changes in our physical appearance and experiencing more physical problems, being "old" feels no different from how we feel now or when we were young. In reality, an old person is a young person who has just lived longer.

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  The Myth of Lonely Isolation

Myth:  Older persons are abandoned by their families and forced to live out their lives in isolation, loneliness, and despondency.

Reality:   Most older people do not live alone. Over half of thoseage 65 and older live with a spouse or with other relatives, while less than one in five live alone. Most of these, however, are women because women generally live longer than men.

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  The Myth of Dependency

Myth:   Elderly people become helpless and cannot take care of themselves.

Reality:  The overwhelming majority of older people are not helpless and for the most part can and do take care of themselves.

Ninety-four percent live independently and enjoy many of the same activities as do younger people. It is very important to understand that very few older persons require specialized products.

Most want—and use—the same kinds of products and environments enjoyed by younger generations. Moreover, only 4 to 6 percent of all older people are institutionalized at any one time.

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The Rocking Chair Myth

Myth:   As age increases we withdraw, become inactive, and cease being productive.

Reality:  Healthy aging covers the spectrum from introspective disengagement to staying active for as long as possible.

Diminished capabilities and personal preferences also tend to affect our level of activity. These factors, coupled with personality differences, result in some of staying active while others disengage.

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  The Myth of Inability

Myth:   Older persons are forgetful, incapable of learning, and refuse to adapt to new ways.

Reality:   Aging does not affect our ability to learn. The information processing literature does not support the idea that cognitive functioning declines with age.While we may experience some difficulty with short-term (working) memory as we get older, our long-term memory generally remains sound.

Older persons do, however, tend to solve problems differently than younger persons, preferring to "think things out" rather than relying on "trial and error."

And while our reaction time increases with age and correlates with thecomplexity of a task, this increase is only measured in milliseconds.

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  The Myth of Retirement

Myth:   Most persons retire between ages 65 and 70.

Reality:   Although the 1978 amendments to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act raised the mandatory retirementage to 70 for most workers, over 60 percent of us choose to retire early.

In fact, early retirement before the age of 65 has become a pattern ingrained in our society. Indeed, all indications point to this trend continuing; but this does not mean that people will stop working.

 

   


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We can help you avoid the myths of aging while designing transgenerational products and environments that serve the young, the old, the able and disabled—without penalty to any group.

   
 
   
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