Common myths of aging


By Micha Shalev

Like any form of bias, ageism has led many of us to make false assumptions about seniors. Many of these myths may be easily disputed based on data from the U.S. Census and other studies.

Myth: Most older adults do not have enough money and end up becoming destitute.

Fact: As of 2009, only 8.9 percent of Americans 65 years of age and older live in poverty, which is lower than the overall poverty rate in the United States (14.3 percent). This population is also more likely to have health insurance coverage than the general population. In 2009, only 1.9 percent of adults 65 years of age and older had no health insurance coverage, compared to 16.7 percent of all adults in the United States.

Myth: Most older adults live alone and are isolated.

Fact: According to a survey conducted in 2009, 9 out of 10 individuals 65 years of age and older stated they talked to family and friends on a daily basis. In terms of living arrangements, the percentage of those 65 years and older living alone has slightly decreased, from 28.8 percent in 1990 to 27.4 percent in 2008. An estimated 66.2 percent of those 65 years of age and older resided in a household with others. The statistics are also significantly different when the age cohorts are broken down further. An estimated 76.1 percent of Americans 65 to 74 years of age, and 60.3 percent of those 75 to 84 years of age reside in a household with others. This may be due in part to an increase in multigenerational households. In 2008, an estimated 16 percent of the U.S. population lived in a household comprised of two adult generations or a grandparent or at least one other generation, compared to 12 percent in 1980. This multigenerational household trend has particularly affected those 65 years and older. Several factors have contributed to this trend, including the poor economy, an increase in immigrants, and adults getting married later in life.

Myth: Many older Americans end up living in nursing homes.

Fact: In 2006, only about 4.4 percent of adults 65 years of age and older lived in nursing homes. Of those who reside in nursing homes, they tend to be the oldest-old (85 years of age and older); three-quarters of nursing home residents are the oldest-old and are women.

Myth: Most older adults engage in very minimal productive activity.

Fact: U.S. Census data shows 37.8 percent of individuals 65 years of age and older worked full-time in the past 12 months (41.8 percent of men and 32.7 percent of women in this age-group). The elderly are more engaged in self-employed activities than younger persons. In 2003, 14.3 percent of those 65 years of age and older were self-employed, compared to 6.8 percent of those 25 to 54 years of age.

Myth: Life satisfaction is low among the elderly.

Fact: Field examined data from the Berkeley Older Generation Study and found that many elders are quite satisfied with their life. More than one-third (36 percent) of persons older than 59 years of age and 15 percent of those older than 79 years of age stated they were currently experiencing the best time in their lives. A 2009 survey found that 60 percent of individuals 65 years of age and older stated they were very happy. Most of the factors that predict happiness for the young, such as good health and financial stability, also apply to the elderly.

Myth: Old people feel old.

Fact: According to a 2009 telephone survey, only 21 percent of individuals 65 to 74 years of age stated they felt old, and only 35 percent of those 75 years of age and older reported feeling old.

Micha Shalev MHA CDP CDCM is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home and The Adult Day Club at Dodge Park located at 101 Randolph Road in Worcester. He is a graduate of the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners program, as well as Certified Dementia Care Manager program. He is a well-known speaker covering Alzheimer’s and Dementia training topics. The programs at Dodge Park Rest Home are specialized in providing care for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The facility is holding a FREE monthly support group meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of each month for spouses and children of individuals with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at or view more information online at Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at