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She may have written a hilarious fictional tale set in a retirement home but with a degree in medicine, with a passion for women's health and elderly care, Joanna Nell knows her stuff. She shares ten if the most common myths about ageing. 

1.    The ageing population is a burden on society

The scaremongers would have us believe that society is about to collapse under the strain of a rapidly ageing population. The truth is that the majority of older people still live healthy, productive lives and are actively engaged in society. Only 7% of people over 65 live in nursing homes. Older people are often financially independent and can have less debt than younger people. Many are still studying, working, volunteering and caring for others well past retirement age. Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Queen Elizabeth – a burden to society?

2.    Old age is a time to rest and put your feet up

Forget the slippers and afternoon naps! Regular physical activity and exercise is more important than ever in older age for maintaining strength and mobility and preventing osteoporosis. The latest treatment guidelines for osteoarthritis recommend exercise and weight loss above painkillers, fish oil, glucosamine or even joint replacement surgery. Walking, swimming, dancing or dragon boat racing, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s fun and enjoyable. Outdoor exercise is also a great way to maintain healthy vitamin D levels and improve sleep.

3.    Old people are depressed and grumpy

Let me debunk this dated stereotype. According to research, mental health actually improves with age. Older people are less likely to be depressed or anxious than their younger or middle-aged counterparts. Drawing on life experience, older people are often more tolerant and resilient. Studies have even shown that social engagement and an optimistic outlook are linked to a longer life. 

4.    Older people lose interest in sex

Not necessarily. Although desire can wane in long-term relationships, older people are more likely to be having sex than knitting! Human touch is an under-recognised factor in wellbeing, and loneliness has the same negative health effects as 15 cigarettes a day. Sex in older age often presents extra challenges, not least the loss of a partner, but with imagination and inventiveness, there’s no reason people can’t continue to enjoy intimacy and romance well into old age.

5.    Older people are unsafe drivers

Statistically, it’s their teenage grandsons (males aged 16-19) who are most likely to be involved in a road traffic accident. Many older people are experienced and cautious drivers who have been driving for 50-60 years. Even people with dementia can still safely drive with certain restrictions. In Australia, the RTA requires a medical review and eyesight test yearly from age 75, and a practical driving test is also required every 2 years from 85 for those who wish to maintain an unrestricted licence.

6.    Dementia is unavoidable

Many people believe dementia is inevitable in old age. It isn’t, although forgetting names and where you left your keys probably is. 3 out of 10 people over 85 do have dementia, but that means 7 out of 10 don’t. Genetics play a role, but not to the degree people fear and there is plenty we can do to ward off dementia. What is good for hearts – healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and regular exercise – is generally great for brains too.

7.    Older people are leaky

Drops voice to a whisper… Many people feel uncomfortable talking about incontinence, which is why it remains a sadly neglected health issue. 1 in 3 women will experience urinary incontinence in their lifetime. But the good news is that most incontinence is treatable. Pelvic floor exercises, bladder retraining, medications and surgery can help. Talk to your doctor because getting the right diagnosis is key.

8.    Old people should dress in a certain way

Try telling that to 97-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel! Older women have just as much right to express their own unique style and personality as anyone else, and to feel fabulous whatever their age. After a lifetime of fashion disasters, most women know instinctively what suits and what doesn’t, but it’s never too late to try out a new look.

9.    It’s too late to look after our skin

“The damage is already done”.  Our skin has collected solar damage thoughout our lives (especially in the baby oil era) but it’s never too late to slip, slop, slap. Rather than wasting money on expensive and ineffective anti-ageing products, it’s a time to embrace and celebrate those laughter lines and wrinkles. Moisturise well and use a sunscreen daily. If pigmentation or fine lines are a concern, prescription strength Vitamin A (retinol or retinoic acid) can help. Most skin cancers can be cured if treated early. Be vigilant and have new or changing lesions checked.

10.    Old people fear death

Surprisingly not. Often, towards the end of their lives, older people become more pragmatic and accepting of the inevitable. What matters most is having choice and a degree of control to allow them to die with dignity.

  • The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village - Joana Nell

    The life of 79-year-old pensioner PEGGY SMART is as beige as the decor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. Following a very minor traffic accident, things have turned frosty with her grown-up children and she is afraid they are trying to take away her independence. The highlight of Peggy's day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim. She dreams of inviting the handsome widower - treasurer of the Residents' Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village - to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties. But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn't seen in five decades - the glamorous fashionista ANGIE VALENTINE - sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.

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