Old but Not Out: Why You Should Not Write-off Your Elders

Before you buy into that stereotype that all older Americans are demented, helpless and lonely, check out these statistics.

Ninety-seven percent of Americans over 65 are NOT in nursing homes.  Here’s an even more interesting statistic – ninety-one percent of Americans aged 85 and older are not in nursing homes.

Ninety percent of Americans aged 65 and older DO NOT have Alzheimer’s dementia.  Ninety percent, folks.  According to the American Medical Association, dementia rates continue to fall significantly.  Interestingly, however, Americans’ anxiety about memory loss is increasing.

Over fifty percent of Americans aged 85 and older can go about their everyday activities without any help.  Dressing, cooking, paying bills – they are doing that just fine, thank you.

If most older Americans are not demented or helpless, surely they are at least suffering from loneliness and depression, right?  Nope.  Health-service company Cigna did a survey and found that the loneliest group is Generation Z, defined as ages 18 – 22.  The next largest group is composed of people aged 45-49; a whopping forty-three percent report being lonely.   In contrast, only twenty-five percent of Americans over 70 say they are lonely.

How about that secret conviction held by most that older people are an economic burden to the country and, by extension, to every one of us?  Not true.  People over 50 make up thirty-five percent of the population yet contribute forty-three percent of the total US GDP.  That’s a $7.4 trillion contribution by that aged and decrepit over- 50 group.

If you find any of that surprising, then you might be suffering from ageism, which is the discrimination and stereotyping of people by age.

Ageism is form of prejudice.

  • Just ask Gladys Burrill who ran a marathon at age 92 and finished the race in just under 10 hours. Or Teiichi Igarashi who climbed Mt. Fuji at age 100.  Fair disclosure:  he had been climbing it annually since he was 89 years old.
  • William Ivy Baldwin was 82 when he successfully walked a tightrope over a canyon in Eldorado Springs in Colorado.
  • Grandma Moses started painting at the age of 76.  She took it up because her hands were so crippled from arthritis that she could no longer embroider.
  • Colonel Sanders received his first social security check at age 65 and decided that he needed to change his life.  He started traveling around with his chicken recipe, an action that led to the founding of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Noah Webster first published his dictionary at age 66.  Benjamin Franklin signed the Constitution of the United States of America at age 81.

If facts don’t move you, then there is another reason not to buy into ageism: it will cause you to die sooner.

Seriously.  According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, you will die seven and one-half years sooner if you believe those destructive ageism myths. Conversely, if you pay no attention to the stereotypes, then you will walk faster, heal quicker and be less likely to develop dementia.

Virginia Hammerle is a licensed Texas attorney.  Her practice includes estate planning, litigation, guardianship, and probate law.  See hammerle.com for her blog and newsletter sign-up.  This column does not constitute legal advice.