Myths about aging

Smokers who quit have fewer illnesses.

Many people make assumptions about aging, what it is like to grow “old”, and how older age will affect them. But as we are getting older, it is important to understand the positive aspects of aging. Research has shown that you can help preserve your health and mobility as you age by adopting or continuing healthy habits and lifestyle choices.

1. If a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, I will have it, too.

A person’s chance of having Alzheimer’s disease may be higher if he or she has a family history of dementia because there are some genes that we know increase risk. However, having a parent with Alzheimer’s does not necessarily mean that someone will develop the disease.

Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as exercise, diet, exposure to pollutants, and smoking also may affect a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s. While you cannot control the genes you inherited, you can take steps to stay healthy as you age, such as getting regular exercise, controlling high blood pressure, and not smoking.

2. Now that I am older, I will have to give up driving.

As the U.S. population ages, the number of licensed older adults on the road will continue to increase. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recorded a record-high 221.7 million licensed drivers in the U.S. in 2016, including 41.7 million — or almost one in five — who are 65 years or older. The question of when it is time to limit or stop driving should not be about age, rather, it should be about one’s ability to drive safely.

3. Only women need to worry about osteoporosis.

Although osteoporosis is more common in women, this disease still affects many men and could be underdiagnosed. While men may not be as likely to have osteoporosis because they start with more bone density than women, one in five men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. By age 65 or 70, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate.

Many of the things that put men at risk are the same as those for women, including family history, not enough calcium or vitamin D, and too little exercise. Low levels of testosterone, too much alcohol, taking certain drugs, and smoking are other risk factors.

4. I’m “too old” to quit smoking.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been smoking, quitting at any time improves your health. Smokers who quit have fewer illnesses such as colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and an overall better feeling of well-being.

The benefits of quitting are almost immediate. Within a few hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood begins to decline and, in a few weeks, your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.

5. My blood pressure has lowered or returned to normal, so I can stop taking my medication.

High blood pressure is a very common problem for older adults — especially those in their 80s and 90s — and can lead to serious health problems if not treated properly. If you take high blood pressure medicine and your blood pressure goes down, it means the medicine and any lifestyle changes you have made are working. However, it is very important to continue your treatment and activities long-term. If you stop taking your medicine, your blood pressure could rise again, increasing your risk for health problems like stroke and kidney disease.

More in next issue.

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