With apologies to Mick Jagger ― the hottest 73-year-old man on the planet, says me ― growing old is a “gas-gas-gas.” And if you are old enough to know which song those lyrics are from, you also probably are old enough to know that a lot of public perceptions about aging are just not true. For example:
1. You outgrow sex.
Really? On what planet does this actually happen? In the five years from 2005 to 2009, the number of reported cases of syphilis and chlamydia among those 55 and older increased 43 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States with large communities of retirees have seen major spikes in the number of cases of STDs. In Arizona’s Maricopa and Pima counties, the percent of reported cases of syphilis and chlamydia increased twice as fast as the national average from 2005 to 2009. Reported cases were up 87 percent among those 55 and older in those counties.
And guess what? Older people didn’t get these STDs from growing prize roses. Yes, Virginia, they are having sex. They outgrew nothing except maybe the common sense to use condoms.
2. Medicare’s got you covered.
You may have grown up thinking that once you lit 65 candles on your birthday cake, you could walk into any doctor’s office, hospital or lab and flash a card and be treated. That’s just not the case.
Yes, Medicare Part A is free. That covers your hospital stay, but not necessarily everything that occurs during your stay. The other parts of Medicare you must pay for ― including a policy for Part D, which is medications.
FWIW, Medicare is a confusing son of a gun. Go ahead and try to figure out the two-midnight rule, just for starters. And know this: Medicare doesn’t begin to have you fully covered and you are one illness away from going broke if you don’t pay attention.
3. Life just gets harder and harder.
A Pew poll asked respondents about a series of negative benchmarks often associated with aging: illness, memory loss, an inability to drive, an end to sexual activity, a struggle with loneliness and depression, and difficulty paying bills. In every instance, older adults reported experiencing them at lower levels (often far lower) than younger adults reported expecting to encounter them when they grow old.
So yeah, aging isn’t as hard as it may seem.
The Pew findings also confirmed the old saw that you’re never too old to feel young. In fact, it shows that the older people get, the younger they feel–relatively speaking. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, about half say they feel their age, while about quarter say they feel older than their age and another quarter say they feel younger. By contrast, among adults 65 and older, fully 60 percent say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32 percent who say they feel exactly their age and just 3 percent who say they feel older than their age.
4. You will have nothing to do all day.
Sure, throw me into that briar patch ― if only it were true! From Pew: “Among all adults ages 65 and older, nine-in-10 talk with family or friends every day. About eight-in-10 read a book, newspaper or magazine. Three-quarters watch more than a hour of television; about the same share prays daily. Nearly two-thirds drive a car. Less than half spend time on a hobby. About four-in-10 take a nap; about the same share goes shopping. Roughly one-in-four use the internet, get vigorous exercise or have trouble sleeping. Just 4 percent get into an argument with someone.”
As adults move deeper into their 70s and 80s, daily activity levels diminish on most fronts. On the other hand, daily prayer increases with age.
5. Old people just become a burden to their children.
Pundits and philosophers have observed that parents and children often reverse roles as parents grow older. Not so, says the Pew Research survey. Just 12 percent of parents ages 65 and older say they generally rely on their children more than their children rely on them. An additional 14 percent say their children rely more on them. The majority ― 58 percent ― says nobody relies on nobody. Responses to this question from children of older parents are broadly similar.