I started a new master’s program in Performance Psychology recently, and the first course was on adult development and aging. In the class there were a few sections about the stereotypes of older adults such as “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” and everything related to retirement.
I was very interested since I have 4 grandparents over 70, and I also want to support my parents as best possible as they get older.
Here’s what I learned:
- The research on traditional retirement (work really hard until you’re 65 then just relax and do some traveling) as related to physical and mental health is pretty shitty. Life expectancy goes way down, disease and physical complications go up, depression goes way up, etc.
- A large reason that older adults become so dependent on others is due to societal beliefs. Caretakers (professionals and family members) praise them when they do what they are told and reprimand them when they try to do things on their own.
- The research shows that, at the age of retirement, older adults are especially interested in doing work that serves others.
- While they may take longer to make decisions, all the research shows that older adults are just as accurate as younger people in cognitive tasks.
In general, I learned that we need a serious overhaul in the way we think about, communicate with, and support older adults.
They want to grow and learn and be challenged just like everyone else. They want to create value for others and do something meaningful just like everyone else. They are as capable and eager to create value in people’s lives.
My biggest takeaways:
- We need to push our parents and other older adults to continue trying new things, or to continue learning and growing in what they are already doing. After retirement, this doesn’t mean they need to continue having a full-time job or new career, but they should be involved in some form of worthwhile project or discipline at all times.
- The “I’m too old to learn this piece of technology” excuse is complete bullshit. My grandma thought she’d never learn how to use the iPhone. If we would have agreed with her, she would never be able to Facetime with us or see pictures of us. We patiently showed her how to use it again and again until she could use those basic functions.
Push your parents and other loved ones to try and learn new things. Don’t accept bullshit excuses about being too old. They’ll thank you for it later.