Expectations of Decline

Everyone knows that as we get older decline of both our bodies and our minds is inevitable. Life also becomes less satisfying and enjoyable. It is also well known that there will be cognitive decline associated with ageing and inevitably we become less productive at work.

Think again because everyone is wrong! Studies over recent years have challenged many of the myths surrounding ageing as follows.


Depression is more prevalent in old age

The assumption is there is an inevitable decline of general health as we age. This means it will therefore be difficult to maintain a positive outlook on life. However, research indicates that emotional well-being continues to improve until our 70s when it begins to level off.

Contrary to the belief that youth represents the best time of our lives, the peak of emotional life may very well occur when we are in our 70s. As we get older we tend to focus more on the positive than the negative.

Cognitive decline is inevitable

Our older brains behave a bit like an older computer, which means that it takes longer to process and retrieve information from the huge bank of memories we have built up over the years. The fact that knowledge and experience increased with age, older adults therefore do better when tested in the real world than when tested in laboratories.

Study after study proves again and again that learning new skills improves our memories. I have touched on this subject in previous posts, but given its importance and significance I will remind you about it periodically.

Older workers are less productive

Thanks to the stereotype that suggests older workers are less adaptable than younger workers, they are also perceived as less productive. Once again studies have shown there are almost no relationship between age and performance in the workplace. On the contrary, jobs that require experience means older adults have the edge.

Loneliness is more likely

In previous posts I have shared research findings of the importance to well-being and our social connections with others. Studies also suggest that older adults have closer ties with members of their social networks than those of younger adults. It would appear that on average older adults are less lonely than young people.

Creativity declines with age

The assumption has always been that creativity is the province of the young. However, studies have proved that it is during midlife when artists and scholars are at their most prolific. This is particularly true in fields that require accumulated knowledge.


Conceptual artists tend to produce their best work in their 20s and 30s whereas experimental artists reach their full potential later on in life. Like good wine the latter improves with age and experience.

More exercise is better

It goes without saying that exercise is key to improving health and longevity. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that more is not necessarily better. There is a point of diminishing returns.

It would appear that long-term strenuous endurance exercise may cause “overuse injury” to the heart. The message is once again that a regular, but moderate cardiovascular workout such as a good brisk walk is much better than vigorous daily exercise.

Of course, there are certain things we can’t control or influence as part of the ageing process. However, we have absolute control over creating self-fulfilling prophecies of what our life might look like in later years.

Our self-perceptions about ageing influence our thoughts and behaviours without us consciously being aware of this. If of a negative nature, it will ultimately lead to a collusion with the myths set out above.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

Henry Ford

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