AGEISM—FACTS AND MYTHS OF AGING

When nursing students enter educational programs they are often asked with which populations they would like to work. Most students answer that they wish to work with children and babies. Some students respond that they would like to work in maternity. Very few (if any) students reply that they came to nursing school to work with older adults. In fact, the society that currently exists in the United States is extremely youth-oriented. This means that older adults are not always considered and respected for their unique needs and contributions to society. Beliefs about older adulthood in the United States are perpetuated by myths of aging. The following section reports on the top 10 myths of aging and discusses why they are untrue of today’s population of older adults.
Myths
Myth #1: Older adults are of little benefi t to society. Older adults are often viewed as sick people in hospital units and nursing homes. As they lie in beds and consume medications and resources, it is hard to imagine what benefi t they are to society, and thus they are often considered to be a burden. However, the rate of disability among older adults is continuing to decline steadily. Moreover, it is important to remember that the same older adults for whom nurses care are mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and friends. To those with whom they are in relationships, they are of great benefi t, as they provide and receive love, care, and support. These same older adults function in professional roles as teachers, administrators, physicians, nurses, and clergy. Consequently, they are of great benefi t to those they serve in these roles. Instead of viewing older adults as a burden, take the time to speak with them about their lives. Ask older adults about their favorite memories or regrets. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. When given the opportunity, it is likely that nurses as well as the rest of society will learn a lot from older adults.
Myth #2: Older adults are a drain on society’s resources. As many older adults retire in their late years and collect Social Security payments and Medicare, it is assumed that they are overutilizing their resources. In fact, increasing Social Security payments over decades of life and Medicare reimbursement for rising health care costs are a signifi cant problem for U.S. citizens. However, older adults who received Social Security and Medicare paid into the system from which they are now drawing. Moreover, while many older adults retire, many others do not. In 2002, 13.2% of older Americans were working, or actively seeking work. A Gallup poll of 986 older adults reported that, of the total sampled, only 15% of older adults wished to retire; the vast majority wanted to work as long as possible. Mandatory retirement ages and work discrimination have often forced reluctant older adults into retirement. In addition, many older adults who are retired spend a great deal of time in unpaid volunteer work, which saves employer’s costs. Moreover, many retired older adults have taken on the role of custodial grandparents, relieving the states from having to pay for the full cost of foster care from a nonrelative. The 1990 Census reported that grandparents raising grandchildren had risen 44% over the previous decades. While it is true that the rising lifespan of U.S. citizens is resulting in a greater amount of expenditures on the behalf of older adults, this is not always a result of their choosing, and a great majority of the retired older adults are signifi cantly contributing to society in ways other than traditional employment (Gerontological Nursing, Meredith Wallace PhD, APRN-BC).

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