Geriatricians debunk 14 aging myths

  • Two geriatricians debunk 14 of the most common myths about aging.
  • They explain the science behind smiling and what really causes wrinkles.
  • They also debunk the idea that eating fewer calories will extend your life. In fact, it's more about the types of calories than the quantity.
  • And they mention how losing your sex drive isn't a consequence of aging and what you should do if that happens.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Dr. Alicia Arbaje: It is inevitable that you will get dementia. No, no and no.

Dr. Ebi Ofrey: Never smiling staves off wrinkles. Wrinkles are not as a result of smiling.

Arbaje: Even if it is, do we really want to stop smiling? You don't need as much sleep when you get older. You always need sleep. Hi, my name is Dr. Alicia Arbaje.

Ofrey: And my name is Dr. Ebi Ofrey.


Arbaje: Today we're going to be debunking myths about aging. It's harder to learn new things as you get older. It may be a little slower on some things, especially if we're not familiar with them, but as we get older, we become more able to understand things that are more abstract as opposed to concrete. So I think this bodes well for older adults.

Ofrey: As Dr. Arbaje said, I think it's just different. Older adults are more likely to learn things faster that don't have to do with technology, but once technology comes into play, it takes them a bit longer. How you age is predetermined by your genes.

Arbaje: This is one of my favorite ones to talk about. I think that genes are way less important than we think. And lifestyle is way more important than we think. And we have the ability to turn genes on and off, how we eat, sleep, live, love and exercise makes the biggest difference of all.

Ofrey: So your habits from youth play a key role in how your aging process goes.

Arbaje: It is inevitable that you will get dementia. No, no and no. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. And it is important to understand that if you're having memory problems, or problems planning, or being oriented or getting around, that is a sign that something needs to be checked out.


Ofrey: Only a small percentage older adults actually have dementia. So if you have problems with remembering things, you need to understand that it could also be due to an underlying problem that can be solved. You shouldn't exercise when you are older because you are prone to injuries. If you have underlying conditions you're of, it's important you pay attention to the exercises you do because your underlying condition may affect your risk of injury. But old age alone is not a risk for injury.

Arbaje: I wholeheartedly agree, and would add that there are different kinds of exercises no matter what situation you are in. You could be bedbound, or in a chair, or in a wheelchair, and still be able to do different kinds of exercises. You don't need as much sleep when you get older. You always need sleep. And the amount of sleep you need over time is probably going to be pretty consistent. And the way to know if you're getting enough or not, is to understand how well you're doing the next morning. Are you able to function the next day and do the things that you have to do?

Ofrey: As we go into retirement, most of the time we have more time available to us during the day. And many times we take more naps than we should. As that, we should be able to adjust our daily habits to ensure we don't spend most of the day sleeping and then not be able to sleep at night. You'll gain weight because your metabolism slows down. I feel there's a chance of weight gain, not because your metabolism slows down, but because you are more inactive at the time. We need to still remain active the older we get.

Arbaje: Your metabolism should also stay pretty consistent throughout our lives. So, I really think that this can empower people to not feel like old age is going to be about a lot of decline. The next myth is that people lose their sex drives as they age. So this one's kind of interesting. If people are losing their sex drive, per se, it could be because of an underlying chronic situation, chronic condition, it could be related to medications. People's relationships change over time, and what becomes important to them may change or evolve over time. It doesn't necessarily mean that they wouldn't have a sex drive.

Ofrey: I totally agree with Dr. Arbaje in the sense that, people may have different interests and different ways of showing affection the older they get. And again, there may be underlying conditions that may make sexual intercourse not as comfortable as it used to be. Getting old makes you grouchy.


Arbaje: We see how older people are depicted in cartoons and in movies. And often this is the stereotype.

Dana Carvey: I don't like this desk, and I don't like this chair, and I don't like holidays. Flibbity flobbity floobity flibbity.

Ofrey: We realize that a majority of our patients are not grouchy, but they seem to be a bit sad because of the nesting syndrome, being alone in the house, and things like that. But grouchiness is not a feature of old age.

Arbaje: That is so well said. Grouchiness is not a feature of old age. I do think that depression is a lot higher in older adults, or it can be. And that can be because of underlying chronic conditions, life circumstance, and those are things that depression can manifest as irritability in older people and that may be mistaken for grouchiness. You will lose your eyesight. Losing eyesight is usually related to a problem in other organs as well. So, it's a sign of an underlying condition. Poor circulation, or diabetes, or high blood pressure or strokes. Now, what we do know is that the acuity of your vision can change over time. So the sharpness of your vision, but that is not the same as losing your eyesight.

Ofrey: You may have certain visual impairments but not loss of eyesight. And all these impairments have corrective measures that can be applied to ensure your sight returns, if not to normal, to almost normal. Your teeth fall out as you get older. Again, there's a popular saying over here meaning you don't prepare for war in time of war. Meaning you prepare for old age before you get old. Most of the time people take care of their bodies but seem to neglect oral health. And that's why it seems that most times people lose their teeth.


Arbaje: Your teeth are so important because all those bacteria travel to other parts of our body. So it's really important to keep, as I said earlier, all our organs in good shape and that will help our teeth stay in good shape as well. Aging means more medications. So this one is unfortunately partially true, but it doesn't have to be. It does seem that the older people get and the more healthcare they receive, the more medications they might end up on. The thing here is, how you eat, how you sleep, how you exercise, how you love, how you pray, all of these things matter, even if you are on medications, that there is still a chance you can come off of medications with lifestyle changes. So anyone who's on a medication, I just encourage them to see their healthcare provider, geriatrician ideally, and ask several times a year, "Do I still need this medication? And if I do, do I still need it at the same dose? And if I still need it, what else can I do in my life so that I can eventually come off of this medication if possible?"

Ofrey: Interestingly, I was thinking the same thing Dr. Arbaje was thinking. And so, it's important to note that if you have a healthy lifestyle, you are less likely to require most of the medication many elderly people take at the moment because you have prevented the conditions that require them. Never smiling staves off wrinkles. Wrinkles are not as a result of smiling.

Arbaje: Even if it is, do we really want to stop smiling? Because smiling has so many other benefits. Wrinkles are about loss of collagen, loss of hydration, and not so much how you're using your face. So please, don't stop smiling. And please, instead, hydrate if you're worried about wrinkles, make sure you're eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Really skin is an inside job. Eating fewer calories will extend your life. What we know is, the kind of calories you eat are more important than how many. So our bodies run on glucose. And the more pure sources of glucose you can consume, the better.

Arbaje: Fruit has the most viable available source of glucose available to our bodies. And when I say eat way more fruits and vegetables, I mean, way more. Four apples, three mangoes, six potatoes, not this tiny side salad stuff that we think about. Make that the majority of your meal. It is hard to get fresh produce all year round depending on where you are, and it can be more expensive for some people. I am not saying that it's important to eat organic, although if you can, that's even better, but I don't want people to shun getting access to whatever kinds of fruit and vegetables they have.

Ofrey: Preparation is the key to success. So, your lifestyle, what you do, your habits, your form, before you get older go a long way to ensuring you have a healthier and longer life.


Arbaje: Adjust your attitude about aging. We have this idea that aging is about decline and being dependent on other people. Aging is a beautiful part of life. It's a time when we become more wise, when we become able to give back to others, and we, as geriatricians, are here to support you.