image for seniors day
image for seniors day

Think you know the facts about aging? Think again. Canadians are living longer now than ever before, but there are still widespread assumptions about growing older that are inherently untrue. We’re inundated with products that hold a promise to reduce or reverse the aging process. But why are we so afraid of growing older? Aging is inevitable and universal, so it’s time we all get on board and learn the facts.

In celebration of National Seniors Day on Tuesday, October 1st, Dr. Paula Rochon, vice-president of research at Women’s College Hospital and the Retired Teachers of Ontario chair in geriatric medicine, is unmasking three common aging myths.

Myth #1: For chronic conditions, more medication is always the best course of treatment

More than a quarter of older adults in Canada take 10 or more medications. Frequently, side effects from one drug are misinterpreted as a new medical condition, and the patient is prescribed another new and potentially unnecessary drug. Known as a prescribing cascade, it’s more common than you would think, particularly for women who tend to live longer than men.

While medication is required to treat certain chronic conditions, more isn’t always better. You should make a habit of considering new signs and symptoms as a possible consequence of a current drug treatment. It’s your health so it’s important to be engaged. If you are prescribed a new drug, you should always ask why it’s needed and if a safer alternative or lower dose is available.

Drug therapy is important but it’s not the universal cure for all conditions. Social prescribing can be an equally effective treatment. A medical professional can offer an individual the resources needed to integrate into their local community, allowing them to engage, participate and give back. Building a social network can enhance your quality of life and help prevent the need for multiple medications.

Myth #2: Retiring to a remote location is ideal

We’ve all pictured what a perfect retirement looks like – moving to a secluded location that’s miles away from the chaos and commotion of a big city. While this may seem idyllic, living remotely can have serious implications for your health.

One of the key factors associated with longevity is staying socially connected, involved and engaged. Did you know that loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even more dangerous than obesity? We’re born to build connections – with family, with friends and with our communities – and retiring to a remote location can jeopardize these relationships. Staying connected and engaged can protect against social isolation and loneliness, both of which have been linked to a sharp decline in health and the use of more health care services.

Myth #3: There is nothing you can do to prevent dementia

Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging – there is a lot more you can do than just hope for the best. Evidence points to nine risk factors that can lead to this neurological condition, including lower levels of early life education, midlife hypertension, obesity, hearing loss, smoking later in life (over the age of 65), depression, physical inactivity, diabetes and social isolation.

Knowledge is the catalyst to change. Understanding these risk factors and taking proactive measures to avoid them can help prevent the onset of dementia.  Where possible, prioritizing education, physical activity, a well-balanced diet and social connections are all simple but effective strategies you can implement to reduce risk. Doing everything right can’t guarantee prevention, but these steps can contribute to your overall health and increase your immunity to better protect against chronic conditions like dementia.