Do Older People Lose Interest in Sex? Ten Myths of Aging — Debunked

1. Older people lose interest in sex

Many surveys prove this to be false. In one study, 74% of women and 72% of men aged between 75 and 85 said that satisfactory sex is essential to maintaining a relationship. When there is a partner available it’s safe to assume that people are having sex. When we desexualise older couples by calling them cute, this might be disrespectful and can result in harm, such as neglecting to educate older people about sexually transmitted diseases and failing to make privacy possible in nursing homes.

2. If older widows date, it’s to find a new husband

Some widows would like to settle down with a new spouse, but many just want to get dressed up for an evening out, feel attractive to men, and even share intimacy. But wanting to take care of a new spouse in sickness and in health? Many have been there, done that, and do not want to sign up for it again. They prefer to enjoy their new-found freedom and be in charge of their own funds. They have no wish to become a “nurse and purse” to a new spouse.

3. Older people are stingy

This negative stereotype misses the distinction between stingy and frugal. One of the difficulties older adults face after retirement is deciding how to expend their resources wisely, given the uncertainty about the amount of time those resources must last. Many people fear becoming financially dependent on the younger generation. Financial help often flows from the older to the younger generation (such as help with adult children’s and grandchildren’s expenses) until very late old age – hardly a sign of stinginess.

4. Older people are extra cautious when they have to make decisions

In decision areas as diverse as automobile purchase and cancer treatment, research has shown that older adults are more likely than younger adults to select an option without reviewing information on all the alternatives. They just spend more time thinking about each option they do consider.

Lovers kissing

5. Older people get into more car accidents than younger people

Here is an area of cautious behaviour unrelated to decision-making. Older adults are cautious about where and when they drive; they wear seatbelts; they don’t text while driving; and they don’t drink and drive. They are safer than the youngest drivers.

6. Older people worry too much about falling

In reality, they may not worry enough. Each year, one out of three adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall. Up to 30% of older adults who do fall suffer moderate to severe life-changing injuries (hip fractures or head trauma, for example). Yet, a significant number think falling is someone else’s problem and do not recognise the precautions they should take in the home, which is where many falls occur.

7. It is best to speak to an older person as you would to a small child

Some degree of hearing loss is widespread among older adults, but this does not mean you should shout or speak at an unnaturally slow rate when trying to communicate. The common type of age-related hearing loss calls for speaking in sentences that are less grammatically complex, facing the listener, and stating important messages in more than one way. Elderspeak, with its high pitch, exaggerated slowness, unnaturally short sentences, and use of endearments by relative strangers reminds us all of baby talk – another way to show disrespect.

8. As people grow older, they get forgetful and it’s a sign of dementia

There can be increased forgetting as people grow older – for example, forgetting names or being absentminded. However, this type of forgetting is not always a harbinger of dementia. Despite the rise in incidence of dementia with increasing age, the majority of older adults living in the community do not suffer from dementia.

9. Growing old is depressing; older people are more depressed than younger people

The rate of depression in community-living older adults is no higher and may even be lower than it is in younger adults. So growing older is not usually depressing. It is true that older adults who reside in assisted living facilities and nursing homes have a higher rate of depression. But the physical and cognitive difficulties they face may give them reason to be depressed.

10. Older people have the greatest fear of death of any age group

Research has shown that it is middle-aged people who express the greatest fear of death. In general, older people are more concerned with the circumstances of dying than with the inevitability of it. Most wish to control the place and the process of dying, and to die with dignity.

Joan T Erber and Lenore T Szuchman are authors of Great Myths of Aging