There are stereotypes about all kinds of groups: racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, sexual orientation stereotypes, and more. But when it comes to aging, those stereotypes can affect all of us. Stereotypes in general are largely negative and not based on fact. This leads to misconceptions. In the case of aging stereotypes, they can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. That’s why they are so problematic.
Aging stereotypes abound in movies and television programs. There is the grouchy old man, the forgetful woman, and the elder with a disease or disability. Older adults are portrayed as asexual, hard of hearing, or frail. They are shown to be rigid, confused, or feeble-minded. But however much these things are accepted as truth, they are a myth for the majority of older people.
We each age at our own rate and one person’s experience of aging is different from the next. Instead of becoming more similar, people grow more different from each other as they age. That makes sweeping generalizations about older adults even less accurate.
Take the stereotype about older drivers: they cause more accidents. Yes, there are individuals who find driving more of a challenge due to losses in hearing, vision, or muscle strength. And arthritis can make manipulating the controls more difficult.
But it’s a myth that older drivers cause more accidents. Fact is, older drivers have more experience and make better decisions behind the wheel. They are, for example, less likely to be texting and driving. AAA reports that older drivers are safer drivers because they more often follow road safety procedures, such as observing speed limits, using seat belts, and not drinking and driving.
There are people still driving safely in their 80s, and even into their 90s. Since we each age differently, there is not a magic number at which we should give up the keys. As long as you are able to drive safely, drive on!