Common Myths of Aging
With Alan Castel, Ph.D.
How do you define and achieve successful aging? Psychologist Alan Castel, Ph.D., discusses some of the common myths of aging and steps that can help people of all ages prepare for and enjoy older age.
Voice Over: [00:00:08] Thanks to medical advances and healthier choices, Americans are living longer, more active lives well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. Welcome to "Plan for 100," a new podcast from AIG. This podcast series is devoted to educating and empowering Americans to prepare for longer lives and retirements that could last four decades or more. Our podcast aims to help you "plan for 100," no matter what age you are today.
Glen Harris: [00:00:38] Hello, I'm Glenn Harris, executive vice president of institutional plan management for AIG retirement services. I'll be your host today for AIG's new podcast, "Plan for 100." I am excited to be joined today by Alan Castel, Ph.D. Dr. Castel is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California Los Angeles. He studies Learning, Memory and Aging with a special focus on how cognition changes with age. His work has been supported by the National Institute on Aging and has been featured in The New York Times and Time magazine. His new book is entitled "Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging." Alan, Welcome to "Plan for 100."
Alan Castel: [00:01:20] Thank you, Glenn. It's great to be here.
Glen Harris: [00:01:23] Alan, your book is called "The Psychology of Successful Aging." With people living longer than ever from all walks of life, how do you define successful aging?
Alan Castel: [00:01:30] Well, successful aging can be a number of things, and I think sometimes we know it when we see it. But there is a lot of variability in how people achieve healthy aging. Really, we want to be free of disease, both physically and mentally, have some degree of independence, and also feel connected to the people who are important to us. So I think it's probably better to focus more on meaningful aging, not just having successful aging, but adding meaning to our later years.
Glen Harris: [00:02:00] Makes sense. What are some common myths of aging?
Alan Castel: [00:02:04] Well, many people have negative stereotypes about aging, and some people think old age is dreary or full of depressive thoughts. But if you're healthy and active, then it's often not the case at all. Many older adults who I've interviewed report high levels of life satisfaction, feel busy, stay active, they have high self-esteem, very good emotional regulation, and have a more balanced perspective later in life. I think people after the age of 50 are often very curious to learn, or focus on things that are interesting. So while some habits may be more pronounced and predictability is important -- we might like going to the same restaurants -- often we are interested in learning new things or traveling, so lifelong learning is really a part of successful aging and we never stop learning just because we aren't in school.
Glen Harris: [00:02:53] Well, obviously Alzheimer's disease is something that immediately comes to mind when you talk about maintaining cognitive health. Is Alzheimer's on the decline?
Alan Castel: [00:03:00] Well, the number of people who have dementia and Alzheimer's disease is projected to rise. But this is perhaps simply because people are living longer. However, some studies suggest there's actually a decline in the proportion of people who are getting the disease, compared to a few decades earlier. And this decline could be for a number of reasons, but it could be because people now have higher levels of education, and do things in their lives that can help prevent or delay the disease, such as walking, eating better, being socially connected. So there really is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but what we do earlier in our lives, and the habits we develop, can help protect us from dementia in older age.
Glen Harris: [00:03:39] Millennials have now overtaken baby boomers as America's largest generation. What are some specific attitudes that this younger generation has about aging?
Alan Castel: [00:03:47] Younger people might not be aware of the costs and benefits of aging. Often people have negative attitudes about aging, and that isn't always accurate. Millennials may not be thinking of what it means to age well, and developing positive attitudes about aging can be really important early in life. Our own attitudes about aging do influence how we age. So if you think positively about what can happen to you as you get older, then you might be more active, healthier, and prepared to live longer. And that's one message in my new book, "Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging." I hope reading about inspiring older people and the new science about successful aging can help people at any age prepare for and enjoy older age.
Glen Harris: [00:04:30] So what are some of those things that people can start doing at any age to keep sharp as they get older, and how can employers help employees develop these healthy habits?
Alan Castel: [00:04:39] I think successful aging starts early in life. We're surrounded by older people and we need to look for mentors. Millennials don't often think about what it means to get older, but the truth is we'll be taking care of parents or grandparents, and we need to start thinking about what we'll be like when we're older. We need mentors and have some ideas about what we'd like to do when we're 50, 60, 70, when we retire. I think being healthy can be important, because it can help us avoid financial stress tied to health care costs, so health can lead to financial independence down the road. So it's really never too early to start thinking about the future. I think staying active is really important both physically and mentally. Trying new things, having some variety, and walking, seems to be the key. A lot of research shows that walking three or four times a week can enhance memory, and even lead to changes in the brain, parts of the brain, like the hippocampus, that tend to decline after the age of 50. It's also important to do balance training and even just try standing on one leg for a few seconds, to check in to see if you have good balance, because falls are often what hospitalize people after the age of 50. And employers can help people focus on wellness programs, perhaps by setting goals for walking, taking breaks, and even socializing, as this can really have huge benefits in terms of opening new doors, even new ideas, and cultivating important friendships.
Glen Harris: [00:06:04] Retirement and other financial planning later in life require Americans to make life changing decisions in years of potential mental decline. How can financial advisors, and even policymakers, help individuals making significant financial decisions later in life be more successful?
Alan Castel: [00:06:19] Well, I think it's important that you make sure you think things through before you make important decisions, and consult the people you trust. Because elder abuse is an issue, and people are ready to take advantage of others who are financially sound. So it's important not to be rushed into things. Also, set goals that are realistic and specific, so you might not say, when I retire I just want to travel more, but give specific trips or dates when you'd like to take these trips, and not just think about saving or spending, but have an idea of how much you want to save or spend and your plans might change over the years. So you want to think about what specific goals, both financially and emotionally, are important so that you can enjoy older age.
Glen Harris: [00:07:02] Well, Alan, thank you so much for being our guest on the "Plan for 100" podcast. We appreciate your time today, and hope you'll join us again.
Alan Castel: [00:07:08] It was my pleasure. Thank you.
Voice Over: [00:07:10] Thank you for joining us for AIG's "Plan for 100" podcast. For more information please visit our Web site, planfor100.com.