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10 Unexpected Scientific Reasons Why Old People Are Awesome

by Marc V.
fact checked by Jamie Frater

You may think that the elderly are inferior in every way and do nothing but drag society down. Well, get ready to throw all preconceptions out the window as research shows us just how awesome they really are.

10They Handle Stress Better Than Young People

Contrary to our view of elderly people as cranky old coots, findings say they actually exhibit a more optimistic outlook on life than their younger peers. Not only that, they can deal with stressful life events far better, readily accepting the outcome with less anger or anxiety.

Researcher Mary Shallcross explains these findings by noting that people acquire a wealth of experience in dealing with life’s unpleasantness over time. Thus, the older a person becomes, the more readily they accept the outcome of unpleasant events such as the deaths of loved ones.

However, this ability reaches its end with truly advanced age. In the final years of life, emotional health deteriorates.

9Overweight Seniors Live Longer

The elderly, just like everyone else, should strive to be healthy. But according to an Ohio State University study, older adults (especially those in their fifties) are actually better off with a few extra pounds on their waistlines.

Assistant sociology professor Hui Zheng found that slightly heavier adults outlive their slimmer peers of the same age range. Older people are more susceptible to disease and its accompanying weight loss. The few extra pounds could help stave off a potentially life-threatening loss of weight. Not only that, the extra weight would serve as a sort of emergency food supply for old people too sick to eat.

However, Zheng warns that the benefits apply only to slightly overweight people who maintain their weight. Overweight people who continue to pack on the pounds as they grow even older risk dying a lot earlier.

8Nostalgia Is Therapeutic

Ever had that grandpa or grandma who keeps telling you stories about the “good ol’ days?” If so, we’d forgive you for a natural hatred of nostalgia. Defined as a melancholic reflection on past events, nostalgia acquired a bad rap originally. It was first viewed as a medical disease in the 17th century and then a psychiatric disorder in the 20th century. However, modern researchers have found that nostalgia is actually beneficial, especially for the elderly.

University of Southampton psychologist Constantine Sedikide, notes that modern researchers are just really beginning to find out the psychological benefits of nostalgia. For one, it can help to battle the effects of loneliness, increasing an individual’s self-esteem. It can also serve as a bridge from the past to the present, keeping people in touch with reality and giving meaning to their lives.

7Old People Helped Mankind Evolve

The elderly have been instrumental to mankind’s evolution. According to anthropologist Rachel Caspari and her colleague Sang-Hee Lee, human evolution took a huge leap forward more than 30,000 years ago, specifically during a certain time period that saw a four-fold increase in the number of people going into old age.

Although the exact cause still remains unclear, the anthropologists speculate that the population explosion occurred when people decided to keep the old folks around to tend to their children and homes while the parents were out hunting and gathering. As a result, the survival rate of the elderly increased substantially.

With more and more old people settling down together, ideas and experiences could be shared and exchanged, resulting in a significant spread of information that would be felt by future generations. As Lee puts it, old people became the figurative computer hard drives for early mankind.

6They Still Get Plenty Of Sex

The idea that old people live a sex-free life couldn’t be any further from the truth. According to a 2013 study done in the US, the elderly enjoy far more sexy time than any of us would have ever imagined. For example, more than 50 percent of interviewees belonging to the 57–75 age bracket reported giving or receiving oral sex, while one-third of those in the 75–85 range reported indulging in the act.

As significant as the study was for breaking stereotypes, it also opened a can of worms: elderly STDs. According to the CDC, the number of geriatrics acquiring STDs has risen since 2007, mainly because of lack of education in using safety measures. Public health expert Emmanuel Ezekiel encourages health professionals to assist the elderly with sex education since sex comes naturally for people living in close proximity (in retirement homes, for example).

5Their Driving Has Improved Greatly

Good news to all users of the road: A 2012 study by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that accidents and crashes involving older drivers have significantly decreased in the last decade. Those who do get in accidents are now far more likely to survive with fewer injuries.

Since 1997, older driver fatalities have dropped by 42 percent, supported with a similar decrease in non-fatal incidents. For the Institute, this was a surprising find, since they expected that the ever-increasing elderly population would create more accidents on the road.

This positive trend could be attributed to modern cars being generally safer than previous models. Another critical factor is the improving physical and mental health of the elderly, which have helped to curb the number of accidents.

4They Could Be The Key To World Peace

The Roman Empire had a long period of peace called the Pax Romana, and some say that we’ll soon have our own version, thanks to our elderly.

Mark Haas from Harvard’s International Security Program notes that a rapidly aging population will force the United States to spend more of its budget on pensions and healthcare for the elderly instead of on tanks and aircraft. The foreseeable future will still see the US as the dominant economic and military power because rival countries including Russia and China will be hit even harder by the aging trend.

Supporters of the US’s current foreign policy say that the forced “Pax Geriatrica” will have its downsides. The US will be less able to police the world and intervene in localized conflicts. Decreased military and security spending could also leave the US more vulnerable to renegade terrorist attacks.

3Our Genes Command Us To Respect Them

We don’t just respect our elders out of good manners and maturity. We may be programmed to.

In 2010, France’s University of Rennes closely observed communication habits among a group of Campbell’s monkeys. The team noted that that older monkeys who called out tended to be answered more often, even though they communicated far less often than the younger ones. This indicated that the older monkeys—because of their greater experience in survival and higher rank in the social hierarchy—were far more influential in the group, leading younger monkeys to pay more attention to them.

Some may interpret the findings as a sociological phenomenon rather than a biological one, and some may think the results only extend to the study subjects. But the researchers conclude that respect for elders is as an evolutionary trait, which may be found generally in all primates, including humans.

2Their Brains Work Slower (Only Because They’re Full Of Wisdom)

While we young whippersnappers crack jokes at how excruciatingly slowly old people think and speak, they only do that because their brains have stored so much information. Combined with the fact that their brains need less dopamine than before, old people are also more thoughtful and far less likely to act on impulse than their younger peers. The elderly can still process new information, albeit at a slower pace for the same reason that they speak slowly.

These unique characteristics of an aging brain make up what researchers believe to be the biological root of wisdom. As University of Dallas Center for Vital Longevity’s Denise Park summarizes, “There’s a reason why we don’t have 20-year-olds running the world.”

1Older Workers Outperform Younger Peers

To learn how often cognitive performance fluctuates among workers, Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development divided participants into two groups based on their age range (20–31 and 65–80). All participants performed a series of cognitive tasks repeatedly for 100 days.

The older group’s cognitive performance varied much less than those in the younger group. In other words, they did their work more consistently. The researchers attributed the old workers’ steady performance to their being more emotionally stable as well as being more experienced to handle the various tasks.

Marc V. is always open for a conversation, so do drop him a line sometime.

fact checked by Jamie Frater