COVID ALERT: We are open and taking safety protocols to keep staff and patients safe. Click here for more information.

FOGO – The Fear of Getting Old

Katie Cox, AuD

Most of us are familiar with FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, which propels us to say ‘yes’ to plans so we don’t miss any fun or memorable moments. While it may sound similar, FOGO – the Fear of Getting Old – is a concept that might resonate even more intensely with many of us.

Perceptions and Fears Around Aging

A 2014 Pfizer study revealed 87% of the surveyed adults harbored at least one fear related to aging. A separate study, which analyzed 4.2 million tweets about aging, found 62% of these carried a negative aspect. Clearly, fears around aging are pervasive in our society and are reflected in commercials promoting products like health insurance, specific medications, cosmetic anti-aging creams, and hair loss supplements.

Experiences with aging loved ones may fuel FOGO. The decline in someone’s physical and/or mental health can leave strong impressions on close family members, making them apprehensive about their own aging process.

Persons fearing aging may grapple with the idea of physical decline – diminishing abilities to enjoy certain activities or their declining health. As we age, our bodies’ various elements such as our muscles, joints, and bones deteriorate.

This degeneration may also impact our vision, teeth, and hearing. The incidence of chronic illnesses is higher in older age groups. Mental faculties, including memory and processing speed, are also valid areas of concern when speaking about aging. In the above-mentioned Pfizer study, it is notable that only 10% expressed a fear of death itself. More feared the decline leading up to it.

Changing the Narrative on Aging

However, there’s a brighter side to the process of aging. Surveys have shown that after reaching the milestone of fifty years, happiness often increases. Louise Aronson, a Geriatrician and author of “Elderhood”, reports that most older adults rate their overall health as good or excellent and have found ways to enjoy activities they love. Reports also show that older adults often find themselves happier overall, experiencing feelings of gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness.

Freda Lewis-Hall, M.D., former Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer, recommends, “Turn fears into healthy actions.” Regardless of age, adopt healthier lifestyles to fend off unwanted physical declines. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and enough sleep contribute to this ethos.

Acknowledging Hearing Loss

One of the significant changes with aging affects our hearing. It can be challenging to accept, but hearing loss is quite common. According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of people aged 70 years and above experience some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss is about more than not hearing effectively. It’s linked to increased dementia risk, anxiety, depression, and even a higher chance of falls – all of which can diminish life quality.

People may notice signs of hearing loss like increased television volume, frequent use of a speakerphone, or requiring frequent repetitions in conversations. Simple social experiences like enjoying a meal at a restaurant or large gatherings may become challenging. Some might stop attending social events like church services or family dinners simply because they struggle to communicate effectively due to their deteriorating hearing.

This struggle can sometimes lead to isolation and feelings of loneliness.

In the workplace, hearing loss can be a considerable concern. People with untreated hearing loss are twice as likely to be underemployed or unemployed compared to persons with normal hearing. Further, those with hearing loss spend 46% more on healthcare services each decade as per a report titled ‘The Socioeconomic Impact of Hearing Loss in US Adults‘.

Turn Hearing Loss Around

Hearing loss might often be misrepresented as confusion or memory loss. However, treated hearing loss can improve conditions, including cognitive status, as per the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The primary treatment for most hearing loss cases is the use of hearing aids.

Hearing aids can alleviate FOGO, as treating hearing loss has numerous positive life impacts. Although hearing aids may carry a stigma of being for “old people,” those who decide to address their hearing loss can enjoy a multitude of benefits. Hearing aids combat the aging process, keeping the brain active for hearing.

Better hearing capacity can help alleviate anxiety and depression, aid in memory and cognition, and improve sound quality. In addition, modern hearing aids feature advanced technologies like Bluetooth streaming and rechargeable functions. Most significantly, wearing aids can enhance social experiences and interactions with loved ones.

In conclusion, let’s remember a poignant quote from broadcaster Andy Rooney: “I didn’t get old on purpose. It just happened. If you’re lucky, it could happen to you”. Here’s to embracing aging and all its challenges. You are not alone on this journey.