no format!

The New Yorker magazine’s ageist take on ageism

I’m a lifelong New Yorker addict, so when I heard they were running a piece on ageism, I got excited. That was a mistake. Tad Friend’s article in the November 20th issue, “Why Ageism Never Gets Old, is glib and disappointing on many fronts. Here’s my Letter to the Editor, followed by letters from other dismayed colleagues:

Should we learn to live with racism? Quit pursuing equal rights for women? That’s the position Tad Friend takes regarding discrimination on the basis of age , which he describes as “hardwired,” “probably inevitable,” and remediable only via immortality. 

Older people are indeed closer to death, but even if that’s partly to blame for the stigma, why should we give it a pass? The reason hundreds of thousands of buff boomers can’t land a job interview isn’t because they have one foot in the grave, it’s because they face entrenched discrimination—and not just in tech. Ageism is no more embodied or “natural” than other forms of prejudice. They’re all socially constructed: they’re not about biology, they’re about power. Much about aging is difficult of course, but much of that difficulty is constructed or compounded by ageism. Just as social movements emerged to challenge other forms of oppression, an Age Pride movement is underway. Our world is growing old fast, and it’s high time.

* * *

from age scholar Margaret Gullette, author of Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People and other books

The New Yorker has been open to the #MeToo campaign in powerful ways. After a joint editorial, “Autumn of the Patriarch,” and another by David Remnick, Alexandra Schwartz told a brief history of the movement, concluding “Its power lies in its simplicity: the whole poisonous spectrum of misogyny covered in two mundane words.” Sexism is everywhere. Nobody wrote in #NotMe. And now the New Yorker is opening its readers’ minds to ageism. It’s good to see “Ageism” in the title of Tad Friend’s article, and recognition that this plague is a historical, cultural, economic phenomenon, gathering ominous strength in our era. And this overview follows Rachel Aviv’s brilliant narrative of the laws in Nevada that take power of attorney away from competent old people (“How the Elderly Lose Their Rights“).

#MeTooAgainstAgeism, by contrast, is a concept waiting for its inevitable campaign. I think of the silent women in 1991 bitterly watching Anita Hill not being believed.  In resisting ageism’s assaults, American society is still back in 1991, waiting for the humiliated, shamed silences to end, waiting for the vast spectrum of age-related grievances to speak. We are far from admitting that ageism is everywhere.

Deciding what counts as an ageist attack is a complex empirical, philosophical, and political first step. One fresh example, in front of our noses this week. Not everyone will be homeless in the streets if Congress cuts Medicaid’s support for people in nursing homes; some of them will go live with their adult children. But knowing that the Republicans’ enmity toward people in nursing homes is also a form of ageism, that’s a leap worth making. Americans would spend less time worrying about aging if we eliminated some of the worst ageists. Anti-ageism’s biggest promise right now? A good fight.

* * *

from Steve Burghardt & Alice Fisher, founding directors, the Radical Age Movement:

Tad Friend’s otherwise insightful essay on ageism (“Why Ageism Never Gets Old,” November 20. 2017) ends on an odd note, negating all that he has thoughtfully chronicled before.  “The only way to eliminate ageism is to eliminate the terror of death.” Huh? The “terror of death” is intensified by ageism, not the cause of it.

Most of us who are Radical Agers fear irrelevance far more than the mortal coil: laughed at for continued sexuality, stereotyped as doddering digitals, ignored because the hair is grey even though the mind is sharp.  “Old age”—from 60 onwards– promises to be the longest developmental period of our lives.  If folks of all ages don’t commit to age justice, we consign ourselves to the continuing shame wrought by simply wanting to live a full life alongside people of all ages— from children to Elders.

Anyone between 40 and 80 who’s embarrassed to say their age in front of “mixed company”—you know, someone younger than you—lives with fear far sooner than whatever death has to offer.  Instead of accepting this dance of marginality as we waltz towards the grave, perhaps we’d be better off fighting to live a full and exciting life no matter our age.

* * *

from Chip Conley, entrepreneur and author of the forthcoming Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder:

I appreciated Tad Friend’s deep dive into the fountain of ageism [“Getting On, November 20th], but found his pessimism misguided. The concept of the three-stage life (learn, earn, retire to your pasture), an ageist construct that consigns half the population to premature obsolescence, is rapidly losing its grip on society. As our obsession with digital intelligence cedes power to the young, the value of wisdom and emotional intelligence, embodied by a movement of “modern elders,” will grow. 

* * *

from social gerontologist Jeanette Leardi:

I take great exception to some of the points made by Tad Friend in his study of ageism (“Getting On,” November 20th). While the topic is broad and often difficult to analyze in a magazine article, it’s precisely the vastness of the issue that the author fails to consider as ageism’s chief impact on contemporary life. He chastises writers Ashton Applewhite and Margaret Morganroth Gullette as “tend[ing] to see ageism lurking everywhere.” The truth is, ageism is everywhere, often presented under the most innocuous circumstances and linguistic guises.

Recasting ageist language isn’t a futile, Botox-like “sort of cream concealer” that “deepens the frown lines it’s meant to conceal.” All Friend had to do was consider the impact of reframed language on the feminist and civil rights movements. Children brought up to hear more respectful, inclusive terms grow up to be more respectful and inclusive. It’s how education works. Furthermore, by reveling a contrarian’s view about the need (let alone the merits) of disrupting ageism, Friend reveals the myopia of his perception. He devotes no space to a discussion of the accrued assets of aging, especially concerning the development (and not just the deterioration) of the older brain. While speed of processing and working memory begin to decline with age, the older brain becomes more adept at bi-hemispheric problem-solving as well as more accurately discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information when performing a task.

Because of these omissions, he unconsciously justifies his argument that there’s really not much to defend concerning the dignity and value of old age. Ironically, by suggesting that fighting ageism is an exercise in futility, Friend strengthens the prejudice he seeks to uncover and dispel.

* * *

from Felicity Chapman, Clinical Social Worker and Gerontological Psychotherapist, University of Adelaide:

Stereotypes of older adults are indeed too stark. We need to see older adults like everyone else—delightfully nuanced and full of contradiction. And shame on the New Yorker for supposing that ageism will always stay fresh. Change happens all the time. And it starts with us. Now.

no format!

Kids vs. canes? Debunking this false dichotomy

The Washington Post is the latest media outlet to describe population aging as a zero-sum, “kids vs. canes” proposition in which the old profit at the expense of the young (“How the graying of America is stretching local tax dollars,” October 23, 2017). This scenario makes great headlines. But it’s a red herring, and it reduces the new longevity to a problem when it is also a fundamental measure of human progress.

 Framing population aging in old vs. young terms:

  • Is unethical: We don’t allocate resources by race or by sex. Weighing the needs of the old against the young is equally unacceptable. Period.
  • Fails the common sense test: Olders are not “them;” they are “us:” our parents and spouses, our neighbors and friends. If society doesn’t help support a decent old age, who’s going to end up taking care of your grandparents—and you in turn? Everyone is old or future old.
  • Is profoundly ageist: The depiction of older Americans as social and economic dead weight is mean-spirited and flat-out wrong. Increasing numbers continue to work and pay taxes well past “retirement age.” In 2015 their unpaid volunteer work was valued at $75 billion. By 2032 the 50-plus age group is projected to drive more than half of US economic activity. Olders do indeed receive a significant amount of government and welfare spending, but isn’t that what the system was designed for—to help those who need it? Resources are not inherently scarce; they are the result of policy decisions in a society that devalues its oldest and youngest citizens. It’s a question of priorities.
  • Pits us against each other: Communities that are good to grow old in—with social and health care services, safe public spaces, good public transportation, and smarter zoning—benefit everyone, as do workplaces that offer the accessibility and flextime that older workers require. They’re all-age-friendly.
  • Is unhelpful: We are all aging. Instead of arguing over whose needs come first, let’s develop sensible and economical ways to support the multi-generational society that we all hope to live long enough to inhabit. Examples include engaging Meals on Wheels programs to deliver other social services, co-locating senior centers and day care centers, and developing community-based programs that keep olders living at home and socially connected.

Longer lives represent not just a challenge but a remarkable resource and opportunity. To take advantage of this “longevity dividend,” we need to quit the reflexive hand-wringing, challenge the ageist assumptions that underlie it, and think realistically and imaginatively about the kinds of intergenerational contracts an equitable future will require. It’s going to require all hands on deck—and all ages.

Ashton Applewhite,

Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director, Justice in Aging




no format!

Guest Post: From “Senior” to “Sully” Moment

This guest post is by Jeanette Leardi, a Portland, Oregon, writer, editor, and community educator who is changing perceptions about the aging process and helping people appreciate elders’ inherent dignity, wisdom, and unique value as mentors and catalysts for social change. You can read more of her blog posts at ChangingAging, where this post first appeared, and reach her through her website.

As a social gerontologist, community educator, and writer, I am passionate about explaining how language affects –– in good or bad ways –– our perceptions of aging, and vice versa. Three particular phrases raise my hackles.

“Successful aging” is often used to depict the process of getting older as solely an individual’s responsibility rather than to also acknowledge powerful socioeconomic factors that affect a person’s ability to survive and thrive throughout life.

“Silver tsunami” is a phrase that mischaracterizes the arrival into older adulthood of America’s Baby Boom generation as a sudden and catastrophic force that will wipe out national productivity as well as entitlement program funds, without taking into account the potentially vast contributions elders can and do make in our society.

These two terms are regularly employed by the media when covering aging issues. But we hear the third term –– “senior moment” –– all the time, used by practically everyone from youth to the oldest old among us. The phrase is so pervasive that it has taken on a kind of scientific validity, as if the act of forgetting familiar information is limited to the behavior of older people. It’s not.

Here’s the reality about senior moments: They happen to all adults decades before they reach elderhood. According to University of Virginia psychology professor Dr. Timothy A. Salthouse, “some aspects of age-related cognitive decline begin in healthy educated adults when they are in their 20s and 30s.”Within five years after a cognitive peak around age 22, we begin to experience a gradual decline in the speed at which our brains work, as well as our ability to make quick comparisons, to think abstractly, to remember unrelated pieces of information, and to perceive patterns and relationships. And by our late 30s, problems with our memory become more apparent to us.

In short, senior moments belong to us all. Or as Ashton Applewhite eloquently states in her ground-breaking book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, “I used to think that those [‘senior moments’] quips were self-deprecatingly cute, until it dawned on me that when I lost the car keys in high school, I didn’t call it a ‘junior moment.’”

So instead of unrealistically attributing senior moments only to the elder experience, I’d like to offer a refreshing (and more accurate) meme for older brain activity: the “Sully moment.”

From “Senior” to “Sully” Moment - ChangingAging
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger

Enter famed airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hero of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” who made a successful 2009 emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River of a U.S. Airways plane carrying 155 passengers. The inspiring story of his accomplishment can actually be explained by a brain phenomenon known as bihemispheric processing.

This skill fully develops around age 50, when the corpus callosum –– a bridge of tissue connecting our left and right hemispheres –– reaches its maximum maturity of approximately 200 million to 250 million nerve fibers. At this point, our brain reaches a state that geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen has described as shifting from two-wheel drive to “all-wheel drive.” Evidence of this shift is a greater ability to approach problem-solving from many different perspectives and to detect more subtle differences in circumstances and viewpoints.

Just catch Sully’s 2009 60 Minutes interview with Katie Couric, and you’ll hear an account of all-wheel drive in action as he ticked off in succession the various factors he had to consider and computations he had to make within seconds. “I was sure I could do it,” he said. “I think in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment.”

As he also told Couric, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

All of this is not to say that younger adults can’t process information bihemispherically. Of course they can. It’s just that they get better at it as they get older. Like much of life, we experience many things as tradeoffs. Sure, we may have more tip-of-the-tongue brain stutters, and our reaction times may get slower. On the other hand, as Salthouse has noted, our vocabulary increases and we accumulate and retain more general knowledge at least until we reach age 60. And older adults with healthy brains continue to integrate that knowledge as they apply their skills throughout their lives. Overall, when you think about it, it’s not a bad deal.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll happily trade a “senior moment” for a “Sully moment” anytime.

no format!

Women are ready to join forces!

As a media partner of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, where I spoke in Paris last week, the New York Times commissioned a piece on how women could respond to ageism. “Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon” came out today, in the lean international edition as well. To my delight, they paired it with this photo of  the actress Frances McDormand (with son Pedro and husband Joel Coen), who credits Pedro for one of her wrinkles and calls her face a map that carries her history.

The piece makes some very big asks, and I was braced for a slew of comments along the line of “Why should getting old mean looking bad?” Instead the response has been massive, heartfelt, and enthused:  “This should be our manifesto.” “Let’s go!” “I’m in!” I hope readers will follow my last suggestion to “come together at all ages and talk about this stuff.” Let’s use Who Me, Ageist?  How to Start a Consciousness-Raising Group as a starting point and collaborate on a version for women and allies.

no format!

The beauty industry is shifting from anti-aging to anti-anti-aging. So what?

The New York Times magazine opens every Sunday with an essay about what a given word or phrase reveals about the moment. This week’s was “anti-aging.” The line at the top of the print version read, “After years obsessing over ‘anti-aging,’ our culture finds itself at an impasse. We don’t want to look older—but we don’t want to feel as if we fear it, either.” The catalyst was the announcement in Allure magazine’s September issue that the word has been banned from its pages. Editor-in-chief Michelle Lee commended instead “the long-awaited, utterly necessary celebration of growing into your own skin—wrinkles and all.”  Huzzah!

But not so fast. As writer Amanda Hess points out in the Times, Allure is still promoting products that promise to make women look younger. The next sentence reads, “No one is suggesting giving up retinol”—God forbid! (It links to an article that begins, “It’s no secret that retinol ticks practically every box in your anti-aging wishlist.”) Titled “The Ever-Changing Business of Anti-Aging,” Hess’s piece is a sharp critique of the re-branding of “anti-aging”—it’s just another opportunity to sell us the same old stuff. Campaigns have changed over time, from cautionary tales to aggressive pitches grounded in “science” to appeals to the easy and “natural”—from shame to combat to self-care.

Notably, attitudes, too, have shifted. “As the business of fighting aging has consumed the culture, it has produced a secondary aversion, not just to the signs of aging but to the signs that we’re trying to stop the signs of aging,” Hess observes. In other words, we’re moving from anti-aging to anti-anti-aging. Can pro-aging be far behind? Don’t hold your breath. We may nod and agree that it’s fine to embrace our wrinkles, she concludes, “while quietly understanding that none of us, individually, want to be the one who actually looks old.”

I do think a more profound shift in the zeitgeist is underway, however.  As Hess observes, no matter how glossy the images, flawless the celebrities, and clever the jargon, they’re an ever-tougher sell. “They must paper over large and knotty things—our discomfort over our own mortality, our deep-rooted habit of valuing women largely in terms of their attractiveness, our growing sentiment that both ageism and gender roles ought to be things of the past—with a cheery promise that a little face cream will help.”

Appearance matters. Adornment pleases. We each have to age in our own way on whatever terms work for us. As one audience member wrote on her “Questions for the Speaker” form at a gig in New Hampshire last August, “I am fine with using anti-aging products. Whatever makes you feel and look good, do it.”

But society’s obsession with the way women look is less about beauty than about obedience to a punishing external standard—and about power. When women compete to “stay young,” we collude in our own disempowerment. When we rank other women by age, we reinforce ageism, sexism, lookism, and patriarchy. In our guts, we know this to be a bad bargain. It sets us up to fail. It pits us against each other. Because different forms of discrimination compound and reinforce each other, it’s why the poorest of the poor, around the world, are old women of color. That’s intersectionality, a term coined by  black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw that millennials have grown up with, along with the idea that diversity is a good thing and is here to stay. In 1970, to believe that women could run Fortune 500 corporations as well as men was a big ask. Fifty years later gender is a basic criterion for diversity, along with race and sexual orientation. Age isn’t usually on the list—yet. It’s the last socially acceptable prejudice. But when I propose including it, no one says, “That’s a dumb idea,” or, “Whoa, let me get back to you on that one.”

We have a long way to go on all those fronts, racism in particular.  But if the goal is a society where access to opportunity is not determined by what you look like, gray hair and wrinkles count. Hitching age to the diversity sled makes sense, personally and politically. The ground has been plowed.


no format!

Breaking the Reframe on Aging

This guest post is by Elizabeth White, the best-selling author of Fifty-Five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal and an aging solutions advocate for older adults facing uncertain work and financial insecurity. This essay first appeared in Next Avenue.

In my mid-30s, I briefly dated a psychologist. I don’t remember much about him except that his preferred patient was a YAVIS: Young, Attractive, Verbal, Intelligent and Successful. The term was new to me. YAVIS problems, he told me, were more interesting. YAVIS patients had agency and choice and the resources to create a better life for themselves. It’s not that he didn’t feel compassion for people of modest means facing huge life challenges, he just didn’t want them in his practice.

Well, it seems even as YAVISes age, they’re still preferred (even if they’re no longer Young). In their 50s and 60s now, they’re the cool boomers, the media darlings, the ones marketers love to focus on. Too often, when we think of reframing aging we think of them — still high school skinny, free from joint pain, working 70-hour weeks in cool encore careers. Their lives have come to define what aging well means. And the underlying message is that aging well means not looking different, feeling different or acting different than we did in our early 40s.

What’s the Reframe for the Rest of Us?

But are we really reframing aging when so much of the focus is on the traits of fortysomething adults at the top of the food chain with the resources and means to take care of themselves? What’s the reframe for the approximately 40 million boomers trying to scrape together the finances to survive the next 25 years?

The positive aging movement invites us “to come alive, to live our best possible lives,” too often with strategies and choices designed for 60-year-old YAVIS types with money. I don’t begrudge the affluents their options, but where are the affordable choices for the rest of us? Too many positive aging advocates have yet to embrace affordability and access as core principles. Little is written or said about how to help older adults in financial jeopardy and with poor job prospects “live their best possible lives.”

Nearly one third (29 percent) of Americans 55 and older have no retirement savings. Even among those of us over 55 who have managed to save, the median value of our retirement accounts is just $104,000. With life expectancy now north of 80, that money won’t last us very long.

Older Americans at Risk

The truth is we’re already seeing growing numbers of older adults living under dire circumstances. At risk are not just older workers who’ve lost jobs in factories and offices due to offshoring and automation, degree holders who’ve been unexpectedly RIF’ed, outsourced and downsized are also falling on hard times.

Yet, somehow being over 50 and financially insecure has gotten a bad rap in the reframing aging movement, despite the millions of older Americans at risk of experiencing it. We’re told that if we talk about our financial challenges, we’ll turn off marketers, employers and others. We’re encouraged to focus instead always on what’s good about aging — what’s upbeat and promising.

But how transformative is the reframe on aging when millions of older Americans facing real financial challenges and a rough ride ahead are excluded from the conversation?

Where Are the Good Ideas?

If the economics of aging means that millions of us are going to have to live with less, why aren’t whole conferences dedicated to helping us figure out how? What are the good ideas we need to know about? What can we learn from promising initiatives already underway in this country and globally?

In the new normal of financial insecurity, lots of us may well end up living in the equivalent of adult dormitories. But why do they have to be soulless slabs of concrete? More of us could embrace the forced downsizing if our much-smaller quarters were well designed, efficient, sustainable and affordable, airy and bright, looked out onto a small courtyard and had the basic services and amenities we need as we age.

What the Reframing Aging Movement Should Do

The reframing aging movement must demand a decent quality of life for the millions of older adults who were good workers, neighbors, taxpayers and citizens and came up short through no fault of their own.

Right now, a lot of us look at the retirement income crisis mainly through the lens of doom and gloom. But what if we flipped the script and looked at it as an opportunity, as a path to a more sustainable way of living and a way to prepare younger generations for longer and better lives?

Instead of focusing on what a burden all of us “old” people are going to be, we should be calling on entrepreneurs, product designers, brand managers and marketers to figure out how to serve a 50+ demographic accustomed to living well, but now on a budget. What new products, services and business models will we need to live richly textured and meaningful lies on fixed or modest incomes?

Talking to Long-Term Unemployed Older Adults

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to two groups of long-term, unemployed older adults about my book Fifty-five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal. One was in Martin, a rural community in northwest Tennessee; the other was in Cambridge, Mass. at a venue on the MIT campus. In Martin, I met participants in the federal job-training program for older adults, Senior Service Community Employment Program (SCSEP), many struggling to pick up the pieces after losing good factory jobs in their mid- to late-50s. At the Institute for Career Transitions event in Cambridge, I met white-collar professionals in their 40s and 50s, former high earners who were downsized and are facing a “we don’t want you job market.”

What struck me listening to both groups was how similar the stories were of loss and frustration, of doing everything right only to land here. In the end, it did not matter whether you were from Martin or Cambridge, whether you had to give up catfish or salmon, the pain was the same.

The Promise of the Reframing Aging Movement

The real promise of the reframing aging movement is to give older adults affordable options for creating a meaningful life.

It is to help all of us figure out how to adapt and thrive in a future that is uncertain and increasingly impacted by limited resources and other challenges, known and unknown

no format!

Want to help end ageism?

Since my TED talk went up I’ve been inundated with letters from all kinds of people: olders and youngers, in the US and around the world, frustrated and exhilarated, offering solidarity and support. My current favorite arrived yesterday from a gerontologist who wrote, “I’ve been barking up this tree all my life . . . and so honor your revolution. I’m here with you, sister.” It made my day. Thanks to each of you.

Almost everyone is asking how to join the movement and help it grow.  Here’s a whole menu of options. Pick one or two that fit. Mix and match. Make them your own.

  • All change starts between our ears: how do you feel about your own aging? What messages have you absorbed over the years? Whose interests do they serve? How do you think and talk about older people, and getting older? Are any of your close friends much older or younger? Warning: plenty of No shit/Oh shit moments ahead—confronting unconscious bias is uncomfortable. It’s also liberating. Once you start seeing ageism in the culture you see it everywhere, and that genie never goes back in the bottle.
  • Start a consciousness-raising groupthis powerful tool catalyzed the women’s movement. When women came together to share their “personal” problems, they realized that they were up against political problems that required collective action. Download my free guide, Who Me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness-raising Group here.
  • Learn about age and age bias. My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, contains every smart idea I’ve had or come across. It’s not free but it’s not expensive, and it has over 100 5-star reviews on Amazon. The last chapter, “Occupy Age,” is packed with practical suggestions for thinking and acting in ways that will bring us closer to an all-age-friendly society. There’s lots more recommended reading at the bottom of my Resources page.
  • Find your tribe—in the world and on social media. Start or join a group that’s dedicated to age equality. It doesn’t matter whether you read together, hike together, party together, or all of the above. Consider starting a local chapter of the Radical Age Movement, or a Gray Panthers chapter. Movements need actions: look for ways to show up that will make a difference, whether through writing and speaking, or by showing up in brave and imaginative ways, like the nun who busted into a nuclear-weapons site to expose its vulnerability. Keep in mind that when we come together at all ages against any form of injustice, we dismantle ageism in the process. It’s all one struggle.
  • Check out these anti-ageism resources. Create your own. Share them. One of my goals is to establish a clearinghouse of free ageism-related resources—workshops, videos, animations, handouts, exercises, curricula, etc. For now there’s my Resources page. If you know about other good tools, or develop your own, please pass them along.
  • Share my TED talk widely, with your friends, your dentist, your downstairs neighbor . . . you get the idea. It’s an urgent, 11-minute wake-up call, and we’ve got a world to change. 

Let’s do it — let’s make it happen!

no format!

My TED talk is up!

Eleven minutes, which ended, amazingly, with a standing ovation that provoked a unscripted, arms-in-the-air appeal: “Let’s do it!” That means all of us, not just the TEDsters in that audience, but everyone who’s ready to play a part in ending ageism. Watch it. Share it. Widely: with your neighbors, your family, your reading group, your dog-walker, your friends, you get the idea. The sooner the better—the more traction we get early on, the better the odds that the message will get heard around the world. Let’s make a million views and get this party started. 

no format!

Hope I Get Old Before I Die

Who remembers the Who song “Hope I Die Before I Get Old?” Brian Bergstein does, and came up with that witty title for the piece he commissioned for, a new publication aimed at “making sense of the neobiological revolution”: how emerging technologies like mapping the brain, gene editing, and decoding the microbiome are changing medicine, society, and maybe even what it means to be human. Life extension is a big piece of this new landscape, and it’s typically framed in anti-aging terms. Here’s my take on why longevity science should embrace aging instead.

An excerpt: “Perhaps, not too long from now, we’ll be able to make the body of an octogenarian function as well as of that of a 30-year-old. That’ll be fantastic, especially if the advances become accessible to all. But 85 won’t be the new 30. It’ll be the new 85. And even the fittest octogenarians will be second-class citizens until we challenge the last socially sanctioned prejudice. Making the most of the new longevity means ending ageism.”

no format!

We’re all in this together—olders and youngers alike.

Today I joined the ten thousand baby boomers who turn 65 every day. Unlike far too many of them, I’m happy about it, partly because now I qualify for Medicare so I can quit my day job and become a full-time activist. That ought to be cause for some kind of celebration, but I’m too disgusted by the proposed evisceration of the Affordable Care Act.

Much of the media coverage focuses on the fact that people on Medicaid would be the largest group to lose health insurance coverage. That group is disproportionately made up of olders with lower incomes and people with disabilities, who receive nearly two thirds of Medicaid spending. Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million people in nursing homes, many of whom entered old age solidly middle class, and ended up on Medicaid after exhausting their savings. That probably won’t happen to me, but only Medicaid covers services like home care that allow many olders to remain in their communities. And I’ll definitely need Medicare, which is also under threat.

This evil bill would really hit in ten years, by which time the rest of the baby boom will have rounded 65—and when the old vs. young rhetoric would really heat up. We can’t let that happen. Make no mistake: this legislation wouldn’t just harm the old, the poor, and the disabled. It is an attack on everyone anyone who might get old, might fall ill, might start a family—or who loves someone who might. It would shred the social fabric that supports all but those who can afford their own private safety nets. We’re all in this together.