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life as “walking to meet ourselves”

I’m on vacation—travelled through the Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Riga andTalinn, now in Helsinki, and on to St. Petersburg—and came across a flyer for a performance piece called Memories for Life about “the past and the present, the old and the young.” It quotes Imants Ziedonis (1933-2013) , a Latvian poet who rose to fame during the Soviet occupation of Latvia, who wrote, “We do not walk towards death. We do not walk towards getting old. We walk to meet ourselves. We walk to meet our Other Me. Life is like two persons walking towards each other. My old age meets my youth.” (unofficial translation)

That old/young binary makes me a little uneasy, as so much ageism is based in the illusion that Old = Other and distinct from Me. I don’t think that’s what Ziedonis is saying, though, and I think his conception of life as “walk[ing] to meet ourselves” is wonderful.

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Fear and loathing in the Lufthansa lounge

Posts have been few because I’ve been finishing my book, and the manuscript went out to an agent last Friday—w00t!  Off for vacation. And what should greet me on the magazine rack at the airport but this week’s cover story of Time magazine: “Manopause?! Aging, Insecurity and the $2 Billion Testosterone Industry.”


Feeling flabby?  Slower?  A little less frisky? Millions of men with are turning to hormone replacement therapy to turn things around—even though a gradual decline in testosterone production is normal as men age. One reason is a 2800% increase in marketing dollars since 2009, but the biggie is “the fathomless fear and loathing among men staring time in the face,” writes Time editor-at-large David Von Drehle. Bellies balloon, aches come to stay, senses dull, and, he continues, “Most distressing for many men, one’s manhood itself changes personality. Once as eager as a Labrador puppy to jump up and play, more and more it resembles an old dog that would rather nap than fetch.”


Who wants to go to bed with a Labrador puppy?  That’s less off-putting, though, than the picture Von Drehle paints of aging as betrayal. Eventually a fellow “comes to the grim conclusion that his body—this marvelous apparatus that he thought he knew so well–is actually out to get him . . . by killing itself.” If this is betrayal, where’s the treachery? The only loss is the illusion that time can be somehow be bought off, and that illusion is antithetical to aging well.  Aging means living and living means aging, but immortality-chasing scenarios equate it with death. Ironically, in turning to untested testosterone shots, gels, skin patches, implants, and nasal sprays, men are running a massive and risky science experiment on themselves.


Data links use of the hormone to heart attacks, strokes, and other serious cardiovascular conditions, as well as to the possibility of increased cancer risk. All this is happening without FDA oversight, which approves testosterone drugs only for men with associated medical conditions and does not regulate the array of T-boosting supplements available from retailers like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe. “Given the unknowns of testosterone therapy, should aging men by the millions be juicing themselves with substances powerful enough to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame?” Von Drehle wonders. Good question. Remember when millions of menopausal women jumped on the hormone-replacement bandwagon when it was thought to ward off heart disease, osteoporosis, and possibly dementia, not to mention hot flashes? Then a large clinical trial in 2002 found the risks outweighed the benefits. Have we learned nothing?


There are healthy ways to remedy beer bellies and keep bodies strong. The way to address the “fathomless fear and loathing” is to become conscious of what aging actually involves. It’s easier to take a pill, just like it’s easier to go along with ageist stereotypes. Either way, the reckoning is inevitable. How much better for body and soul to enter into it sooner rather than later, and with as much grace as we can muster.

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nice blurb from Lifetime Arts

Lifetime Arts is a nonprofit that “promotes creative aging through professionally conducted arts education for older adults.” The organization understands that raising awareness of ageism is central to their mission, and I’ve given my talk at several of their training institutes. Last week I took the train up to Chappaqua to speak to librarians from seven states, who are participating in a national Creative Aging in America’s Libraries project, and co-founders Maura O’Malley and Ed Friedman had nice things to say.Ashton Applewhite presents a cogent, funny, inspiring look at how we perceive getting older. Anecdotal, informational, humorous, and thought-provoking; we’ve engaged her a number of timesand continue to look forward to her ‘take’ on aging in America.” Thanks—and I look forward to more return engagements.



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Guest Post: No Lotions, Potions, Diets or Pills: Here’s One Tip on Aging You Won’t Wanna Miss!


This guest post is by Talia Cooper, the Program Director at May’yan, an organization that provides feminist, social justice, and leadership to young girls, and also trains teachers and educators. The post first appeared on the Ma’yan website. Talia’s take on ageism from the perspective of a younger person is sharp, original, and sorely needed. She leads anti-ageism workshops for people of all ages, and we’re planning to collaborate on one. You can reach her at



Part I: 28 and ¾ Years-Old

My dad likes to wax nostalgic about a story I wrote when I was little featuring a “24 and a ½ year old” protagonist. Why is it that as kids we are proud of every month of our lives? At what point does that stop?

Well now I am 28 and ¾ years old. In other words, I’m in my late 20s. In other words, I’m approaching 30.  That’s around the age that people start to think about aging more negatively. After all, turning ten equaled new adventures in double-digit land and 20 was a step closer to 21. But 30? That’s some real stuff. My friends have already started to point out gray hairs, new wrinkles, sagging skin and deep-colored-veins.

As a young girl I would spend time looking in the mirror, pinching the skin next to my eyes in hopes of developing crow’s feet like the ones I saw decorating the faces of my mother and her friends. To me, these lines were like magical rivulets, or like flowers bursting from a trumpet vine. I tried to explain this to adults but their laughter taught me that wrinkles were not okay and were not to be wished for.

So now, like many my age, I’ve started to feel a little nervous. How much longer do I have in my youth? If I obsessively go to the gym or drink lots of water or eat chia seeds or use oxygen cream on my face, can I extend my youthfulness?

And then it hit me. There is only one, soundproof, fail-safe, air-tight way of combatting this aging process. But we’ll get to that later.


Part II: I Won’t Grow Up!!

Why are we all so obsessed with not getting older? It is documented that older men and women have increasing difficulty finding jobs. A friend of mine, who’s in her 60s, told me she would gladly leave her hair its natural white color, but she gets significantly more professional clients when she dyes it brown. The media loves to demonize pop stars for the “work” they get done. But when an increase in age leads to a decrease in job opportunities—can we blame them? Ageism is real and pervasive. And when you mix ageism with racism,sexismclassismableismhomophobia and/or other such goodies, you get quite a stew. No wonder this aging thing gets a little scary. Then again, being too young is no good either.

As an educator and youth organizer I’ve spent years learning and teaching about adultism: the way society treats young people like they are less than full humans. I remember being in high school wondering what life would be like when I finally got to “the real world.” I’m only now understanding that things were just as real back then. We may worship youthfulness, but we sure don’t worship our youth; we deny them the right to vote, we prescribe them pills and curricula without their consent, and we treat them either like scary monsters or shallow beings obsessed only with gossip and social media.

There’s this funny thing about age: if there is in fact a sweet spot (not too old but not too young), it doesn’t seem to last very long. Either you’re young and not real yet, or old and irrelevant. What does this mean that we praise youthfulness but devalue the young? We say age is power, but only to a certain point. We have young people trying to look old and old people trying to look young. Where does this leave us?


Part III: A New Premise

What if we start over, all of us, with a new premise: every person deserves to live and be treated as a full human being. To us at Ma’yan, this is what it means to be a feminist. What could that new premise look like in terms of age?

What if young people were asked what excites them and how that can be incorporated into their broader learning? What if people of all ages were encouraged to experiment with new activities, ideas and creative endeavors?

What if older people were asked for advice and valued for their experience? What if people of all ages made decisions for their future (and the future of the planet) based on the assumption that they have a full, rich life ahead of them?

What if all cities and institutions were up to date with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring equal access? What if respectful and loving care was widely available to the elderly at affordable rates, and the domestic workers who provide it were also treated with dignity? What if people did not automatically assume that older people or people with disabilities required help? What if no one was ashamed to ask for help when they needed it?

What if we always complimented people for their whole beauty as they are now (not how beautiful they will become or how we imagine they once were)?

What if employers appreciated the different contributions of people of all ages? What if older people were not forced into early retirement? What if we worked to end the system based in capitalist notions that humans are valued only according to their productivity?

What if doctors always assumed they can speak directly to their patient, no matter how old or young? What if voting laws became more inclusive? What if young people formed committees to serve as advisors to government?

What if there were more intergenerational friendships and collaborations?


What if we were all proud of having made it exactly where we are?


Part IV: Anti-Ageism Heroes!


I’m aware as I write that readers might pay more attention to a piece on ageism from someone like me, who is approximately still in the ‘sweet spot’ (old enough not to be young, young enough not to be old). Marjorie Dove-Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, encourages us all to be “unlikely allies,” active in causes that might surprise others and make them notice (Gasp! She cares about older people!). But I would be remiss if I didn’t share that there are amazing people out there doing incredible anti-ageism activism, and they want you to know they are old and proud!

Like Ashton Applewhite who blogs about ageism at This Chair Rocks and says:  “I know I’m not young—do not call me ‘young lady’—but I don’t think of myself as old either. I certainly qualify, if oldness is measured by time from birth or defined by my laptop’s dictionary: ‘having lived a long time.’ I prefer ‘older,’ which emphasizes that age is a spectrum. I reject the old/young binary: that imaginary line in the sand after which it’s all supposed to be downhill. The problem lies in equating ‘old’ with diminishment alone. The reality, as experience proves, is far more nuanced and positive.”

Maggie Kuhn, founder of the intergenerational education and advocacy organization called the Gray Panthers, said: “Old age is not a disease–it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” (She also said “Sex and learning until rigor mortis.”) In her work for justice, Kuhn hoped to have older and younger people connect over the shared experience of ageism.


Part V: The Big Reveal: My One and Only Trick on Aging

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the media frenzy and want to minimize my own aging process. But when I take a moment to breathe, read the thinking of people like Applewhite and Kuhn, I don’t see anything wrong with getting older. After all, each decade of my life has been better than the last, and they’ve all been pretty good. I fully expect this upward trend to continue as I grow and learn.

So I’ve realized that if I, myself don’t want to experience the harsh ageism I see lobbed at older folks daily, I have only one real course of action.  It’s not a special diet or cream. It’s not a surgery. It’s not any product I can buy. You ready? Here is my one and only trick on aging: fight to end ageism.

As Ellen Snortland says:  “At any age, to partake in ageism is to lay the foundation for your own irrelevancy.” I have no intention of doing that.


Part VI: Taking Action


(Pictured above: Talia Cooper and her grandmother Dorothy Gartner)


A few actions we can take to fight ageism:

  • Interrupt ageist and adultist comments when you hear them (such as “I’m having a senior moment” or “all kids bully each other on social media.”)
  • Start treating people of all ages as the full humans they are (this includes yourself).
  • Get support to work on your own feelings/fears about death and disability.
  • Create alternative advertisements and birthday cards that exhibit a joy in the aging process
  • Practice both living in the moment (assuming you are extremely important just as you are RIGHT NOW), and assuming you have a long life ahead of you.
  • Get involved in campaigns to protect the planet for the long haul (such as the work of
  • Take action against employers with ageist hiring and firing practices, and support organizations and unions doing this work, like JPAC and NYSARA.
  • Lobby congress to institute stricter policies against ageism in work and housing.
  • Work intergenerationally. Don’t assume anyone is too old or young for responsibility. Don’t put all your hopes and un-accomplished dreams on the next generation.
  • Find safe spaces to vent feelings of hopelessness—do not ask the next generation to hold this.
  • Make art that exhibits pride in your own age.
  • Encourage school systems to listen to students’ voices.
  • If you want to know a kid’s age, start by telling them how old you are (“I’m 52 years old, how about you?”).
  • Stop complimenting people on their youthfulness.
  • Insist that Hollywood hire people to play their own age.
  • Get involved and support organizations who work for the rights of older people to age with dignity and care, such as Caring Across Generations and Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
  • Check out the youth-made movie Ma’yan’s recent Research Training Interns created resisting oppressive media messages!
  • Ask people of all ages their thoughts and advice on aging.
  • [Insert your creative ideas here.]

When I asked my Grandma Dorothy Gartner (who’s almost 90) her advice on aging she said, “Love the preciousness of yourself, keep that alive.” When I asked my friend Anya Tucker (who’s almost 13) she said, “Take the passing years not as a sign of being closer to death but as a sign of your growing wisdom.” I would like to imagine aging like a tree: sinking my roots in deeper and stretching my branches further than I ever thought they could grow.

Ageism is harsh and pervasive—even more so when mixed with other -isms.  It is difficult to combat the societal messaging. But when I think about it, doesn’t getting older actually mean I have the enormous privilege of living another day?

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If you’re not too old to love heavy metal, you’re not too old to go hear it.

Writer and movie reviewer D.M Anderson is also a middle-aged heavy-metal fan – the latter uneasily, as he describes in An Essay on Ageism (nominally a review of Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow).“As much as I’d still love seeing my favorite bands live, more often than not, I choose not to attend,” Anderson writes. “One of my current favorite bands is Tool, but I’d feel self-conscious and stupid going to one of their shows, certain I was at least a decade older than anyone else.” After all, at a Rush concert in 1980, he and his friends had laughed at a guy older than his dad in a Foghat tee-shirt, “simply because he had no business hanging out with us younger kids.” Anderson skewers his own close-mindedness: “Not once did it occur to me he was actually a Rush fan. He was too old.” Now, as Anderson points out, he’s that guy, and now he’s wondering why he’s expected to have outgrown his love of Metallica. 


I have a dog in this fight because I love electronic dance music. I didn’t discover it until my 40s, well before it was hyper-trendy and called EDM, and I took to it like a duck to water. I love dancing to it, which means being surrounded by 20-somethings and looking at least as conspicuous as that Foghat fan. I sure wish I had more company my own age, but I don’t want to stay home just because I’ll stick out. Mainly because it’s too much fun, but also because age silos are stultifying. It’s not about doing something just because it’s trendy, it’s about not staying away if it sounds like a good time, regardless of age cohort. No doubt a few of those club kids are snickering, but the vast majority are oblivious, and a few are delighted by the evidence that they won’t necessarily have to quit a scene they love. I know, because they tell me so. I think of it as affirmative action, and it’s up to us set it in motion. People with the most at stake—olders, in this case—step up and step out. They stop conforming. The open-minded welcome them, and incremental social change takes place. 


Anderson’s essay ends with a charming confession of irritation on his own part at three “old ladies” gabbing in the back row of the movie theater during the Edge of Tomorrow trailers. They shut up when the movie started, and he suddenly felt like a hypocrite. “While continually vexed at the obvious ageism of most Hollywood blockbusters which aim exclusively at the teen crowd, I still passed judgment on these three old women who looked out-of-place attending a sci-fi movie together . . .  Unlike me, who’s skipped seeing some terrific metal bands because of my hang-up about my age, these ladies didn’t give a damn what others thought. Good for them.” Good for Anderson to own up, and I hope he starts stepping out more himself.






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first topic for a social science blog: the latest Census Report on older Americans


I’ve been part of the Council on Contemporary Families since it was founded 20 years ago to provide solid social science about American families to the press and the public. My post about the latest Census Report on older Americans is up now on their Families As They Really Are blog on the Society Pages site:


How do we think about longer lives—and why?

June 30th saw the release of the 65+ in the United States 2010 U.S. Census Bureau Report, the latest overview of how older Americans are faring socially and economically. Brace yourself: “the U.S. population is poised to experience a population aging boom over the next two decades.” Uh oh, right?  Despite the fact that longer lives reflect a remarkable public health achievement—the redistribution of death from the young to the old—there’s more hand-wringing than back-patting going on.

Much of the apprehension centers on the “dependency ratio”: the fact that the number of people over 65 is growing and the number of people the workforce shrinking. Fiscal crisis! Social collapse! In fact that ratio’s been falling pretty steadily for over a century. Over the same period national GDPs, along with lifespans, have rapidly increased.  

People don’t turn into economic dead weights when they hit 65. As the Census Report documents, they’re participating in the labor force in ever-greater numbers. It also notes that “the dependency ratio does not account for older or younger people who work or have financial resources, nor does it capture those in their ‘working ages’ who are not working,” and that many caregivers are over age 65. Because it’s unpaid, this work is omitted from our national accounting. Millions more older Americans would like to continue to contribute, but are prevented by age discrimination in the workplace, which relegates them to jobs that don’t take advantage of their skills and experience—if they land one at all.

The “approaching crisis in caregiving” that the Census Report calls out is real and growing more acute. But people are healthier as well as longer-lived, and are not an inevitable sink for healthcare dollars. According to the ten-year MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America, once people reach 65, their added years don’t have a major impact on Medicare costs. As the Census Report details, the number of Americans aged 65+ in nursing homes declined by 20 percent in the last decade, “from 4.6 percent in 2000 to 3.1 percent in 2010.” That’s three percent of Americans over 65.Chronic conditions pile up, but they don’t keep most older Americans from functioning in the world, helping their neighbors, and enjoying their lives. 

The Census Report includes an oft-cited statistic: “An unprecedented shift will occur between 2015 and 2020, when the percentage of people aged 65 and over in the global population will surpass the percentage of the very young (aged 0-4) for the first time.” This means that by 2020 there’ll be one older adult for every child—far better for children’s welfare than the inverse, as well as for the women who once had to produce enough of them to survive famines, wars, and epidemics.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that the projections that have Americans so worked up are largely the result of a specific historical phenomenon: the cohort effect of the baby boom growing old—the proverbial bulge in the python. This effect will peak by midcentury, although, tellingly, few graphs extend far enough out to show the downturn. Much was made of the first boomers turning 65 in 2011, but a 2013 milestone went largely unremarked. That’s when millennials first outnumbered baby boomers. The number of boomers will continue to decline. 

Even countries that are rapidly aging can produce “youth bulges”, as demographer Philip Longman pointed out in 2010, describing them as looming disasters “with all the attendant social consequences, from more violence to economic dislocation.” Can’t win for losing. In that same Foreign Policy article Longman warned of a “’gray tsunami’ sweeping the planet.” Journalists jumped on this frankly terrifying metaphor, and “gray tsunami” has since become widely adopted shorthand for the socioeconomic threat posed by an aging population.

What we’re facing is no tsunami. It’s a demographic wave that scientists have been tracking for decades, and it’s washing over a flood plain, not crashing without warning on a defenseless shore. This ageist and alarmist rhetoric justifies prejudice against older people, legitimates their abandonment, and fans the flames of intergenerational conflict. If left unchallenged, ageism will pit us against each other like racism and sexism; it will rob us of an immense accrual of knowledge and experience; and it will poison our response to the remarkable achievement of longer, healthier lives. 



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Guest Post: Aging-in-Place: It Can Be Detrimental to Your Health

Anti-ageism activist, social worker, and guest blogger Alice Fisher is back with a moving and deeply informed piece about why aging-in-place isn’t the panacea being so widely promoted. I wish my mother-in-law, who turns 92 next week, would read and believe it. She and Bill, her husband of 69 years, have been paying for long-term-care insurance for decades in order to be able to remain in their apartment. When I said to Bob, “Your mom would be so much happier in a home after your dad dies,” his response was instant. “She’d be happier in a home now.”

Surveys show that most people when asked prefer to spend the last years of their lives in their homes rather than in a community or institutional setting. What they fail to consider…or don’t want to consider…is the prospect of being homebound and spending their last years alone with only an aide for companionship. As human beings, we are social animals who are meant to interact. Living in isolation, for most of us, is detrimental to our health and has been shown to be one of the leading health risk factors contributing to the downturn in the health of older adults.

Understanding that most state governments no longer want to be in the nursing home business and that it is their assumption that it is less costly for both the government and the elderly to remain at home, I can see why the aging-in-place movement has gathered so much steam in recent years. Prevailing ageism also factors in when those who need assistance with activities of daily living choose to protect themselves from the ageist attitudes that pervade the public discourse on “old people.” It feels safer to stay at home.

There is another secret that the aging industrial complex does not like to talk about…the cost. 

If (I will come back to the “if” later on) an elderly person can get the optimum care and needs help 12-24 hours a day, adding this to the overhead of keeping a home, the cost can be astronomical. Because of longevity, the soaring costs of medical care and personal assistance, and the lack of a good long term care program in this country, many seniors today run out of financial resources before the end of life. In my role as a political social worker, I know that Medicaid was not originally set up to be a long term care provider; and I am also concerned about the financial strain this puts on government. There has to be a better way, and boomers all over our country are searching for better alternatives for living out their lives.

Why do I feel so strongly that aging-in-place is not the panacea that our government, our media, and the many senior service providers around the country are promoting?

My story starts with Hurricane Sandy. At the time that Sandy struck the east coast of New York, my elderly parents were aging-in-place in their co-op apartment in Long Beach on Long Island’s south shore. My dad, who has multiple chronic conditions that keep him wheelchair bound and unable to take care of his own personal needs, had an aide. His financial resources had already been depleted by the cost of his care for the two previous years, and he was receiving Medicaid benefits for home care. Although he really needed 24/7 care, the most that Medicaid would approve was 12 hour live-in. (This is where that “if” comes in). Twelve hour live-in means that the aide lived in with my parents but only provided care for 12 hours a day. It seems that my 90 year old mom was determined to be able to care for him the other 12 hours. Well, let me tell you, a 90 year old cannot care for another 90 year old without compromising their own health and well-being. As a result, my parents became emergency room regulars at Long Beach hospital, just a few blocks from their home. In turn my sister and I were also emergency room regulars. A couple of months before Sandy hit we began to have a discussion about aging-in-place and that it might no longer a viable option for our family. And then came Sandy. 

When people ask me about aging-in-place, I tell them, “It works until it doesn’t.”

After evacuating my parents with aide in tow and all the attendant chaos around relocating them, we came to the realization that they could not return to their home. All of the services they used were compromised or non-existent. The hospital was washed away and has not opened to this day. My mom’s doctor’s office was under water, leaving her with no medical records. Fortunately my dad’s medical care was being provided at home by the Veterans’ Administration, so his care could continue without too much interruption. The only blessing we could see at the time was their car, which floated down the road with every other auto in Long Beach. With the advocacy and support of my colleagues in the aging community of NYC, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale came through and provided a permanent home for mom and dad. 

My mom, who passed away this past January, spent the happiest year of the last ten years of her life there. She was 91 years old. Her life in Long Beach was becoming more and more an isolated existence. Most of her friends had died and the burden of caring for my dad kept her from leaving her apartment except for her trips to the supermarket and doctor. With the responsibility for my dad lifted, she was now free. Although frail and deaf, her cognizance was excellent. She made wonderful friends, joined in activities, began going to synagogue on Friday nights, went on shopping trips, and began to care again about what she wore and how she looked. Her best friend at the Hebrew Home was Rose, who was born deaf and was teaching my mom American Sign Language. She attended several 100 year old birthday parties. She and my dad celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the Hebrew Home with all their new friends in attendance. The other thing I noticed was that she was secure about having her own needs met…no more 911 calls and emergency room visits. She fully embraced her new home.

My dad, who needed 24/7 care resided in a different section of the facility, where he remains today. All the buildings on this beautiful campus are connected to each other, and my mom saw him every day and was his best friend and advocate. The common denominator among my dad’s floor mates is their inability to care for their own physical needs. There is, however, a huge cognizance spectrum. My dad seems to be located about mid-point on the spectrum. It is easy to discount the inner humanity among these people who are often confused, do not make sense even when talking to each other, and sometimes do not even seem to be aware of their surroundings. I must admit that my own ageist attitudes often came to the surface when I would visit his floor. One extremely emotional incident changed my entire perception of who these people are.

My mom died of congestive heart failure. She did not suffer much at all. She had only been diagnosed about three months before her death and was only ill the last three weeks, spending the last week in the hospital. Although we tried to prepare my dad, his memory issues prevented him from fully grasping the situation. After she passed away, my sister and I went to tell him. He was in his dining room just about to sit down to dinner. We wheeled him out to a private area and broke the news as gently as we could…but there really is no gentle way. He reacted as was expected and appropriate. It was very sad. When we were feeling the need to leave, dinner was over; and most of his floor mates were out wandering the halls in their wheelchairs and with their walkers. As you can imagine, we were having a difficult time leaving. I walked over to one of the aides, saying, “We really need to go, but it’s so hard for us to leave him alone and just say ‘bye dad, we’ll see you tomorrow’.” She waved her finger and said, “No, no. You see all these people. They are just hovering, waiting for the two of you to leave.” As we waited for the elevator, my sister and I could see into the area where we left my dad. One by one, each of his floor mates came up to him, and each in their own way told him how sorry they were. Some just patted his arm, others hugged him, and as we were getting on the elevator, we watched the aides help them form a circle around dad. I turned to my sister and said, “He’s not alone.”


* * * * *

Alice Fisher, M.S., M.S.W. is an aging Boomer who works in the office of NYS Senator Liz Krueger, where she developed and oversees “Senator Liz Krueger’s Roundtable for Boomers & Seniors” and councils the Senator’s senior constituents on issues of housing, healthcare, quality of life, and end of life. A long time social justice advocate, Alice is developing anti-ageism programs and working with a diverse grass roots group in New York City to create awareness of the ageism that permeates our culture. Read her Call for Radical Aging here.


For more information, contact Alice at, and visit the Radical Age Movement website and the Radical Age Movement Facebook page.


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Tackling “Aging Well” at the Institute for the Future’s Health Horizons Conference

I’m just back from a conference hosted by this 30-year-old Palo Alto think tank, the theme of which was “Living Longer/Aging Well.” Most of the attendees were from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, and I wasn’t sure how hospitable they’d be to my message about the medicalization of old age. In cultures with meaningful social and economic roles for older people, physical health is just one aspect of aging, but in ours, sickness takes center stage. And as the population ages the medical-industrial complex will depend more than ever on the old for its profits. I needn’t have worried; I got a standing ovation. (Okay, so did all the speakers; it was a mandatory “exercise.”) More gratifyingly, many subsequent speakers referenced stuff I said, and I hope I’ll get invited back. One thing we know for sure about the future is that it’s going to contain a lot more old people. Overturning myths and stereotypes about age and aging ought to be central to Institute’s mission across all their research domains, not health alone.


One thing the conference nailed from the get-go was an emphasis on the individual. Program Co-Director Bradley Kreit opened with the health records of a 70-something-year-old man with a number of serious issues, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and then a photograph of the person: his trim, tan, father-in-law standing next to his racing bike. A perfect way to make the case that people shouldn’t be reduced to symptoms.  Each table also got to interview an older person, ours being a Japanese-American serial entrepreneur, and a series of exercises required us to connect the many Big Ideas floating around the room—these are futurists, after all—to his circumstances. Much time was devoted to technology of all stripes, from caregiving support networks to “cognition enhancement” to offset memory loss—this is Silicon Valley, after all—and there was much confidence in the potential for social shifts and innovations to address the needs of “person-centered aging.”


That optimism was reflected in the conference subtitle, Aging Well, which I took issue with in my Q&A. The positive language is seductive, but it overlooks the role class plays in determining who gets to age in the first place, not to mention how “well” or “poorly.” Everyone can make sensible choices, but barriers like heavy caregiving responsibilities, inadequate health care, and economic hardship make it more difficult. Value-laden language places the burden on the individual by implying that if you end up sick or exhaust your savings, it’s your fault, which is unfair and diverts attention from the underlying social and economic issues.  And all the resources in the world can’t insulate against time or luck. 


Research Director Rachel Maguire began her summary by pointing out that people in healthcare tend to think of “the future of aging as the future of physical aging,” which is far too narrow a lens. I also liked some of her broad, messy, age-neutral interdisciplinary “Insights”: that workplace wellness programs should include geriatric mental health, support caregiving by and for all ages, and include end-of life discussions and services, and that design should be oriented towards people’s needs and preferences rather than specific age-based cohorts. (Older people need play spaces too. Swing-sets at bus stations in Montreal are used by olders as much as by kids, and  Brownsville, Texas, has just undertaken to build first ever playground for people of all ages with handicaps.) Her closing image was of a heavily-tattooed, long-haired, dentistry-free older man smiling on a park bench saying, “I’m happier than a pig in shit.”


“How to we balance big-picture statistics with the humans behind them, to make sure that solutions are truly person-centered and as available to as many humans as possible?” asked Maguire. Good question. I’m glad these guys are chewing on it.