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And in other news, water is wet!

In a logical prequel to the Septuagenarian Sex Shocker, this just in: middle-aged women who are sexually active continue to have sex! Even if they’re diagnosed with sexual dysfunction—a term that’s beginning to lose scientific credibility, and not soon enough. 

 

Here’s the backstory: when Viagra hit the market in 1998, it was so successful that researchers embarked on a search for a female version. A metric was necessary, so physicians devised a test called the Female Sexual Function Index. Only it turned out to be a lousy predictor. More than 85 percent of women in a University of Pittsburgh study reported remaining sexually active despite scoring poorly on the Index.  How come? Because its “focus on intercourse may not accurate reflect what constitute satisfying sex in this population,” concluded lead author Dr. Holly Thomas. It “may be labeling women as dysfunctional when women don’t have a problem.” 

 

Good news for women: no dysfunction, no need to medicate. Bad news for Pfizer, which sank millions into a Viagra for women to no avail, because—wait for it—female sexual response is complicated! Drugs were able to produce the symptoms of arousal, but didn’t address the actual problem, which in women is often a lack of sexual desire. Sex also changes over time, with intercourse becoming less important relative to kissing and intimate touching. One constant: women who rated sex as important were three times as likely to remain sexually active as those who didn’t. Yet big pharma’s search for a lucrative magic pill to “cure” the female libido continues.

 

If the industry really wants to learn more about sex past midlife, how about a more holistic view that takes emotional and developmental factors into consideration? And how about including women in their 80s and 90s in studies? A 79-year-old woman complained to Dr. Camelia Davtyan, Director of women’s health at the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program, that she was bleeding during intercourse. The doctor prescribed daily vaginal lubricants and vaginal estrogen. “How am I going to use these results for her?” she asked. “I can’t because she’s too old.” Perhaps it’s one reason she’s lived so long; a healthy sex life is a predictor of longevity.

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Septuagenarian sex shocker: it gets better

Sex After …Women Share how Intimacy Changes after Life Changes is a new book by journalist and author Iris Krasnow, who interviewed over 150 women ages 20 to 88 to get the skinny on sex after pregnancy, divorce, infidelity, breast cancer, coming out, and menopause. It’s the last category that’s generating the buzz, with eyebrow-raising all around at the possibility that women in their 70s and 80s could be having the best sex of their lives. Takes on the finding range from progressive to retrograde. 

 

Buzzfeed’s title is straightforward: These Confessions from Women in Their Eighties Will Challenge Your Views on Sexuality. The post consists mainly of excerpts from two interviews. An 81-year-old says that “love my eighties is like opening another world I never knew could exist.” Another, 88, hasn’t dated since her husband of 60 years passed away, but masturbates a lot, “nice and slow, like my husband did.” She’d often said to herself, “Maybe I should sit down with other older women and tell them, ‘Here are some of the tricks you can try. You don’t have to dry up.’” That’s an important reminder that masturbating is a way of remaining sexually active and fully operational. But does Buzzfeed really need to refer to Krasnow’s older subjects as “Ladies in their golden years?” 

 

Slate went for a painful pun in the title of an essay adapted by Krasnow: Widow’s Peak: Why 70-year-old women are having the best sex of their lives. Semi-racy stories and anecdotes convey lots of good information for women interested in exploring their sexuality way past midlife. But with language like this description of Dr. Marilyn Charwat, a  “79-year-old, sexily married” sex therapist in Boca Raton, Krasnow reinforces rather than confronts the ageism older women face. “With long black Cher hair and a yoga-toned frame, Charwat is ageless and unfailingly provocative.” In other words, the way to keep having sex is to not look old. 

 

Jezebel’s Lindy West read the Slate piece, and I was glad to see her point out that there’s no such thing as normal, and that “if you’re just not feeling sex anymore (at any age), that’s okay too!” Her opening about Jane Fonda is hilarious, but, like Krasnow, West focuses on appearance. “(The woman kills a pantsuit, is what I’m saying.) And women—like, say, famous movie stars from famous movie star dynasties—who spend their lives professionally doomsday-prepping for old age really can see incredible results.” As in going to extraordinary efforts to not look old, aka “agelessness.” West condescends when she describes octogenarians’ anecdotes about fellatio and lubrication as “darling.” And Jezebel’s title—Women in Their 70s Say They’re Having Way Hotter Sex Than You—presumes that none of their readers are that old. Probably because they’re too busy having great sex.

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Dementia! Puppets! Gigs!

It was Sabrina Hamilton, the brilliant director of the Ko Festival of Performance, who kicked off my speaking career by inviting me to do a monologue in 2012. She’s got superlative taste and she’s bringing a show called “D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks” to Brooklyn’s Irondale Center this week and next. The show uses puppets to illuminate the inner life of people with late-stage dementia and what it’s like to care for them, and it’s wrenching and uplifting and remarkable. If you don’t believe me, check out some audience reactions. I’ll be doing a talkback with Sabrina after the show on Friday 2/7, and giving my talk at 4:30 between the matinee and the last performance on Saturday the 15th. Also up in February, a return to Senior Planet in Chelsea, this time with visuals and as part of their Macquarie “Bold Ideas In Aging” series (Wednesday, February 26, 127 West 25th St, 5:30PM; free).

 

I’ve been lying low and working full-time on a book, so it was very gratifying to have three invitations land in my in-box last week. The University of Washington’s School of Social Work has invited me to Seattle to give my talk during Careers in Aging Week, April 7-11. I’ll be speaking about the link between ageism and elder abuse to Manhattan-based elder justice advocates later in April, sponsored by the NYC Elder Abuse Center. And I’ll be give my talk at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 1, the International Day of Older Persons. I sure hope my wording catches on; doesn’t International Olders Day sound better?

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The NY Times prints my letter about elder care

In the New York Times on January 20: “In her cogent look at the link between gender and poverty (“How Can We Help Men? By Helping Women,” Opinion, Jan. 12), Stephanie Coontz calls for prioritizing affordable child care. Decent, reliable elder care is just as important. Women perform the vast majority of this unpaid labor as well, and the age of the person requiring care should be irrelevant.”  ASHTON APPLEWHITE, Brooklyn, Jan 12, 2014

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a welcome ally in the “age-acceptance” movement

I suspected that I might find a kindred spirit in Anne Karpf, and her excellent article in the Guardian about why we shouldn’t fear getting old confirms it. Karpf writes of the turning point in our twenties when disdain for those younger than us turns to disregard for our elders, and the consequent body dysmorphia, “propelled at least partly by a fear of ageing, [that] has become a cultural condition.” So many adolescents are getting Botox injections that there’s a name for it: “teen toxing!”

 

Karpf suggests, interestingly, that “the two main ways in which ageing is represented are actually aspects of the same gerontophobia (the dread of growing old and hostility to old people).” In one scenario, olders contribute nothing and and aging is pure decline; in the other, denial simply eradicates it. Apparently New Age guru Deepak Chopra’s followers join him in a land where “old age, senility, infirmity and death do not exist and are not even entertained as a possibility”. “Now where would that be – la-la land?” Karpf asks tartly. She and I are working to describe the vast and nuanced territory between those extremes—the land we actually inhabit, in which “Ageing is a mixture of gains and losses” (the title of the article). 

 

I liked her analysis of an anecdote by a 61-year-old woman, who, upon entering a room full of gray heads, forgets for a moment that she is one of them. “This is like people who say: ‘I don’t feel old,’ as though there were some special feeling that age brings, instead of just being themselves but older,” Karpf writes. And I loved the concluding anecdote quoting Grey Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn. “Her 30th birthday was her worst, she recalled – when she was 85 – and her battlecry, ‘Learning and sex until rigor mortis,’ is as welcome today as ever.” I’ll second that. A copy of Karpf’s new book, How to Age, is in the mail and I can’t wait to read it.  

 

 

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For American workers, 50 Is the New 65

I stole that line from Lynn Parramore, whose excellent piece about age discrimination in the workplace just came out on Alternet. According to Parramore, ageism may be more common than other forms of bias, like ethnic discrimination, and job insecurity is the number-one source of financial stress for Americans over age 50. 

 

I’m quoted at length, and it was handy to be able to dip into my book-in-progress and speedily debunk a bunch of stereotypes about older workers, though I lost my cool by the time we got to “What about older people not using technology?” and blurted “Show me the evidence that they don’t!” After all, a mountain of data attests to the value of experienced workers, including their ability to master new skills. Take it from Peter Cappelli, a Wharton professor and co-author of Managing the Older Worker. “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age,” he declares. “I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.” 

  

Speaking of aggravating, the article in AARP: The Magazine describing his findings was titled “The Surprising Truth About Older Workers.”  Why surprising, and why to AARP, of all organizations?

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“Live too long” or “cost too much?” And who makes the call?

 

In a New York Times op-ed titled “On Dying After Your Time”, prominent bioethicist Daniel Callahan concludes that we should help young people become old, but that when it comes to the old “our duty may be just the reverse: to let death have its day.” It provoked these rebuttals from me and from my colleague Elizabeth Schneewind:

 

When it comes to the value of longer lives, Daniel Callahan’s skepticism about Google’s new Calico “anti-aging” initiative is on point. Far better to wrestle with mortality than to postpone that reckoning in pursuit of biomedical bonanzas. But how could the ethicist get one thing so right and allow ageism and misinformation to derail the rest of his reasoning?

“Modern medicine is very good at keeping elderly people with chronic diseases expensively alive,” he writes. Why the “elderly” in that sentence? Because old people are selfish enough to contract diseases instead of getting hit by buses or committing suicide! People have to die of something, and serious diseases do indeed tend to pile up towards the end of life. This is called the compression of morbidity, and it’s why healthcare costs are highest in our final months or years. It’s also a basic index of progress, because it means people are staying healthy longer. The population to which Callahan refers is the best-educated, healthiest group of older adults in history. Furthermore, the overtechnologized and highly fragmented nature of our healthcare system—not an aging population—is responsible for rising costs.

Callahan next blames older people—“a society where the aged stay in place for many more years”—for impeding upward social and economic mobility by staying in the workforce. In fact the notion that older workers compete with younger ones is a fallacy known as the fixed lump of labor. The problem in a weak economy is not enough jobs, period. If the job market is strong, workers of all ages benefit. According to a 2012 Pew Charitable Trust report, “greater employment of older persons leads to better outcomes for the young.” Furthermore, for better and worse, people are going to have to work longer to pay for longer lives. That’s why “greedy geezers” are also castigated for leaving the labor force.

“And exactly what are the potential social benefits? Is there any evidence that more old people will make special contributions?” asks Callahan, himself an octogenarian. For starters, they write opinion pieces like his. True, most older people aren’t as well positioned, but perhaps they care for a neighbor or grandchild, or mentor a younger person, or otherwise contribute to the public good—or simply look after themselves. Perhaps, unable to manage even that, they belong to the 3% (a mere three percent, down from 4.6% in 2000 according to the U.S. Census) of the 65+ population in nursing homes. Perhaps, even then, their friends and families simply like having them around, as Callahan’s surely does. 

Most significantly, he likes being around. Why else would Callahan have chosen to benefit so greatly from the healthcare system he disparages: “At 83, I’m a good example. I’m on oxygen at night for emphysema, and three years ago I needed a seven-hour emergency heart operation to save my life.” We already invest in the extension of healthy life in young people; where’s the justification for withholding it from the old?  Why should a long future have value but not a rich past? At what point does this ethicist think people should abdicate not just their value as human beings but the very right to want to stay alive?

 

By Elizabeth Hughes Schneewind:

    Daniel Callahan, a distinguished writer on ethical issues concerning old people, published an op-ed (NYT, 12/1/13) criticizing the goal of a new company, Calico:  tackling the “challenge of aging.” 

    Long life per se is not necessarily a good, says Callahan, while a meaningful, fulfilled life is a good, presumably at any age.  Most people these days will agree that some people, old or otherwise, are now kept alive when their life has lost its meaning and is so painful that they would prefer to be dead.  That is the reason for the assisted suicide movement.

    But Callahan’s main argument for limiting life is economic.  Where would the age cutoff fall, and who would make this decision?  He seems to think it would fall at the point at which a person is no longer likely to make a “special contribution” to humanity and at which his/her care has become “too expensive.”  But why should this apply only to the old?  Some societies have considered, e. g., developmentally disabled children of no value and too expensive to maintain.  We know what the terrible results have been, and we do not consider them morally acceptable.

    Callahan thinks that the increasing number of old people and their expanding needs are upsetting the “upward social and economic mobility”  that has been a fine characteristic of modern American life.  Certainly, there is a great deal wrong with our socio-economic system, which is increasingly dividing the rich from the poor.  Thanks to mechanization and other developments, there are fewer and fewer jobs while there are more and more people.  The old notion that every responsible able-bodied adult should be able to find and hold a full-time job capable of supporting a family is as out-dated as the idea that old people should be able to be self-sufficient because they have Social Security.  Why blame the old for a system gone awry?  Better to blame, among others, Silicone Valley for inventing more and more products that replace people with machines.

    It is one thing to think as a social planner and decide that the world might be better off if certain people were eliminated.  It is quite another to consider whether, at a particular point in our own lives or in that of those we care for or respect, we  would think it would be best for life to end.  In the event, almost no one wants to die, absent intractable physical or psychic pain or the fear of something considered even worse than death, such as torture or public shame.  While the life of a frail old person in a nursing home may not appear worthwhile to a young healthy person, he or she may nonetheless feel quite differently at that stage of life.

    Decisions about the value of a life are profoundly personal and individual.  They should not be made on the basis of impersonal social policy. 

The author is a geriatric social worker and the author of “Of Ageism. Suicide, and Limiting Life,” J. Gerontological Social Work, Vol. 23 (1/2, 1994. and other articles on aging.

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Conversations Under the Skin (from the David Norris Newsletter)

 

The following is an excerpt reprinted from the David Norris Newsletter (link?). It is an interview with workforce diversity expert David Norris, clinician, consultant and author of the Get Healthcare Direct Friday Brief (www.gethealthcaredirect.com.au/the-friday-brief). 


 

The accidental hero, so the story goes, stumbles into the role of shield defender of the good and unexpectedly grasps the sword in the other hand as the harbinger of justice.

Ashton wouldn’t be comfortable with this opening stanza but by her own admission she didn’t set out to become a writer. She went into publishing because she loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. Her 1982 “inner weakness” for guffaws and cringe-like jokes made it into a best selling paper back. She also mentions, it made it into Jeopardy “ Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes? Ans: Blanche Knott. You’ll no doubt appreciate, she has a sharp mind and a liquid humour that causes a smile and a cough all in one. As Blanche, she made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Her latest project began in 2007. Her curiosity, the restlessness of WHY, gives voice in This Chair Rocks and pointedly asks: Why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? She began blogging about ageing and ageism now some 6 years ago at This Chair Rocks, and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012,  which is also when she started the call back blog–Yo, Is This Ageist? Of recent times, Ashton is recognised as a Knight Fellow, a New York Times Fellow, and a Columbia Journalism School Age Boom Fellow. David Watts Barton describes her work as, “Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.”

She joins us for the Appreciation Letter on a blustery cold New York afternoon. It’s 4.30am in Australia and I’m far from a picture of roses as I ask Ashton her thoughts on the individual’s responsi­bility to address ageism. 

“Did you see, by the way, what I posted on Yo Is This Ageist? five minutes ago? 

No I haven’t. I must admit, I’ve literally woken up, rolled in here… 

“I don’t blame you. At the doctor’s office I swiped the AARP (American Association of Retired People) magazine. I did not feel I would be depriving many readers of the incredibly anodyne reading experience and I posted this article headline, which says “You Should Hire This Guy – Why? Here is the surprising truth about experienced employees”.  

Surprising? (The shock of incredulism like an unexpected whack on the nose) It’s surprising to AARP that older workers are competent?……….

 This is a hang-­‐up I’ve around language at the moment. There is a lack of enablement or self efficacy…

 It’s the deficit, it’s the assumption of deficit rather the assumption of competence. Ashton says

 

I brief her on the latest policy announcement in Australia, where an employer is paid $3,000 for hiring and retaining an older worker. Collectively known in some circles as Australia’s Clash For Clunkers. This being a term that sticks for a deeply problematic policy initiative. 

Ashton agrees. “You should hold onto your workers if they’re competent and you should not if they’re not. Here’s one of my really radical thoughts, but I’ll throw it out there because it might interest you. I started reading a lot this summer about the disability rights movement. They hold to the ethos of person first. In other words, as my friend in the field said, you wouldn’t say your cancerous mother, it’s someone with cancer, someone with autism, someone with a disability. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that I want us to be all persons with age, but it is another linguistic trick, for saying exactly what you’re saying. We’re people who have fatness or tallness or whiteness or blackness, all these attributes of which age is just one. It’s an easily observable habit in U.S society, and I’m sure it’s the same in the Australia press, for example, 61-­year old writer, Ashton Applewhite.” While I’m not the least disinclined to say how old I am, it shouldn’t be the prime identifier, any more than it should be, if I’m blind or deaf or fat or stupid or a Capricorn…

 

The problem, as Ashton points out is our fear of ageing. This sense of “degradation”. She cites the deeply entrenched stereotypes which can be observed at the start of the industrial revolution. Once a person was broken, not able to perform, there was in a sense a casting off, thrown away as there is no usefulness. 

This is a dominant story which has sown its tendrils in the way we think, behave and project our futures.

 


 The Antidote

 

To relearn learn how to behave and set a new social norm. The massing scientific evidence clearly argues the current dominant social archetype is flawed. In Julie Zemiro’s, Home Delivery episode 4, she drives with comedian and ambassador for Ageing, Noeline Brown. Noeline makes a point about her mother’s experience of disappearing in the eyes of the community when she stopped working. A fear she held for herself and one which is now transforms into a crusade.

 

I ask Ashton the question, one which was put to me re-cently, Are older workers taking jobs away from younger workers? Ashton is quick to the point.

 “It’s a fallacy. If you google fixed lump of labour, economists have disproved it over and over. We do have an economy, at least in the United States, where there are not enough jobs. So there are not enough jobs to go around, but that is the problem—not the fact that older people are taking jobs away from younger people. Mixed age workforces do have their plus points. They’re more flexible but the caveat here is, a little work is needed to get to this stage.”

 

Let’s pause from the interview with Ashton as I want to ask you a direct question:

How do you see yourself when you are 80? 

Take a moment and think about this. Go and grab a drink and let your answer settle before coming back to this. 

I’d like for you to explore your own personal ageing script.

Thanks for coming back. I appreciate, you doing this, and I hope you’ll also appreciate it after hearing the next part of the interview. 

Ashton picks up where we left off….

 

“The disability rights people call it disability porn:  Where you have the heroic crippled person succeeding against all odds.. It’s really problematic. When I started out, I came from a point of view of total ignorance. I guess, you could say, a point of unfettered thinking. I originally conceived it as a project about people  over 80 who worked. And  I bought into this whole model of successful ageing. What I realised, as my sleeves where really being pulled up deep in the subject matter, is a crying out need to place ageing on a spectrum. The disability rights people refer to these heroic people as supercrips. My supergeezer, if you will, is the proverbial skydiving octogenarian.  

“The disability rights people point out that when you show people with disabilities as heroic you set an impossible standard. I’d argue that, especially with ageing since everyone ages, and very differently, the whole point is heterogeneity and diversity.  Acknowledging this is very important. I’ve noted here in the States, the media garners headlines which causes a focus on the ends of the spectrum. The skydivers and then the early onset Alzheimer’s, the grimmest ends of the spectrum. What is much more difficult to do, but incredibly important, is to focus on the millions of us, the 98% -­‐ I made that up – but the vast majority who inhabit the middle, who don’t want to jump out of aeroplanes, but who probably want to do something besides sit on our sofa and collect pension cheques.”

 “I say all ageing is successful otherwise you are dead. I don’t like the idea of unsuccessful. It took me a long time to realise that this binary was problematic. It’s the nuanced nature of ageing and the heterogeneous nature of ageing, which is back to exactly what you’re saying, David. In your work, you focus on the individual. This has to be paramount all the time. We’re not all Ulysses.”

 


 

Vivid terms like the ‘‘demographic time bomb’’ (Tempest, Barnatt, & Coupland, 2002) or the impending ‘‘age quake’’ describes an alarmist view of simultaneously shrinking and ageing populations resulting from low birth rates and in­creased longevity.  

These factors also impact your workforce as a lack of skilled junior employees, combined with the potential rise of the eligible retirement age, likely forces companies like yours to retain older, more experienced personnel. 

As a consequence of these demographics, a growing age diversity has become part of many organizations.  

As we know from research on other demographic diversity categories, such as gender or ethnicity, diversity rarely has an unambiguous effect but is a ‘‘double-­‐edged sword’’ (Horwitz & Horwitz, 2007) 

Let me explain further. 

Butler (1969) was among the first to define ageism as ‘‘a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old.’’

 Today, the concept of ageism (or age bias) tends to be conceptualised more broadly, referring to potential prejudices and subsequent discrimination against any age group, including bias and unfairness toward em­ployees on the grounds of being too young, as well as too old.

 

The Risk and Management of Age Diversity 

The work of Kunze et al (2011) shines a light on the organsiational impact of age discrimination and is well worth your reading. What is likely relevant for you from his team’s work is

  • age diversity was related to higher levels of perceived age discrimination climate in companies and
  • indirectly also negatively influenced collective affective(emotional) commitment of employees 
  • perceived age discrimination also negatively effected engagement and company performance.

My Take: 

In summing up our conversation with Ashton and weighing in Kunze’s observations, there are standout points for my mind which can help you with your work.

  1. As a leader in managing an age diverse workforce, higher levels of perceived age discrimination may occur in your workplace. This is likely a big surprise and is contrary to popular thinking. 
  2. Perceived age discrimination climate is likely linked to performance. Kunze notes organizations are likely to experience reduced performance when employ-ees perceive discriminatory treatment.

So, not only is age discrimination an ethical and moral behaviour to avoid it also has a large bearing on busi­ness performance.  

It may be prudent to highlight complaints of age discrimination is the fastest growing claim before the Australian Human Rights Commission. More than 70% of people feel that age discrimination is common in Australia reports Age Discrimination Com-­‐ missioner, Susan Ryan. 

And that is the point-­‐ feels or perceives.  

In some way, discrimination has manifested in the mind of the person and, as Kunze et al highlight, has real and negative consequences in the workplace.

I’m reminded of a question I took whilst presenting at a health professional conference “So, what we have to do is tailor exclusive programs only our older workers? What about us younger workers?”

 

Listening to Ashton and Kunze, no is the answer. Instead, build a position of inclusivity and value all in your team and organization. This is the springboard of your actions. If the organization and its people feel valued across the lifespan, then offering programs to people at certain stages will likely not be perceived as discriminatory.  

You can appreciate, your language is a powerful lever for your success in this situation.

Ashton points out, “To hit the nail on the uncomfortable head, ideally, I recommend you call people on ageism when it appears, then and there. But this is hard, it’s hard amongst friends, it’s hard amongst strangers, it is frightfully hard in the workplace.

It’s really social change.

In these situations, you have to do it over and over and it’s not easy, but social change does occur. 

We know it does happen-­‐ we can plainly see it from history.”

 

Ashton, I want to thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

 

Ashton: You’re welcome.

 

Ashton publishes regularly to her blogs, This Chair Rocks and Yo, is this Ageist?

 

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Guest Post: How old are you? The impact of ageism.

This is a guest post by Bev Scott, the founder and creator of The 3rd Act, whose mission is to support positive aging. Bev is now in what she considers scene 3 of her own third act, and enjoys creating and writing the script. 

 

 “I don’t tell anyone my age,” my new retired, vibrant and active friend responded.  We were sharing the details of our lives.  After I had revealed my age along with other personal details, I asked her how old she was.  I flashed on the memory of one of my aunts who didn’t tell anyone, even family, how old she was until she was well past 80.  Why are we so fearful to reveal this piece of data about ourselves that is part of the public record?

As I pondered this question, I explored several possibilities.  Is it because our culture extols the fresh-faced beauty of youth but not the creased face that records the smiles and puzzling frowns of life?  Is it because we don’t value the wisdom, perspective and experience of those who have gone before us?  Instead we value the impulsive spontaneity and innovative risk-taking of college drop-out entrepreneurs.  Is it because a high number means we are closer to the end of our life and the recognition of our finite existence on this earth?  Is it because we don’t want to acknowledge that we can no longer count on the physical strength and stamina of our bodies, as we did at twenty-five?  

I believe the answer is yes to all of those possibilities and more.  Because our society blatantly places more value on the young than on the old, we know that as we age, we face a lack of respect, rejection, exclusion and isolation.  We fear the pain, illness and loss that growing old represents.  We hear our politicians threaten to cut Medicare, which may provide our only life-line to health care and medicine.  We fear Social Security will no longer be the safety net that keeps many of us from living on the street.  We worry we will out-live our savings knowing we either have no family to support us or that our family can’t or won’t support us.  

We are afraid to acknowledge our age because we know that our society doesn’t care about our elders.  It is evident in the discrimination in the workplace, the caricatures in the media, the lack of funding for health care, the cuts threatening Social Security and in the subtleties of our daily conversation when we tell someone they don’t look 50 or 60 or 70.  Dr. Robert Butler coined the term “ageism” in the late 60’s to describe the discrimination, attitudes and actions that institutionally and personally harm our elders.  Ageism shapes our views and impacts our behavior.  It keeps us from feeling good about who we are as we age, it breeds fear about our future and it challenges and weakens the very institutions that we need to care for us as we age.

Although we cannot stop the forward movement of our chronological age, I believe that being proactive mitigates the corrosive effects of ageism on our own mental attitudes about age.  When we can acknowledge the wisdom of our experience, cultivate the joy of being present and appreciate who we are, we begin to value our worth and contradict those ageist cultural views.  By acknowledging our age as vital, healthy and active seniors, we begin to counter the old negative images of decline, disabled and worthless. 

Will the tsunami of baby boomers now reaching 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day change our view of the elderly?  Will the 78 million baby boomers moving into elder hood have the impact on our ageist views and values that this population wave has had as it swept through all the other institution in our society?  I hope so.  But as they age and the impact begins to be felt, I commit myself to an inner housecleaning of my own ageist views, staying physically fit and socially engaged… and finding ways to advocate for respect and caring of our elders, including myself.

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strollers, walkers, tricycles

 

I just learned about a book called The Aging City, by Ruth Finkelstein and Senior Planet’s Tom Kamber.  It sounds great, but A City for All Ages would have been a better title. Ramps are very handy for strollers and people of all ages with disabilities, and the more we can frame things intergenerationally, the better. 

 

 

The design challenge is huge.  I’m reading a collection of scholarly articles about ageism and one just made the point that if we see a 75-year-old having trouble getting out of a car we tend to assume that her leg muscles are weak or his balance is impaired, instead of considering how great it would be if the car seat swiveled. If a 25-year-old looks dopey riding a tricycle we don’t attribute it to enlarged limbs or loss of flexibility. Tricycles weren’t designed for 25-year-olds and cars aren’t designed with 75-yr-olds in mind—which doesn’t make either group deficient at the task.