When Crabby Old Lady started this blog a decade ago, hardly anyone else was writing about aging – not online, in magazines and newspapers or anywhere else. Apparently it was too much of a bummer in those days to remind people they will get old and anyway, no one wants to look at pictures of old people, right?
That changed when the oldest baby boomers began turning 60 in 2006, the media realized there was money to be made from targeting that 78 million-strong generation with pertinent aging information and now, seven years later, it's a growth industry.
Most major publications – online and off – have reporters and/or sections dedicated to aging or retirement and this is generally good for all old people. But a subtle kind of ageism in media coverage of aging issues is too often evident.
Simply put, when boomers are being addressed the stories are mostly upbeat, optimistic and cheerful unless they are practical as in the case of financial information and advice.
But when the 40 million Americans who are, like Crabby Old Lady, older than boomers are targeted the subject is usually failing health. Period. Everything else there may be about us is ignored as though we have already checked out, no longer involved with or curious about the world we live in.
Although The New York Times is far from the only transgressor, it is the most widely read and it offers the most stark examples with their two blogs devoted to aging - The New Old Age and the newer one, Booming.
To show you what Crabby is talking about, here are half a dozen representative stories published in the Booming blog this month:
• A celebrity interview with singer Emmylou Harris
• A funny piece about reporters' daydreams of bedding their interview subjects then and now (Disclosure: the writer, Joyce Wadler, is an old friend)
• Another music story about how, if you like Billie Holliday you'll love Madeleine Peyroux
• How to make yourself virtually immortal for the generations who come after you
• Funny, rueful story (again, by Crabby's friend Joyce) about how low-rise jeans don't work on old bodies but there is, infuriatingly, nothing else for sale
• Thoughts on what to do with Mom's mink coat when she has retired to a warm climate
Pretty good lineup, Crabby thinks. Some amusing and interesting stuff related to getting old. Now here is (also representative) a list of half a dozen stories this month at The New Old Age blog.
• Painfully honest, wrenching story about caregiving
• Interview with Martin Bayne about the realities of assisted living
• Designing homes that are safe for elders and disabled people
• Much delayed treatment World War II veterans are now receiving for PTSD
• New medical research that suggests elders may want to reconsider their DNR (do not resuscitate) orders
• Why elders may not need as many colonoscopies as are prescribed
Quite a difference between the two lists. All the stories on both blogs are useful, interesting or entertaining, but the younger old get the fun and older old get no fun at all, just health, health, health and not much good news about it.
In fact, The New York Times seems to have planned it this way. Here is their description of the Booming blog:
”Booming is a section about baby boomers — the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Besides news and information useful to this generation, you’ll find essays by boomers and by their children.
“You’ll find debates about books, new music to embrace and some secrets to enduring love. The wide-ranging conversation will be led by Michael Winerip, who has covered education, parenting, politics and his fellow boomers.”
Sounds good to Crabby Old Lady and importantly, it anticipates and respects the the intelligence of boomers – not something that is always true among media offerings for aging people.
Now, here is The Times' description of The New Old Age blog – also for boomers but the subject is more specific: people who are not only older than they, but sick:
”Thanks to the marvels of medical science, our parents are living longer than ever before. Adults over age 80 are the fastest growing segment of the population; most will spend years dependent on others for the most basic needs. That burden falls to their baby boomer children.
“In The New Old Age, Paula Span and other contributors explore this unprecedented intergenerational challenge.”
So in all the daily publication of these two blogs about aging (at least two stories a day week in and week out), The New York Times consistently ignores the existence of an entire generation of Americans, those 40 million women and men who are older than the boomers, except to declare “most'” of them to be dependent burdens on boomers for their "most basic needs."
Even if The New Old Age is "supposed" to be a blog about caregiving, the facts are that it covers much more than that, often speaking directly to Crabby's generation, and their description of the oldest population is nowhere near the reality.
According to the U.S. Department of Health Administration on Aging Profile of Older Americans 2011 [pdf], 84.4 percent of people 65 and older live with a spouse or alone. There is no information in the report about how many of the married elders are caring for an ailing spouse at home, but Crabby thinks it safe to assume that a long way from “most” are not.
Here is what can be said for sure: if you live long enough you are likely to have more health problems than when you were young and old people are definitely interested in information that will help them maintain their health.
But that is just one among what are certainly thousands of things people older than boomers collectively care about - things like “debates about books, new music to embrace and some secrets to enduring love...[and] wide-ranging conversation.”
Crabby Old Lady founded this blog a decade ago when everything she read about what getting old is like spoke only of disease, decline and debility. She didn't believe that could possibly be so and she has proved to be correct about that right here on these pages every day since.
It's not hard to do if you treat old people with respect. However, in the focus and presentation of its two dedicated aging sections, The New York Times persistently demeans elders who are older than boomers by characterizing them in a pejorative, ageist manner and Crabby Old lady expects better than that from the Old Gray Lady.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Loss of Appetite