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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Crabby Old Lady: A Tale of Two Blogs About Aging

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


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

That certainly made your point well. Dear Crabby....please pat Ronni on the head and tell her that her blog is a far, far better rounded work.

Please tell Joyce that both JC Penney's and Macy's offer jeans that rise a little higher and stay up. :)

There may, indeed, be some Boomers caring for elder parents, but I'll wager there are far more elders (75+) helping out their Boomer children. Job losses, kids in college, housing debt... All have been occasion for helping them cope with a very different economy than we were privileged to experience. Being born during the depression and WWll, our generation saw the post war boom In jobs , opportunities for women, rapidly increasing home values, the '90's Stock Market run -up, etc., all of which left many of our generation in a much better financial position than their boomer kids can expect. I'd like to see some statistics on this aspect of the Elder-Boomer relationship. It might be eye-opening.

They clearly did market research (focus groups, etc.) and are aiming for a a set of niches and silos.

If there is one thing I think most elders have learned over our lives -- we don't and can't live in silos. More fool NYT!

A very well researched and thought out piece Crabby. Good to see you take on even dear old friends like the NYT when you notice they got it wrong.

You represent a growing feeling I have had for years, not as long as you have been blogging, but for the eight years I have been following this field in some considerable detail. Many of my associations, sometimes I think all of them, lose or lost their interest in us, once we pass out of their age limited focus. From educational institutions, community groups, to cause based organizations, they have lost sight of the productive, relatively healthy older adults that are getting along quite well despite being over 70 or whatever age they think we no longer matter.

Keep it up.

Excellent point! I get really tired of hearing about aging boomers as if they were the oldest people in our population, while we war babies and older are usually treated as if we're already dead and gone. Maybe that's why we're called the Silent Generation, 1925-1945. I'm convinced it's the result of most writers being Gen Xers or Millennials.

Descriptions of the generations: http://www.marketingteacher.com/lesson-store/lesson-six-living-generations.html

The Silent Generation, that's me. Younger writers have no clue and at age 71 I see how little I understood at times my parents lives when they were my age. I'm trying to make up for it by keeping my grandkids in the conversation. I hope they will understand me better and themselves when they reach the last third of their life.

I also found jeans online with Woman Within, larger sizes but they have "relaxed" regular waist and tall sizes that have a longer rise and goes over my very round tummy. I am about 15 pounds over for my height and its all in my tum. Sometimes I have to take the legs up but not always but it was a treasure trove for me. Meaure yourself carefully if you try this and read the reviews, they are pretty good.

Part 2, I guess. Ronni, your blog is still the first thing I read every morning. I am so impressed with the reams of information you distill and present for us. You're the best. That profile of Older Americans was an eye opener for me. The numbers tell me we are doing much better than the fear mongers would have us believe.

Also I am still helping my kids. One last year had medical bills of the hideous kind even with some insurance. I am still ferrying young ones around to choir, sports, the doctor and dentist, and nursing them at home when their parents are at work. It's a mutual thing. I feel lucky that I have a large extended family that supports each other.

I have a friend in her 70's who is taking care of her middle-aged disabled daughter. My friend has her own business and teaches at a community college here. One day she said "Aren't our kids supposed to be taking care of us now?" So to stereotype the 'silent generation' as doddering and decrepit old fogies waiting for the grim reaper is most misleading. We may have gone downhill physically, but we are still productive and still spend money. It is foolish for the ad industry and media to dismiss us so handily.

One thing that has struck me since I passed 70 is how inextricably agism and sexism so often are at this stage of life. We older women not only become physically invisible sooner and to a greater degree than men our age do; our views are often discounted as well -- despite the fact that many of us are still pretty bright and well informed!

One thing that strikes me about the media and their response to old age is the way that obituaries often sort of drop off when a description of the person's later years is to be given. See, for example, the recent Times obit of Rise Stevens, the Met soprano, written by Margalit Fox, a really splendid writer of obituaries: she covers Stevens' shining career, her retirement, her subsequent directing of the Mannes School of Music - but that is the end, and Stevens left the school in 1976. And I wanted to know about the years between 1976-2013! I assume whatever she did was not considered newsworthy.. So there seems to be, at least in this case, a built-in assumption about old age and its lack of interest for "the public." Which just perpetuates the impression that Darlene mentions in her post. We are no longer interesting in any way, and those years of really old age are a cipher. OR, as Ronni has written about before, we are only acceptable as objects of interest if we do something hugely active, fly around the world, write 10 more books, etc. etc. Harumph.

Ronni, you are right on target, and we need to let the Times and other publications know what we want to read. Elders of all ages are interested in so many topics. We cannot be shoved into demeaning stereotypes.

Case in point - was there not a splendid and candid discussion of elder sex here yesterday?

You ought to pitch a column to them, Ronni. You could do it justice. Be the type of editorial elder-at-large voice you describe.

Your words would provide a quenching drink of sensibility to those thirsting in an arid cultural landscape wherein the writing often seeks to diminish this cohort.

As an aside, the Wikipedia has a thorough entry for the Silent Generation. The origin of the phrase, and so forth. Folks may wish to consult it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Generation.

Thank you for mentioning the Times New Old Age blog. It covers articles about hospice care and other things that are on my mind at the moment. I'm not dying, but simply trying to organize my death to the extent I can so my children won't have to. My parents had living wills and had prepaid their cremation, which helped this only child a lot.

I agree with Elsa Louise. Why not make a pitch to the Times.

Yea, Ronni! You could really help the NYT "experts" understand aging. Seriously, I read The New Old Age, and it offers good information, much of which I may well need later. However, I, too, am seriously offput by the constant media bombardment about all the health problems I should be having or will probably have in the future. Sure I'm interested in articles about staying healthy--and how to cope if I don't--but that's not all I want to read/hear about.

I'm with you and several of your responders that we of The Silent Generation (SG) are for the most part silent and thus largely invisible to the world. Hey, Society, guess what? Most of us members of the SG probably are NOT "dependent on others for our most basic needs".

A relatively small but significant percentage of us are still working either full or part time. We're still driving, doing our own housework, paying our own bills and volunteering. SG women weren't all housewives (I've worked outside the home my entire adult life, mostly in professional positions). I'm politically left-of-center. I voted for President Barack Obama--twice. I support many "controversial" values such as equal pay for women, domestic violence legislation, abortion rights, criminal background checks for every gun purchaser (no exceptions) and gay marriage. 50's lady? Not so much!

The type of "old age" article that I find irritating? The ones with titles such as "5 Things to Understand About Old Age", "10 Important Age Considerations",and "What to Do After Retirement", that only cover finances.

There are never any ideas about getting involved in your neighborhood or towns or senior groups, pressuring the local Y to increase the seniors-only pool time, attending county planning meetings, helping out non-profits, getting large-type books into the library, seniors and politics,etc.

Even those of us on a tight budget can contribute to society.

Last month I received a call from a resident in her late 70s who has been active in the local environmental movement for several decades. Due to recent medical problems she needed some one to stop by her house, pick up some flyers that she had written and printed, and distribute them to the residents of an area around a controversial project. She also needed a ride to a township committee meeting...and the local committee members always pay attention when she shows up.

[BTW, another vote for a TGB column in the NYT.]

At 73 and 74, we don't fit into the boomer gen, but I sure HOPE we don't fit into the old-old yet (or ever). I guess as the boomers age, the better being old-old will be .... maybe we in-betweeners can hang on until they figure it all out.

Love the positive outlook of TGB, which I only recently discovered. Thank you.

As a 73 year old daily NYT reader I am generally depressed at reading all the grim, negative articles on aging.The NYT was always a perk every morning with a cup of coffee.Things certainly have changed.

Dear Crabby, if you haven't seen Quartet yet, you absolutely must do! Besides the gorgeous visuals, the exquisite sound track & the pleasure of seeing Maggie Smith again, it's a wonderful tribute to vibrantold age. I can't shout it's praises enough!

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