261 posts categorized "Ageism"

Rethinking Ageism

There has been a surge recently in the number of print media stories about ageism. Two I've seen are important.

In November, Joseph F. Coughlin, who is founder and director of MIT’s AgeLab, noted in Time magazine that old people even have their own town in Florida, The Villages. (Not that similar places don't exist elsewhere.)

At The Villages, there are a 157,000 residents age 55 and older who have developed their own culture, norms and lifestyle, says Coughlin, and he sees a “troubling possible future” where old and young segregate themselves from one another:

”The way this could happen is simple,” he writes. “Society fails to recognize the needs, desires and aspirations of older people, treating them as invisible — or, worse, as a problem to be solved.

“We continue to write a story of old age that retires people away from everyone else, rather than finding ways to engage them, to activate their talents. In response, it’s only natural that older people would choose to cloister themselves away.”

Actually, we – meaning young and old - are way ahead of Coughlin. Many of the majority of elders who do not live in Villages-style communities find other ways to isolate themselves from younger generations. And if they won't do it themselves, those younger people will do it for them.

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Tad Friend looked into the intractable endurance of ageism quoting, at one point, four psychologists who wrote the book, Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons.

”[...they] point out that many people preserve themselves from 'death thought accessibility' by shunning 'senior citizen centers, bingo parlors, nursing homes, golf courses, Florida, and Rolling Stones concerts.'

“The authors dryly conclude,” notes Friend, 'Another way to avoid older adults is to keep them out of the workplace.'”

No kidding. A lot of us on this blog who had every intention of working longer know all about that how that works, and Friend takes Silicon Valley to task for the tech industry's patently ageist hiring practices.

As it turns out too, according to Friend, the widespread belief that Eastern cultures treat their elders with more kindness, care and understanding than our Western culture does just isn't so:

”A meta-analysis by the academics Michael S. North and Susan T. Fiske reveals that Eastern societies actually have more negative attitudes toward the elderly that Western ones do...”

And further, say North and Fiske, efforts to make old people more understandable to the young,

”'...have yielded mixed results at best.' Having students simulate the experience of being old by donning weighted suits and vision-inhibiting goggles, or exposing them to 'intergenerational contact' – actual old people – doesn't lead to kumbaya moments.

“'Such approaches do not appear to incite a long-term desire among the young for interactions with elders,' they regretfully conclude, 'and contact can backfire if older adults are particularly impaired.'”

It doesn't help that, as Friend writes, we tend to caricature elders into only two categories: "raddled wretches and cuddly Yodas", denying them full, rounded humanity as the young are automatically granted.

As Friend notes throughout his piece, it is fear of death that drives ageism which is what probably makes ageism unavoidable.

”If ageism is hardwired, how can we reprogram ourselves? Greenberg and Co. suggest three ways:

⚫ Having the elderly live among us and fostering respect for them
⚫ Bolstering self-esteem throughout the culture to diminish the terror of aging
⚫ Calmly accepting our inevitable deaths.

“They note, however, that 'all these directions for improvement are pie in the sky, particularly when we think of them at a society-wide or global level of change.' So ageism is probably inevitable 'in this potentially lonely and horrifying universe.'”

Or, from cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker:

”The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”

Personally and however fearful it may be, I'm working hard to live every moment I have left to its fullest.

SNL Takes on Ageism and It's a Win for Elders

Some TGB readers (and many other elders) do not believe in ageism. Whenever I write about the demeaning slights, substandard medical care, failure to hire due to gray hair and wrinkles, cutesy-poo language that infantilizes all elders, they dismiss it as unimportant or, even, that I'm misreading it.

Undoubtedly, many are the same people who are appalled by the alleged sexist treatment of women by Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and the self-confessed groping of women by our current president, along with the ongoing struggle of women to achieve parity with men in the working world.

There is no doubt in my mind that these people are also horrified by white supremacists and would bite their tongues off before uttering the N word.

But ageism? Doesn't exist or if it does, it is not on a par with racism, sexism, heterosexism and all the other hateful -isms.

A large part of ageism denial is that we hear it many times every day in print, on television and in casual conversation from the cradle and no one ever calls it out as is commonly done in response to sexism and racism. Another reason is that it often sounds too benign to be as contemptible as those other slurs.

As I've mentioned here in the past, I record most of the monologues of the late night talk show hosts because I can't stay up that late but they are among the best, sharpest commentators we have on our frightful predicament with President Trump. And they are also among the worst ageism offenders.

Hardly a night of the week goes by without one (or more) of the hosts denigrating old people or growing old in general. “He's so old...” Jay Leno once called Senator John McCain's presidential campaign the Antiques Roadshow.

It even shows up regularly on cable news. During Hurricane Irma, MSNBC host Ali Velshi explained that he wanted the audience to understand how experienced reporter Sam Champion is because he's been covering hurricanes for 30 years.

“I hate to say that,” said Velshi to Champion, “but you look terrific for your years.” The ultimate compliment in ageist America – to look younger than you are.

That anecdote explains why so many old people deny the ageism that denigrates them and all old people; it just seems so friendly and harmless. But let me be clear: repeated dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day, it reminds everyone that elders are not equal with younger adults or, even, children.

The reason I'm banging on about this today is that sometimes – so rarely that it is a major media event to a blog like this that takes as its subject growing old – someone fights back.

This time, it was Saturday Night Live last weekend in a skit that takes place in a retirement community. It makes all the points that I make but unlike me, they make you laugh too.

The skit stars Kate McKinnon as the old woman, that evening's host, comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani as the retirement home attendant, along with Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner as the grandchildren of the old woman.

PS: As serendipity would have it, on Tuesday Medical News Today published a report of a study suggesting that frequent sex may help old brains work better. Who knows if the result will hold up over time, but here are the details.

Inequities in Elder Healthcare and Myths About Older Drivers

Two important topics in the realm of ageing that I bang on about from time to time turned up in separate, well-researched articles last week and both are important to elders, their families, people who care for them and to public policy. Let's take them one at a time.

And this produces profound inequities in their healthcare compared to children and adults.

Writing in The New York Times yesterday, Louise Aronson, a professor of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, points out that in the U.S. healthcare system,

”There are 17 subgroupings for children from birth through age 18. That makes sense because, of course, a 6-month-old has had little time to develop immunity, weighs far less than an 8-year-old and is exposed to fewer people than a teenager.

“There are five subgroups for adults. But all Americans 65 and older — including the two fastest-growing segments of our population, the 80- to 90-year-olds and those over 100 — are lumped in a single group, as if bodies and behaviors don’t change over the last half-century of life.

“You don’t need to be a doctor to see that this is absurd.”


Although Professor Aronson's Op-Ed is specifically about vaccines, she makes it clear that not differentiating between the young-old and old-old makes all healthcare for elders questionable. Studies have shown, Aronson writes, that some common procedures in urological conditions, acute myeloid leukemia and chemotherapy treatment have much less efficacy in older patients.

”There are simply different risk-benefit ratios for older adults; the frailest and oldest often incur all the immediate harms of treatments, from prevention to intensive care, without seeing the benefits.

The sad fact is that we frequently don’t know how to best care for the old. Treatments rarely target older adults’ particular physiology, and the old are typically excluded from clinical studies.

“Sometimes they are kept out based on age alone, but more often it’s because they have one of the diseases that typically accompany old age. And yet we still end up basing older people’s treatment on this research, because too often it is all we have.”

Hear, hear - the inequities are obvious and can be deadly. Aronson concludes:

”In the 20th century, vaccines conquered many of the deadliest diseases of childhood. In the 21st century, when the number of older adults will surpass the number of children worldwide, we need to similarly target oldhood...

“Life is a three-act play. It’s time our medical system reflected that truth.”

No kidding.

Many states have different driving license requirements for people 65 and older. Among the most common, according to ClaimsJournal website in 2012:

Must renew more frequently, from one to five years, in person only and pass a vision test

Require an optometrist's certification for vision or a doctor's certification that the driver is medically fit

A few states require a road test each renewal

Some states allow health providers, family and in one case even neighbors to report what they believe are impairments to driving


These restrictions on renewals for older drivers have been increasing in recent years because it is widely believed, and hardly ever challenged, that old people cause more accidents than younger drivers.

That is simply not true as Cynthia Kuster, an elder care attorney with the law firm Lamson & Cutner recently reported from her research. Some excerpts:

”Let’s start with question a) – DO elderly drivers pose an increased risk to others?', writes Kuster. The short answer is: Not really.

“Even at their highest rate (for drivers 85 and older), the fatality rate for accidents caused by seniors is the same or lower than that for drivers 25 years old and under. The data indicate that even through the age of 84, older drivers caused fatalities to occupants of other vehicles and non-motorists at about the rate that 30-year-olds do.

“That is simply not a major danger. We’re certainly not stopping 30-year-olds from driving, and drivers younger than 30 are far more likely to cause the death of others than are 84-year-olds.”

As to whether old drivers are a danger to themselves, Kuster tells us that when the driver is at fault, a 76-year-old is as likely to die in an accident as a 26-year-old. But after age 83, driver fatalities rise significantly.

”However, the AAA study I looked at here cites a study, published in the Traffic Injury Prevention journal, that found that increased fatalities in elderly drivers are more common because the drivers are frailer, and injuries sustained in an accident are much more likely to result in death than they would be, were the driver younger.”

As Kuster concludes:

”The AAA study summary states, 'Relative to other age groups, drivers aged 85 and older face the highest risk of their own death, whereas teens pose the greatest risk to passengers, occupants of other vehicles, and non-motorists.

“The Traffic Injury Prevention study cited in the AAA article stated: 'Older driver motor vehicle crashes are not a significant threat to other road users in vehicles or as pedestrians...”

“Focusing on how to make driving safer for seniors – or more importantly, how to make crashing less deadly for them – should be a focus of public safety advocates.”

As the first article above notes and as I have reported here for years, elders age at different rates. An individual 60-year-old may show dramatic signs of incapacity while an individual 80-year-old may not.

We each are reponsible to monitor our vision, reaction times and confidence behind the wheel and long before hanging up the keys, figure out how we will get around without a car.

Until then, don't let anyone tell you elders are worse drivers than younger people. Not to mention that There is more than a little ageism involved in each of these two issues.

Ageism in Healthcare


This story had been on my “to do soon” list just before my cancer diagnosis and now that my recovery is going so well, it's time to start catching up. Let me start with a couple of ageist profiling stories from Dr. Val Jones at the BetterHealth website:

”Take for example, the elderly woman who was leading an active life in retirement. She was the chairman of the board at a prestigious company, was an avid Pilates participant, and the caregiver for her disabled son.

“A new physician at her practice recommended a higher dose of diuretic (which she dutifully accepted), and several days later she became delirious from dehydration. She was admitted to the local hospital where it was presumed, due to her age, that she had advanced dementia. Hospice care was recommended at discharge. All she needed was IV fluids.

“I recently cared for an attorney in her 70’s who had a slow growing brain tumor that was causing speech difficulties. She too, was written off as having dementia until an MRI was performed to explore the reason for new left-eye blindness.

“The tumor was successfully removed, but she was denied brain rehabilitation services because of her 'history of dementia.'

“Of course, I recently wrote about my 80-year-old patient, Jack, who was presumed to be an alcoholic when he showed up to his local hospital with a stroke.”

These are not uncommon stories. One of the most serious side effects of ageism is inadequate health care. Another example from an important overview of ageism in healthcare was published in Generations, the journal of the American Society on Aging, in October 2015:

”The geriatrician and writer Dr. Louise Aronson (2015) describes a disturbing example of explicit ageism in which a surgeon asks the medical student observing his case what specialty she is thinking of pursuing.

“When she answers, 'Geriatrics,' the surgeon immediately begins mimicking an older adult complaining about constipation in a high-pitched whine. The attending surgeon had a reputation for being an outstanding teacher, yet repeats this parody throughout the surgical procedure.”

Let me pause here to say that the reason I was eager to get back to this topic is the excellent care I received at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) hospital over nine days, which I wrote about here, that is in stark contrast to stories like those above which occur way too frequently.


When health care providers harbor implicit or explicit prejudice against older patients, the possibility of under- or over-treatment increases – and that often starts with poor communication.

As the authors report in the Generations article, in one study doctors were rated as “less patient, less engaged and less egalitarian with their older patients.”

”One way healthcare providers unknowingly patronize older adults,” they continue, “is to use 'elderspeak' - speaking slowly, with exaggerated intonation, elevated pitch and volume, greater repetitions, and simpler vocabulary and grammatical structure.

“Older adults perceive elderspeak as demeaning and studies show it can result in lower self-esteem, withdrawal from social interactions, and depression, which only reinforce dependency and increase social isolation (Williams, Kemper, and Hummert, 2005).”

The authors also note that it is not just the providers who “may harbor or exhibit ageist attitudes. Older adults themselves often possess very negative views of aging, not realizing the potential impact on their health.”

This may be changing, however, among baby boomers who are more likely to be comfortable questioning authority than many of their older counterparts.


Ageism in healthcare is, of course, only one area of prejudice against elders but as the stories above demonstrate, it can be deadly. If you encounter any healthcare professional who is behaving in a demeaning manner or dismissing your complaints, politely explain that you expect and deserve his/her full attention and care.

Or, you could just fire the doctor and find a new one as I did last October when my then-primary care physician dismissed my symptoms that eventually led to the pancreatic cancer diagnosis as nothing but a mild virus an antibiotic would take care of.

Whenever I have written about ageism lo these many years, inevitably there is a pushback in the comments. Invariably one or more will quote the “stick and stones...” adage, insisting that derogatory names can't hurt them. Others deny that ageism is on a par with sexism, racism, etc.

Really? It's not okay to denigrate, stereotype and discriminate against women and people of color but okay for old people? Really?

No, not really. Let me tell you why ageism – in all its manifestations – matters to me. It is about justice, justice for everyone including old people. And because if I don't keep insisting, it will change me in ways I won't like.


Saturday Night Live Elder Bashing

Anyone reading this blog is likely to be familiar with ageism, defined in brief as the stereotyping and discrimination of old people based entirely on their age.

It occurs in all areas of life. In the workplace, healthcare, entertainment, finance, advertising, language, movies, books, even greeting cards, old people are maligned, dehumanized and made fun of mostly with impunity.

It never changes. It never gets better. In fact, during 13 or 14 years I've been regularly inveighing against ageism, it seems to be increasing. I could be wrong about that but it feels so and it certainly is not diminishing.


One of the biggest ways ageism is perpetuated is through the media and today, I am particularly incensed about a certain time segment of television that has made elder bashing a staple of its repertoire.

It's the late night comedy shows. Hosts Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers are the ones I see most frequently and every one of them makes it a regular practice to demean old people. It is always off-handedly as though it carries no more more social freight than the weather forecast and it always gets them a laugh.

Jimmy, Jimmy, Stephen, Seth and the others (even, now and then, John Oliver) - that is, comedians - are among the worst purveyors of ageist hilarity, falling back on this handy kind of cheap humor whenever their or their writers' creativity fails them.

The jokes are pervasive, turning up at least once a week on each of the shows usually in the monologue but even during interviews and they use these jokes with abandon because - well, everyone knows that it is wrong, for example, to make fun of the disabled but mocking old people's failings and foibles is just good fun.

What infuriates me beyond the ageism itself is that it is perpetrated day in and day out from otherwise talented performers who help keep me sane in this dark era of America's political crisis.

And that brings us to this: Throwaway lines that take five or six seconds to toss off are bad enough. A protracted attack including just about every stereotype known of old people is quite another.

In Saturday's Interesting Stuff column, I posted the wonderful video from NBC-TV promoting actor Melissa McCarthy's appearance as host of Saturday Night Live that evening.

McCarthy's Sean Spicer segment was not brilliantly written this time but okay, likewise Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation and Weekend Update was one of Colin Jost's and Michael Che's best this season. There were other good moments. And then there was a skit about the Amazon Echo.

It is only 2:40 minutes long but it feels, while watching it, as if it will never end – on and on and on and on.

Perhaps it is understandable for young comedians steeped in unchallenged ageist humor from birth to believe this is acceptable, even funny. But I doubt they would agree to perform in a similar take down of, for example, brown people, women, Jews, Muslims or LGBTQ people.

And get this: Each week, SNL produces more skits, recorded and live, than they can use in one show and the final choice of which ones to include is made at dress rehearsal by producer, Lorne Michaels.

Lorne Michaels is 72 years old. Apparently he sees no personal irony in this week's Amazon Alexa skit choice.

It's everywhere on late night television, elder bashing is, and that spreads continued acceptance of ageist behavior far and wide particularly among young adults who are the main fans of late night humor shows which are further distributed through YouTube.

As gerontologist and Professor Emeritus of Medical Sociology at Duke University Erdman B. Palmore admitted in an article in the Encyclopedia of Ageism, humor may be a less serious form of ageism than, for example, employment or criminal discrimination. However, he continued:

”...because negative humor is so frequent and insidious, it may well be a root cause of the more serious forms of ageism...

“Just as racist and sexist jokes support negative attitudes about race and sex, most jokes about old people are ageist. Most tellers and listeners are probably unaware of their ageist effect, which may even increase the joke's impact on the listener's unconscious attitudes.”

For the record, I have two Amazon Echos and use them as easily as any young person. So do many other elders.

Not Like Them – Those Other Old People (Again)

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This week has been too busy and I ran out of time to write today's post. But that's okay – I could use a day off - and this one, a rerun, caused a good deal of introspection and some differences of opinion in the comments when it first appeared here nearly three years ago.

Let's see how it goes this time.

* * *

Hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a press release or reader email alerting me to a photography exhibit of elders. So much so that it is hard not to conclude that it is becoming a growth industry.

The two most common categories are closeups of wrinkled skin and old people participating in sports - or, sometimes, both in the same series.

It is always better, I believe, so see more portrayals of old people, in any medium, than not. But too many of the photographs are just ordinary and stand out only for having been shot in harshly lit black-and-white which, as any denizen of the internet and certain galleries knows, is the signal that you are in the presence of “art.”

You can choose to reject that designation if your judgment tells you otherwise particularly, in my case, when it seems the photographers' goal is to shock us with the apparent ruin of 90-year-old bodies.

In June, Lillian B. Rubin died. She was 90 years old, a sociologist, a psychologist and author of several useful and well-received books including, in 2008, 60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in the 21st Century.

In reading Rubin's obituary, I was reminded of the opening line in that book,

“Getting old sucks. It always has, it always will.”

Anyone who has been reading this blog for longer than a day or two know that I disagree. But I do know what she was getting at and some of that is contained in an article she wrote for Salon in 2011:

”...old age - even now when old age often isn't what it used to be – is a time of loss, decline and stigma.

“Yes, I said stigma. A harsh word, but one that speaks to a truth that's affirmed by social researchers who have consistently found that racial and ethnic stereotypes are likely to give way over time and with contact, but not those about age.

“And where there are stereotypes, there are prejudice and discrimination – feeling and behavior that are deeply rooted in our social world, and consequently make themselves felt in our inner psychological worlds as well.”

In a short but remarkable section of that Salon article, written when Rubin was 87, she admits to her own prejudice against old people. As she recalled the interviews with elders that she conducted for 60 on Up,

”...I found myself forced back on myself, on my own prejudices about old people, even though I am also one of them.

“Even now, even after all I've learned about myself, those words – I am one of them – bring a small shock. And something inside resists.

“I want to take the words back, to shout, 'No, it's not true, I'm really not like them,' and explain all the ways I'm different from the old woman I saw pushing her walker down the street or the frail shuffling man I looked away from with a slight sense of discomfort.

“I know enough not to be surprised that I feel this way, but I can't help being somewhat shamed by it.”

My own “small shock” and “surprise” and “shame” is that sometimes I catch myself, when I pay attention, feeling like Rubin. Because even though I am hyper-aware, thanks to the work I do for this blog, that I am one perilous fall or terrible diagnosis away from disastrous need of part- or full-time care, I feel different from those who do.

But what Rubin was getting at when she wrote that getting old sucks is not so much the physical manifestations as the emotional and spiritual changes that our culture does not acknowledge even as it is the major source.

Rubin and I share a disdain for the relentless focus on youth, the anti-aging industry, the dubious value of brain games, elders who pretend they are not old.

It is the less than artful photography of ancient bodies I mentioned above that comes to mind when I read part of Rubin's conclusion in her Salon piece:

”...we're living in a weird combination of the public idealization of aging that lies alongside the devaluation of the old. And it isn't good for anybody.

“Not the 60-year-olds who know they can't do what they did at 40 but keep trying, not the 80-year-olds who, when their body and mind remind them that they're not 60, feel somehow inadequate, as if they've done something wrong, failed a test.”

Until we, as a society, find a way to value the late years of elders' lives – all the years, in all their manifestations - there will continue to be old people like Lillian Rubin, me and a certain percentage of you who are ashamed to know that sometimes we feel “not like them.” Until we are forced, one day, to admit, finally, that we are.

The Shifting Sands of (My) Ageing

Over the weekend a friend who has been active in elder issues for many years said to me that he had mostly stopped reading about ageing, that everything important has been said.

We had other things to talk about and didn't pursue that line of thought for any distance but I recognized that without having made a deliberate decision, I too have been reading less about growing old for at least a year.

Although I still follow two or three dozen elder issues and topics in the news most days I am, after these 21 or 22 years at age research, a master at knowing from headlines and first sentences if I need to read further.

Books too have become easier to choose. With the exception of a handful of remarkable writers and thinkers, most often the answer is don't bother. There is a lot of repetition going on.

When I started studying growing old in 1995 – in my mid-fifties - there was hardly any popular or even academic writing about it and certainly not in any positive sense. Mostly it was about how awful ageing is and everyone should do anything possible, spend any amount of time and money to avoid it.

It was so widespread, I thought, “Geez, if it's going to be this bad, I may as well shoot myself now,” but I was too curious about how the future would play out for me to take myself seriously. (And I secretly never believed it is so awful.)

In books and magazines and videos and such, during the intervening years, a growing number of people have recognized that growing old has been unnecessarily maligned but nothing has changed in the overall culture:

After age 50, hardly anyone, no matter how qualified, can find a good job. Comedians still build careers with grandpa incontinence jokes. And the soft tyranny of ageist stereotypes in all corners of society continues without letup.

We are so accustomed to ageist representations of old people that even elders themselves don't notice. Here is an example from four or five years ago but if you pay attention, you'll see them every day.


This one which is widely used in many north American and European cities helps sustain the belief that old age is synonymous with sick and unhealthy. For the record, it is not.


Without having as much external input from others about growing old now that I'm reading less, here are some of the items that have been rattling around in my own head recently; obviously not fully developed (each one could be a blog post) but I think you'll get the point.

My age is only part of who I am but because all people are trained from the cradle to reject old age, it is the first and, most of the time, the only thing others think is important to know about me.

Of course, my age has a influence on how I see the world. At minimum that difference, after living all this time and always being a curious sort, is that I have a lot more knowledge and information to call on in making decisions and forming opinions.

Just because sometimes mine is not the “cool” point of view doesn't make me wrong nor invalidate my ideas. But too often old people are dismissed in what they say merely because they are old. And it is okay, in our culture, to do so with condescending amusement: “Isn't she cute, that old woman.”

Too many old people are in the closet about their age - from extreme cosmetic surgery that is always apparent to being coy about the actual number of their years.

What the deniers need to understand is that every time they pretend to be younger than they are or lie about their age or present themselves as “not like those other old people,” they reinforce tolerance of ageist behavior. They are part of the problem.

Those “get-off-my-lawn” old guys. (I suppose there are also women of this type.) Too often old people are their own worst enemies.

Way too many younger adults are talking about what it's like to be old and how old people should live and arrange their lives. You are free to call me a slow learner but all on my own without help from anyone else, I have learned two – and ONLY two – truths I believe in, in my seven-and-half decades:

  1. With the possible exception of trained medical personnel, no one knows anything about what it's really like to be old until they get there.

  2. The second one doesn't apply today but if you're curious: If it is happening to me, it is happening to millions of other people

It is long past time when people who make decisions about old people, individually and collectively - whether they are scientists, social workers, caregivers or government policy makers – must include one and preferably more old people in forming conclusions and making choices that will affect elders.

On a personal level, I am surprised that I haven't changed as much as I thought I would by now when I was younger.

For all the years I've packed on, I'm still carrying the same baggage from my upbringing as I did when I was 20 or 30 (I just see it more clearly now). The major emotional experiences of my adult years get in the way of my behavior pretty much as they did back then which is to say, not attractively.

But as I wrote a few posts ago, I'm done with self-improvement. Little, if anything, will change about me now. Maybe old people are all like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”

* * *

There's a lot going on in Washington about meetings between Russian representatives and Trump associates during the election campaign and now in the White House.

Many citizens – even a large number of Republicans – are calling for a special prosecutor (or someone similar) to investigate these issues. The White House and many Congressional Republicans, especially those who head up intelligence committees, are trying to avoid doing this with the usual, "Move along, nothing to see here, folks."

This is just a reminder to keep up your calls to your representatives in Congress. I assume you have your telephone numbers. If not and you have a smartphone, you can download 5 Calls that makes it easy for you. It's available for iPhones and Android phones.

Last week, TGB reader janinsanfran who blogs at Since It Has Happened Here told us about another service she uses called Daily Action. Give them your phone number and Zip Code and they will text you a daily action alert. Obviously, you need a text-messaging phone for this to work but most so-called "dumb phones" can do that.

Elder Cosmetic Surgery

Turtleplastic surgery

A few weeks ago, TGB reader Momcat Christi sent me a link to a news story about how growing numbers of old people are undergoing elective cosmetic surgery.

”According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery,” reports Tara Bahrampour in the Washington Post, “the number of people 65 and older getting facelifts and cosmetic eyelid surgeries has more than doubled over the last two decades, with much of that increase occurring over the last five years.”

It's a trend, old people getting plastic surgery going back at least to 2006 when a study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging concluded:

”...much advertising and social pressure is specifically aimed at trying to get people to pay money to stop themselves from looking old. It seems our Western society increasingly denigrates rather than reveres the elderly.

“We need to try to ensure that the pressures on the elderly to look young do not create unrealistic expectations and lead to older people spending significant proportions of their savings on procedures that cannot turn back time.”

No kidding.

Apparently, there is no one too old for cosmetic surgery. In an undated story at About Plastic Surgery, Gregory Borah, MD, Professor and Chief Division of Plastic Surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey reports that

“The oldest patient I’ve had was 92... She came to me wanting breast augmentation. She had always wanted it but her husband wasn’t in favor of it. When he passed, she spent the insurance money on it. She said she wanted to look good.”

That's one thing about plastic surgery – health care insurance does not pay. It's a cash-only business with prices as high as the traffic will bear.

Another thing about plastic surgery is risk. Even a quick tour around the internet of plastic surgeon's websites reveals almost no mention of risk for people of any age let alone old ones. I finally tracked down this concern in a news story at nhmagazine.com:

“It’s not the patient’s age that’s a limitation. It’s the co-morbidities, the other illnesses and medical conditions about the person,” says Dr. Bruce Topol, who also practices in Manchester as a board certified plastic surgeon and is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

“If someone has to be on aspirin because they’ve had a stroke, have had a heart attack, have a stent in their heart or had corroded arteries surgery, that’s a risk for bleeding. If somebody is on blood thinners, it is contraindicated to do any type of cosmetic surgery because the risk of bleeding is very high. Diabetes is another high-risk factor.”

Which means, of course, that more older people are at greater risk than those who are younger.


Many people twist themselves in knots trying to pretend their cosmetic surgery has a greater purpose than looking younger, but it really comes down to that. From the Washington Post story:

“I’m 60 and I remember when my grandfather and grandmother were 60 and it was like they had a foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave - and now (people their age) are skiing,” said Dan Mills, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Increasingly, as Americans remain more physically fit later in life, they often see a disconnect in how they look versus how they feel.”

Personally, I don't get the “disconnect” he's talking about. Is there anything about being physically active that is impinged upon by looking one's age?

Some people believe a face or eye lift will help them get a job. I've had personal experience with age discrimination in the workplace and believe me, a large number of 20-something hiring managers have no interest if you're older than 35, let alone 65, and no amount of surgery will make a 65-year-old look 30.

Back at the Washington Post article, eminent geriatrician, Bill Thomas, is quoted:

“'People are making a calculated decision, trying to escape the stigma of aging and buy a little time, be in the world and not be sidelined because of their appearance,' said Bill Thomas...who is trying to push Americans toward accepting old age as a welcome stage of life.

“It’s the age equivalent of 'passing' Thomas said. “You’re actually in this cohort but can you get everybody to believe you’re in a different cohort?”

Of course not. I have never seen a 65-plus-year-old person who has had cosmetic surgery who looks younger than a 65-plus-year-old person. Yet they fool themselves about it all the time. I've heard many say something like this woman from the same news story:

“'I’d lost the looks of men...I’d walk by men and men would probably go, 'Yeah, there’s a cute grandma.' So in February, after months of wrestling with the decision, she got a neck lift.

“I got so excited about the difference that it made that I was like, ‘Oh my god, I want more”...Now, she said, “No 30- or 45-year-old guy is going to ask me, ‘Hey, what’s your number, honey?’ But a 60-year-old will.”

Let me just say, there is a reason there are no “before” photos in the WaPo story.

Also in that article, Ashton Applewhite, writer of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism who likes to say she is an old person in training, told the reporter

“I really, really get the reasons why people dye their gray hair, lie about their age, and have cosmetic surgery...But it’s not good for us, because it’s not authentic and it gives a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes those things necessary.”

Good for Applewhite but I think the case should be made much more strongly: every person who is doing anything to try to make others believe they are younger is (beyond fooling themselves) harming every other old person, not to mention every young person who will be old one day. Yes, they do contribute directly to ageism and age discrimination.

The goal is – or should be – to change the way our culture treats old people, to make elders as wholly human and acceptable as people of every other age, and no amount of plastic surgery, hair dye or lies will do that. They only make old people look foolish and that redounds on all other old people.

Not long ago, I saw this exchange on some television show:

CHILD: Am I going to die, Daddy?

FATHER: Yes. But not until you're old [pause] and ugly.

When you hear or read such casual ageism, such easy dismissal of the worth of old people several times a day, seven days a week from the cradle (as much as I appreciate some of them, the late night comedians are particularly guilty of this on a weekly basis), no wonder people are terrified of growing old.

But until we stand up in numbers large enough to be noticed and insist on our dignity and value just as we are, nothing will get better for us.

Yes, I know I'm beating my head against a brick wall and this is not going to change in my lifetime (pity). But I'll keep at it because it is the right thing to do and I wouldn't like myself much if I didn't.


How Age Discrimination Affects People of All Ages

Maybe some of you noticed a few typos and other mistakes in Monday's post. After Crabby Old Lady, a couple of weeks ago, wrote about how these errors have increased as she has grown older, I have been more diligent about trying to catch them before publishing.

That increased attention has, at best, resulted in marginal improvement – even when giving it a rest before editing. Worse, the mistakes I miss become glaringly apparent, somehow, once the story is posted online. I don't understand why that happens but it does. Frequently if not daily.

And sometimes, even my corrections need correcting.

Soon after I began this blog in March of 2004, I was fired from my job. It had nothing to do with my performance – it was “just business” and I wasn't the only one. The real difficulty came when I tried to find another job.

My younger fired colleagues, in their 20s and 30s, found work within a few weeks or a couple of months. In a year, I was able to get just two interviews.

One of those hiring managers, who had been enthusiastic enough on the telephone to invite me to an in-person interview early the next morning, suddenly remembered, after seeing me, that the job had somehow been filled since our late-afternoon phone conversation.

So sorry to inconvenience you, he said, etc. etc.

By then I was so deeply in debt that I was forced to give up the job search, sell my apartment in New York City and relocate to somewhere less expensive.

Here's another little story: I was in my mid-30s when the woman I worked for said during a staff meeting, “If you need Ronni to get anything done before the end of the day, be sure to ask her before 3PM; she's useless after that.”

We were a small group of friendly people producing a network TV show together and we all laughed – me too - because she was right. From mid-afternoon on my brain stopped working or, anyway, not as effectively as earlier in the day.

That doesn't mean I didn't pull all-nighters with everyone else, and travel for weeks on end living out of a suitcase and work on airplanes, in restaurants and cramped hotel rooms. But I was much slower after 3PM and made more mistakes, although in those days, they were easier for me to catch.

Here's a third little story – and revelation. For most of the time I've been turning out this blog, more than 12 years, I have believed and sometimes mentioned that had I been allowed, I was still capable of holding my own with colleagues, whatever their ages might be, at a full-time job.

And that was true for a long time. But now I must admit I can no longer do that, and have not been able to for two or three, maybe four years. Here is why:

Fixing the increase in typing errors (and who knows what else I can't do as efficiently as in the past) would eat up a lot of time that would otherwise be needed elsewhere

My intellectual fading by mid-afternoon happens even earlier nowadays. And recently, it is as much a physical impairment. I struggle daily to get both brain and body work finished before 2PM or so. After that I'm spent, and good for only more passive activities

My sleep difficulty – falling asleep in the early evening and waking in the middle of the night – would make a traditional job difficult and I have no idea, with somewhere to be every day at 8AM or 9AM, if the sleep schedule would right itself. So far, I haven't been able to change it

I'm 75 now, halfway to 76, still in good health but feeling the effects of the passage of time in not unexpected ways. Although people age at different rates - often dramatically so - eventually we must come to understand that we are less capable than we once were.

For me, that's now - admitting it to myself even though I've been trying to ignore it for a couple of years.

I am not surprised or much bothered by this realization but here is what does bother me – and I'm certain I'm not alone: if not for widespread age discrimination, I could have kept working for another eight or nine or ten years.

And look at what would have happened if our culture respected old people enough to not kick us out to pasture before our time:

I would have put away tens of thousands of more dollars toward my retirement

I would have paid tens of thousands of more dollars in federal, state and local taxes

I would have been able to postpone Social Security until age 70, leaving my contributions in the trust fund while also increasing the amount of my benefit

The timing would have allowed me to pay off the mortgage on my New York City apartment

All of which would have made it possible for me to remain in the city that is my home, my real home, the place where I belong.

I'm not alone. Think of that list in regard to the millions of people laid off after the 2008 crash who, thanks to the ageism of our culture, were then “too old” at 40 or 50 or 60 when the economy began to turn around, to work ever again in their field or at the salary they had been making when they were laid off.

Many also lost their homes, their savings and, of course, greatly reduced their Social Security benefit when they finally became eligible because old people, in our country, have no place in the workforce. This was not unique to the aftermath of the 2008 crash; it continues day in and day out in "normal" economic times too.

In the aggregate, age discrimination in the workplace is a tragedy affecting not only elders themselves who are fired or not hired, but all citizens due to hugely reduced tax revenue those elders would have contributed to the system if they were allowed to work. It affects our crumbling infrastructure, lack of public money to enforce regulations and laws, and diminishing support for education, among much more.

Those who perpetrate and perpetuate ageism are harming their country as much as they harm the individual workers they discriminate against.

United Nations Takes on Worldwide Ageism


”While older persons are often said to enjoy particular respect, the reality is that too many societies limit them, denying access to jobs, loans and basic services. The marginalization and devaluing of older persons takes a heavy toll...

“Ageism frequently intersects with other forms of discrimination based on gender, race, disability and other grounds, compounding and intensifying its effects...

“I condemn ageism in all its forms and call for measures to address this violation of human rights as we strive to improve societies for people of all ages. This demands changing the way older persons are portrayed and perceived, from being seen as a burden to being appreciated for the many positive contributions they make to our human family...

“Let us mark the International Day of Older Persons by forcefully rejecting all forms of ageism and working to enable older persons to realize their potential as we honour our pledge to build a life of dignity and human rights for all.”

That is a portion of the message from Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, marking the International Day of Older Persons that was held on Saturday, 1 October 2016. You can read his entire message at the U.N. Website.

John Beard is director of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations. This is a short video from him about ageism that was released in connection with this week's Older Persons events:

In that video, Beard references a just-released analysis of a U.N. survey involving 83,000 people of all age groups in 67 countries. From the news release about it:

"'This analysis confirms that ageism is extremely common...' said John Beard...'Like sexism and racism, changing social norms is possible. It is time to stop defining people by their age. It will result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.'”

The news release references the growing body of research showing that people who hold negative attitudes toward being old live on average 7.5 fewer years than people with positive attitudes, something I first wrote about nearly four years ago.

Alana Officer, Coordinator of Ageing and Life Course at WHO, mentions some of the many ways ageism is made manifest:

"'These include depicting older people as frail, dependent, and out of touch in the media, or through discriminatory practices such as health-care rationing by age, or institutional policies such as mandatory retirement at a certain age.'

“Age limits applied to policies such as retirement age for example, do not recognize the range of capacities of the older person – and assume that all older persons are the same.

“This deeply entrenched institutionalised ageism may be used to discriminate against older adults when allocating health resources or when collecting data that influence health policies.”

In September, USC Annenberg released their study of how people age 60 and older were portrayed in the 100 top grossing films of 2015. Among the findings, they report, “In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.” Further:

Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments — that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.”

Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.

Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Television portrayal of elders is just as infrequent and disrespectful, and the repetition of these negative portrayals ensures to many people that the stereotypes reflect reality.

If you have been reading this blog for more than a little while, none of this information is new to you; I rant on about ageism quite frequently. What surprises and depresses me each time – and turns up in almost all discussions of ageism elsewhere too – is how many old people themselves deny that ageism matters or even exists.

We all know that the United Nations, moreso even that individual countries, moves at a snail's pace but I am heartened that the organization is working toward equality for elders.

It is particularly important that John Beard of WHO notes that our progress in combating sexism and racism makes such changes in ageism possible too. Forward movement is agonizingly slow but we know it can happen.

So I will keep banging away about ageism and age discrimination because it is the right thing to do and because, too, if I don't continue to insist, it will change me in ways I won't like.

Old Age and the Fear of Dying

It is my long-term practice to have two or three books related to old age going at once along with stacks of printouts of related materials.

For the past few months, I've let that go in favor of other, lighter kinds of reading and during my two-week hiatus from this blog, I read almost nothing beyond the daily headlines.

The basic requirements for productive thought are quiet and solitude. I gave myself a lot of that during the past two weeks and once I got over feeling antsy without a book in my hand, old topics I've neglected began bubbling up. Today's post deals with one of them.

”How can we know how to live if we don't understand death?”

Confucius said that. Knowledge of our own demise is the central predicament of humankind and there are not many of us who do not fear it. So much so that we spend a great amount of time distracting ourselves from this ultimate reality of life.

What can it mean to no longer be? I have no idea. Two common facile answers involve, depending on one's beliefs, a great reward in heaven or as some would have it, returning to what it was like before we were born. Mark Twain had something to say about that second answer:

”I do not fear death,” he wrote. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

It's fun to read that but not really much help.

One of the problems of western culture is that although it is changing to a small degree in recent years, discussion of dying is not encouraged and certainly not acceptable in polite company.

Imagine saying over coffee with group of friends after dinner, “I was thinking about dying today...” I promise you the word “morbid” will be mentioned, no one will look you in the eye and one of the party will suddenly find tomorrow's weather fascinating.

Ageism has a lot to do with the taboo against talking about death and old people are not too much less likely than the young to spend a lot of money on trying shave a few years off their their act age. Many of the young won't hire people with gray hair no matter how qualified they are but a lot of healthy elders are equally reprehensible by being careful not to associate with less healthy people of their generation.

We try to appear younger than we are because we don't want to face the fact that we will die and we are conditioned from childhood to look for every possible way out.

We believe that if we eat enough kale, do enough pushups, buy enough Botox injections and face lifts, we will fool the grim reaper into believing he made a mistake when he comes by and sees how young we look but he can't be fooled that easily. (Have you read Appointment in Samarra lately?)

Death – of plants, animals and humankind – is nature's way of clearing out the old to make room for the new. It is foolish to fight it. Confucius reminds us of that as does, similarly, St. Augustine:

”It is only in the face of death that man's self is born.”

From at least the dawn of language, philosophers have been telling us how to live with this fearful certainty – most frequently as Augustine and Confucius advise – but I think we can each come to our own understanding.

To live well within whatever restrictions old age saddles us with comes to mind. To luxuriate in the private rituals and small pleasures of our individual lives helps.

To do good things for others. Not great things; few of us are favored with the power to change the world in big ways. But we can improve other people's lives in small and unexpected ways.

What all the philosophers tell us about facing death is to live meaningfully and that, perhaps, is another way to meet the despair of our impending demise and overcome it.

* * *

The Death Deal by Ron Padgett which you will find at The Writers Almanac.

Ever since that moment
when it first occurred
to me that I would die
(like everyone on earth!)
I struggled against
this eventuality, but
never thought of
how I'd die, exactly,
until around thirty
I made a mental list:
hit by car, shot
in head by random ricochet,
crushed beneath boulder,
victim of gas explosion,
head banged hard
in fall from ladder,
vaporized in plane crash,
dwindling away with cancer,
and so on. I tried to think
of which I'd take
if given the choice,
and came up time
and again with He died
in his sleep.
Now that I'm officially old,
though deep inside not
old officially or otherwise,
I'm oddly almost cheered
by the thought
that I might find out
in the not too distant future.
Now for lunch.

Senior Discounts

Do you use senior discounts? The only one I am aware of using is movie theaters but I hardly ever go anymore. I wait for the films I want to see to show up on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or even in discount DVD bins because theaters nowadays jack up the audio so high it actually hurts my ears.

But I'm not here to rant about that - at least, not today.

Discounts are hard to track. The first problem is age. It appears that most begin at 55 but 60, 62 and 65 are not uncommon and amazingly, even 50 turns up more often than you might think. It's not easy to sort out which stores think which age is old enough for a discount.

Another issue is day-of-the-week or day-of-the-month discounts. These are usually at supermarkets, usually 10 percent but they require one to remember if it is every Tuesday (or is it Wednesday?), the third Thursday and so on. I gave up a long time ago and besides, New Yorkers if not others know that it's not really a discount unless it's at least 25 percent off.

A Google search for “senior discounts” results in nearly five million returns. There are a lot of lists of links to senior discounts and they cover almost anything you would ever need in life. A short topic sampling:

Car rentals
Medical and Pharmacy
Food and beverages
Health and nutrition

There are many more but you get the idea. You can search by names of stores and restaurants too, AARP has its own list and you will rarely fail to find a discount when you search for something specific like, for example, “flowers senior discount” or "electrician senior discount."

In recent years, a cottage industry of objections to senior discounts has developed from people who believe it is unfair.

Ann Brenoff, writing at Huffington Post earlier this year, agrees but has a couple of thoughtful suggestions:

”Seniors aren’t the poorest among us anymore. The national poverty rate, according to the 2014 Census, is 14.8 percent. For seniors 65 and older, it’s just 8.7 percent, while for children under 18 it was 21.1 percent. Maybe it’s children we should be offering discounts to?

“Seniors, like my (now-deceased) aunts, would tell you how discounts are a way of honoring or showing respect to our elders. I fail to see how 75 cents show a whole heck of a lot of honor and respect.

“Maybe the way to honor them is to fund Medicare to the level where it would pay for some of the things most seniors actually need: eyeglasses, hearing assistance, and dental work?

“And if we really respected their age and the wisdom that presumably comes with it, why aren’t we hiring more of them instead of making them feel unwelcome in the workplace and telling them how they aren’t a good 'cultural fit?'”

Hear, hear, Ms. Brenoff. A lot of us have been saying these things for years – we just had not made what I see now is the logical connection to senior discounts.

Since none of those changes – discounts, Medicare and employment – are going to happen any time soon, here is a poem about it sent last week by TGB reader Tom Delmore that is funny, poignant and sweet.

It is from the poets.org website and is written by Ali Leibegott – titled Senior Discount:

I want to grow old with you.
Old, old.

So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.

I’ll wait at register two in my green sweater
with threadbare elbows, smiling
because you’ve forgotten the bag of day-old pastries.

The cashier will tell me a joke about barbers as I wait.
He repeats the first line three times
but the only word I understand is barber.

Over the years we’ve caught inklings
of our shrinking frames and hunched spines.

You’re a little confused
looking for me at the wrong register with a bag
of almost-stale croissants clenched in your hand.

The first time I held your hand it felt enormous in my own.
Sasquatch, I teased you, a million years ago.

Over here, I yell, but not in a mad way.

We’re laughing.
You have a bright yellow pin on your coat that says, Shalom!

Senior Discount, you say.
But the cashier already knows us.
We’re everyone’s favorite customers.

Does Ageism Contribute to Donald Trump's Appeal?

As I have explained here in the past, I didn't know 20 years ago when I began studying ageing that I would become an advocate for elders. A large part of what led me to that is ageism – what the late geriatrician who coined the term, Robert N. Butler, described in his foreward to the Encyclopedia of Ageism as being “pervasive, gross and subtle, and omnipresent.”

”It is found in the reduced delivery of services,” he continued, “time limits to mortgages, depiction in the media and by Madison Avenue, poor nursing homes, passed over promotion, and other prejudices in the workplace.

“Age discrimination is present in our language and even in our families.”

Earlier this week, I ran across a short essay at Daily Kos written by someone identified only as Soprano who thinks ageism has a lot to do with Donald Trump's popularity among baby boomer men. Let him explain:

They (“We” I should say; I’m 64) have changed our society as we have gotten older, to our advantage.

“We’ve hit a wall, though. America’s love of youth. Notice how the elder members of any cast on t.v. are, at the most, in their 40s, usually in their 30s. Models for clothing advertisements are almost always young — not too many models of my age and size out there.

“Even AARP has embraced youth; now, their magazines are full of people in their 50s, not so much with older folks.

“The articles addressed towards them are usually about how they are falling apart and need help; not so much about the positives of growing older (and yes, there are positives). People over 70 are pitiful victims, doncha know?”

Soprano goes on to explain that he thinks this is why Trump supporters, mostly men in their 60s and 70s, are so irate. It is not the economy or immigration that has made them true believers so much as it is the cultural attack on their self-esteem.

”They have been emasculated,” Soprano continues, “and like little children, are throwing temper tantrums because no one is paying attention to them anymore.”

Soprano blames the predicament these men find themselves in on media in particular and society in general that are geared only toward young people (“We have sacrificed the wisdom of our elderly for the beauty of youth.”)

The prestige and power these men had in their middle years has been snatched away, says Soprano, and

”They don’t know where to lash out because of this societal problem.

“The real answer lies somewhere in giving these people their autonomy back and helping them find a sense of purpose. People who only worry...about themselves will never be happy people.

“Oh, and god forbid, if a WOMAN were to be elected President, that would just send them over the edge.”

I think there is some merit to this explanation – at least, in part. Boomers ruled the American world for so long – all the media told us so again and again – and none of them ever believed it would end.

What do you think?

Old Age: What's Not to Enjoy?

That headline is what legendary television producer Norman Lear says about ageing. He will be 94 on the 27th of this month, one of the top examples we have right now for fighting entrenched ageism for two reasons:

  1. He is as productive as he was when All in the Family et al dominated prime-time television.

  2. He has been on the receiving end of Hollywood ageism for at least the past several years.

Given his many successes in the genre, no one can deny that Norman Lear is the master of sitcoms. Five years ago, he began shopping a script for a new one titled, Guess Who Died? set in a retirement community and he has gotten nowhere with it.

“I heard from everybody," he told an an audience at the Austin Film Festival last fall. "They laughed, thought it was funny, but didn’t have a problem saying, ‘It’s just not our demographic.'”

Further on that topic at the Festival:

“As I got upwards in my 80s and into my 90s, the networks behaved like one Betty White covered a whole demographic. I love Betty White, but she is not the entire demographic. They are in retirement villages across the country.”

For those who believe ageism is unimportant, that it can be dismissed as a few derogatory words or jokes that are not worth paying attention to, consider this: the only difference between Normal Lear trying to find work and any other 60- or 70- or 80- or 90-year-old in the same situation is that Lear happens to be famous. It is so ubiquitous even a man who was one of the biggest money makers in Hollywood is ignored.

Although still without a contract for the show, Lear decided to hold a casting session for Guess Who Died? anyway. Film producers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were there to make a short video of it for The New York Times. As one of them wrote:

”...we were mesmerized by the parade of actors that came through the door to audition. Mostly septo- or octogenarians, none of them exhibited the nerves or the vanity we’ve come to expect from hopeful thespians. Instead they read their lines with a humor and emotional nuance that was deeply felt and wonderfully lived-in.

“Suddenly, there in that casting room, I saw my grandmother again, then my favorite uncle and my chatty neighbor down the hall — all real people who walk among us, have so much to offer and are ready for their close up. All we need to do is look.”

Now you take a look and particularly note Norman Lear's commentary at the end:

Let's not allow that important, short speech at the end float off into the ether. Here it is in writing:

“Aren't you expected to grow? Learn more about yourself? About the world? You are when you're young. Why would you be less expected to grow when you're 80?

“The culture dictates how you behave and maybe the elderly buy into it the way they grow old. My role here now is to say, 'Wait a minute. That's not all there is. There's a good time to be had at this age.'”

Which is exactly what I've been trying to say here for the past 12 years.

Lordy, would I like to see that Guess Who Died? sitcom. Remember how sharp and relevant All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude and the rest of Lear's shows were? Imagine if he were allowed to bring that talent and expertise to a show starring old people.

The Mses Ewing and Grady have also produced a full-length documentary titled, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. Here is the official trailer:

The documentary has not been widely distributed but may be playing in a few theaters around the U.S. now. In October, you can watch it on the American Masters program on PBS and it will be available on Netflix beginning in November.

Even in his frustration with ageism in general and in getting Guess Who Died? produced, Norman Lear brings a joy to his old age. Everyone should.

How to Combat Ageism

Did you see the Fourth of July public service announcement (PSA) about patriotism that John Cena released for this holiday? The one-minute video that is a masterpiece of how age should be treated?

Ha! If you read Wednesday's post in which I admitted to having zero interest – and that means zero knowledge, too – in any sport, you're probably thinking I don't know who John Cena is. Amazingly, even to me, you would be wrong.

I know that John Cena is a superstar in the professional wrestling world. I know that because for many years some of my favorite television shows have been broadcast on the USA cable channel where the WWE Monday night wrestling show has been a fixture over the same period of time.

That means I have been saturated with promotional videos featuring Cena. Although I never bothered to watch a wrestling match, it is hard not to notice, even in short promos, that he is charming, attractive and not so scary as most other wrestlers look.

After seeing the PSA I have referenced above and which I will get back to in good time, I consulted Google about what else there is to know about John Cena. It turns out he's a multi-talented guy who co-wrote his own wrestling theme song, is a rapper, has appeared in several movies, not to mention a lot of non-wrestling TV shows and last year he became the first celebrity to have granted 500 wishes for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Who knew? Not me - not any of it until now.

Recently, Cena appeared on the new NBC-TV sketch show, Maya and Marty, which was developed by Lorne Michaels – you know, the guy who has kept Saturday Night Live relevant for more than 40 years and is no schlub at spotting talent.

So take a look at this professional wrestler, John Cena, holding his own quite admirably with some professional comedians:

My point is that Cena's celebrity reaches beyond the world of pro wrestling and I am guessing that he is deliberately expanding his professional horizons because – hey, how long can a body hold up to being pounded on the floor of a fight ring.

His growing range and the fact that he's really likeable onscreen made him a good choice to reach a wide variety of people for this Fourth of July “Patriotism” PSA, produced for the Ad Council by the R/GA Agency. Take a look and take special note of how age is treated:

If you missed it, scroll back to :31 seconds from the top where Cena says, “This year, patriotism shouldn't just be about pride of country. It should be about love, love beyond AGE, disability, sexuality, race, religion and any other labels.”

Did you notice how he just slips in "age" there with all the other ways to describe people as though we old folks are as worthy as everyone else? I cannot recall last time I saw, heard or read an instance of such perfect inclusion of elders.

Hurray for John Cena and all the people at the R/GA Agency who created this PSA. Great work!

Empowering Old Women via Fashion Models?

You can count on it these days, that every two or three months there will be feature story about a fashion model who is 60 or 70 or even 80. The thing is, they are featured because there are so few of them.

I was reminded of this while catching up on some online reading. In May, the Senior Planet website published a story headlined, Older Models: Empowering or Not?

The story continues a topic begun at Vogue.com about fashion and ageism reporting that although fashion shows have been featuring a bit more diversity in skin color, gender and size recently, there aren't many models over the age of 20:

”Fashion’s never-ending pursuit of the latest, newest, and coolest extends into the hunt for models, which often results in casts comprised solely of women between the narrow window of 16 to 26, wrote Jenelle Okwodu.

“The issue extends far beyond catwalks,” she continued. “It isn’t uncommon for models in their 20s to serve as spokeswomen for anti-aging creams, or for magazines to completely ignore the existence of older women in their editorials.”

When Senior Planet asked their readers if seeing older models is “empowering” to them, the 13 responses were all in agreement: “Yes!” “Absolutely.” “Refreshing.”

Huh? I don't understand that at all.

Here are photos of three of the top older fashion models. From left to right, Carmen Dell-Orefice is 85, probably about 82 or 83 when this photo was made. Cindy Joseph is about 65 and Yasmina Rossi, about 60.


Gorgeous, all three of them, aren't they? And no wonder.

Whatever their natural beauty, each one is wearing a few hours and several thousand dollars worth of professional makeup and hair work, and god knows what the lighting director is paid but he or she doesn't come cheap.

If someone spent as much time and money on me, I'd look that good too. But should you and I feel empowered by looking at these beautiful old women? Empowered how? What is it I would believe I could go out and do now that I've seen them?

In the Vogue piece, Ms. Okwodu timidly suggests that perhaps fashion runways should include a few more old women, and most of the commenters on her story took the magazine to task for not living up themselves to such an easy remedy – regularly include more older fashion models in Vogue magazine.

Ya think?

I could feel empowered as an old woman if elders were fully integrated into American life. Yes, if we showed up in fashion magazines and on runways more often it might help a little. But also in TV shows and movies - and not only as demeaning jokes.

If we were allowed to compete equally in the workplace, in clinical trials of medications, were not subjected to a constant barrage of anti-ageing products demanding that we do everything possible to pretend we are young.

It is good that a few older women can get work in the fashion industry but do they empower me? I don't think so. Who empowers me is someone like the late Gray Panthers founder, Maggie Kuhn:

”Only the newest model is desirable,” she explained. “The old are condemned to obsolescence; left to rot like wrinkled babies in glorified playpens – forced to succumb to a trivial, purposeless waste of their years and their time.”

When are Aches and Pains Serious?

Long-time TGB reader Jean Gogolin emailed recently with this query:

”I have a good friend who's 75 and has been practicing yoga for years. The other day she was complaining to her yoga teacher about her various aches and pains - she takes very good care of herself and practices diligently - and the instructor responded, 'How did you expect to feel in your mid-70s?'

“That response would make me furious,” wrote Jean. “What do you think?”

My first thought? Get a new yoga instructor - and that's not a joke. Pain of any kind is a message from our bodies: “Hey, pay attention here,” it is saying. “This might be a problem.” Or it might not be, but it cannot be dismissed based on age.

Jean's note is a good excuse to talk about these aches and pains that accompany growing old. I don't mean pain from arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis along with other conditions, diseases or injuries. I mean the odd pain, usually temporary, that wasn't around in younger years, is often transient and has no explanation.

In my case, a variety of pains come and go but I still have two that I complained about seven years ago in a post about minor aches and pains of age:

”Every few weeks or so, a stabbing pain attacks the second toe of my left foot. I mean, horrendous, teeth-grinding, wanna-scream pain. It is intermittent – each stab doesn't last long – but it repeats every few minutes for an hour or so and then disappears until next time, maybe a month or two. What's that about?

“And here's a strange one: once in awhile, one of my earlobes aches horribly, although not for long.”

Those two weird pains have been going on for years so I'm going to continue to assume there is nothing important about them, they won't kill me.

Getting back to Jean's friend, a lot of pains – especially following exercise, sports or yoga, for example – are explainable by overuse of muscles. It happens even to long-time active people.

For nearly four years, I have stuck with a daily 45-minute fitness workout that involves exercises for flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. I skip the weights on alternate days.

When, these past several months, I was not sleeping enough, I couldn't do it – not every day and when I managed to get started, I couldn't last for more than the lightest flexibility and balance training, and I wasn't doing them to capacity.

For awhile, I did not connect the difficulty with lack of sleep. Now that I'm back to full daily routines, I am making up for a lot of lost ground and that has caused a some muscle aches.

And endurance? Where I easily did 50 pushups before (the girly kind on my knees), I couldn't get past 20 when I restarted the full routine and now, three weeks later, I'm still only up to 30 and I ache most days from the strength work.

It took me a long time to build up to those 50 pushups and number of reps of other exercises so it will take awhile to get back there and it is obvious why my muscles hurt. No worries.

My point in relating this personal experience is that in assessing pain, we need to listen to our bodies and I mean that especially when nothing hurts at the moment so that when something does hurt one day, we have a comparison.

Here are some common-sense things to keep in mind:

When you feel pain while exercising, stop or slow down. If later, it still aches, cool it down with ice packs wrapped in a towel for a few minutes several times a day. If muscles are still sore two days later, switch to heat to help healing.

I know recent research tells us that stretching before exercising doesn't help. I don't buy that but even if it's true, stretching can't hurt and it helps maintain flexibility.

Experts say that muscle soreness tends to be symmetrical and unless you're pushing yourself too hard, should go away in a few days.

If an ache is not symmetrical and does not get better with a week of rest, it should be checked out by a physician.

If pain wakes you in the night or doesn't go away within a week, see your physician.

Of course, a swollen joint or the inability to bend or straighten a joint is an alert. There may be an injury and you should see a doctor.

When I was researching that blog post seven years ago about aches and pains of age, there was hardly any useful information online and even at the best health and medical websites, that hasn't changed much. Those items above are the best I could glean and they have worked well for me.

As to Jean's friend's yoga instructor, she or he should know better. It is wrong to dismiss pain out of hand based on age. Maybe in this case it is only a sore muscle or two but that instructor doesn't know that without asking some questions.

This is yet another case of stereotyping old people: “She's 75, of course she hurts.”

No. Old people are not expected or required to suffer pain just because they are old and an instructor of any kind of physical activity who is indifferent to a client's pain because she is old is not just ageist, she or he is negligent.

Music Festival Age Discrimination

Were you at Woodstock? I was – but that was only the largest among other music festivals and concerts I attended, each packed with crowds, camaraderie, plenty of weed and most of all, great music.

If, sometimes, performances in that setting were less than ideal, no one cared. It was great just to be spending a weekend in the sun with friends rocking out to favorite bands and performers.

After a few years, music weekends gave way to careers, mortgages and children but summer music festivals rolled on as younger generations took our generation's place.

Now, in what may be a final curtain call for music fans of our age, in October the three-day Desert Trip festival – also dubbed Oldchella – will be held over two weekends at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. And look at the lineup:


The 75,000 tickets were pricey, ranging from $399 to $1599 each – and that's before scalpers got their hands on them.

As you might expect for a festival featuring performers who are all older than 70, many of their audience have some physical issues with knees, hips and backs but the festival producer posted on its website that ticket holders could bring their own seating.

Then things changed. After the event had sold out (in four hours), according to a story at Alternet, this bait-and-switch was posted on the website:

”No chairs or blankets will be allowed in the show."

The event promoter, a behemoth called AEG Live - also known as Anschutz Entertainment Group – offered refunds to ticket holders who cannot or do not want to stand for three days straight but of course, that is not the point.

Fans were willing to shell out big, big, big bucks for one last-chance-in-a-lifetime to see favorite rock and rollers they have been enjoying for half a century. For them, it's not the money, it's the concert.

Now, Peter Thiel, who wrote the Alternet story, is calling for the generation who all but invented the sit-in to take themselves to the Los Angeles mansion of the AEG chairman, Jay Marciano, in protest. He has even supplied the street address:

”...it would be entirely within boomers’ protest comfort zone to haul their folding chairs and occupy the area in front of Marciano’s home at 9369 Lloydcrest Drive in Beverly Hills.

“It’s a 3,174-square-foot mansion that he purchased in 2013 for $3.7 million and is now worth more than $5 million. It has, according to Zillow, 'breathtaking panoramic views of [the] ocean and city,' so the peaceful protesters could enjoy the vista while making a statement about consumers’ rights.”

Noting that in 2014, Marciano told Billboard magazine that his company needs to get people to go out more often, Thiel suggested that picket signs at Marciano's home could read: “We Want Our Seats” and “Let’s Sit Down and Talk.”

Cute, and if I lived in Los Angeles, I'd be there. But it is also a serious issue.

In recent years, there has been a growing, worldwide movement to create age-friendly cities with a wide variety of small changes that, in actuality, improve daily life for people of all ages.

Such things as curb cuts to make it easier for people with walkers and wheelchairs. More benches to take a load off people's feet for a few minutes. Longer lights at crosswalks make it safer for slower walkers. Improved signage for old eyes. And so on.

If cities can make such permanent changes - and they do - there is no reason temporary ones could not and should not apply to outdoor entertainment events. After all, AEG's blanket and chair ban is meant to squeeze more people into the space to earn more millions for a company that netted north of $1 billion in revenue last year. They can afford to reduce attendance by a few and still return a sizeable profit.

Theaters built or renovated in the last 25 years or so all include spaces for wheel chairs. Why shouldn't old people (not to mention disabled people too) similarly be accommodated at a music festival? Why is an outdoor setting different from any other performance space in this regard? And why is it all right to advertise a type of seating and withdraw it after the money is collected?

It takes a lot of negotiation to get all the musicians of this stature in the same place at the same time and it is likely that the dates are the only time this year their schedules could be arranged to make it happen.

Even so, wouldn't it be a terrific message if the festival stars - Bob Dylan (age 75), Paul McCartney (73), Mick Jagger (72), Keith Richards (72), Roger Daltrey (73), Pete Townshend (71), Neil Young (70) – in recognition of their fans' lifelong devotion - refused to perform unless the no-chair ban is rescinded.

You can read more at Alternet and at The Los Angeles Times.

Everyday Ageism

This year-long, presidential primary has given Americans (and the world) an education in what brazenly overt racism looks and sounds like.

Until this election campaign, it bubbled under the surface hiding behind euphemisms (that we all recognize but too often ignore) and on disreputable white nationalist websites.

Donald Trump changed that. It's all out in the open now. Anyone can call people rapists based only on the color of their skin and actual members of Congress acknowledge Trump's racism, then say they will vote for him anyway. Think of it: it is fine with them if a person they believe is a racist sits in the Oval Office.

After that intro, some will not see a connection when I tell you that today's post is about the ageism that is played out in hundreds of little ways every day, all day in our media apparently, since no one calls it out, with approval or, at least, without disapproval.

A lot of people do not believe in ageism. In fact, a lot of readers of this blog do not believe in ageism, yet it is the biggest impediment to fair treatment of elders that exists.

But when I write about it, invariably there are comments invoking the kiddy “sticks and stones” argument. Here is the simplest definition of ageism from the geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, who coined the term in 1969. It is, he wrote,

”...a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.”

That definition can be further explained but that one line is the stone, cold bottom line. If you think it doesn't amount to much, isn't important, try re-reading it and replace the last word with "African-American" and see how you feel about it.

It can be said that ageism is a greater prejudice than all the other -isms because it eventually afflicts everyone – if you live long enough it will be directed to you.

Last week, while I allowed the cable news channels to bray in the background to keep up with so much political news, this commercial came up repeatedly throughout the day:

Does that opening statement bother you: "Delicate skin on your neck can show age? Gold Bond has used ageist language in skin cream commercials for years. Here is another from 2012:

"My dry hands used to give away my age but not any more," she says.

Let's not pick only on Gold Bond. Here's a typical Olay commercial:

"What's your age giveaway?" Right - because god knows you're a loser if you look a day older than 25.

For more years than I can remember now, everybody's favorite daytime talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, has been the pitch woman for Cover Girl's (now part of Olay) ageist message: "Don't buy makeup that settles into lines," she warns in one commercial. "It ages you." Take a look:

The phrases are repeated day after day, week after week, year after year:

Can show your age
Give away my age
Age giveaway
It ages you

When these commercials are in rotation during a company's marketing campaign - usually two or three periods a year each - that is brazenly overt ageism.

Do you really believe people seeing and hearing messages this frequently about how awful it is to show your age - and hearing it thusly from youngest childhood – don't come to despise old people? Don't think everyone abhors people who look old and that it's okay to do so? It's worse than that because this is only one kind of commercial that sells fear of old age and contempt for old people to make a buck. It's repeated with many other products.

And no one ever complains. Or, if they do, not enough that these companies stop demonizing old age.

By the way, I am not picking on skin cream itself nor do I think it is wrong to suggest it might make your skin more beautiful - that's just commercial hyperbole used by advertisers for everything from fast food to fast cars.

The only reason skin cream is featured today is that first commercial above was repeated last week until I wanted to smash in the TV screen. The good creams help keep skin moisturized (no, they do not remove wrinkles) and there are a few manufacturers who sell their products without resorting to ageist words and images. Here's an Aveeno commercial with actor Jennifer Aniston:

See? How hard is that?

Ageism is a pernicious prejudice that nobody takes seriously. One of the discouraging conclusions from the Frameworks Institute report titled, Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America, is this:

"Across the full breadth of our interviews with members of the public, the topic of discrimination against older people did not emerge as a topic.

"The reality that many older Americans find themselves consistently marginalized from participation and opportunities - in employment, civic life, recreational activities, housing, commerce and other arenas - is simply not part of the public's thinking about aging and older Americans."

Gee. Do you think maybe that's because the only thing the public ever hears about old age is to avoid it at all cost? Could that have something to do with the survey results?


A Surprising Media Respect For an Elder

Ageist language isn't confined to such obvious demeaning labels as geezer, coot, biddy, etc. - or to “elderspeak,” the belittling forms of address such a “dearie,” and “sweetie” or speaking to old people in a loud, slow voice.

Much more common is the offhand, everyday assumption among the media that old is always bad. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon use age jokes so frequently that I don't often watch their monologues anymore.

It's ubiquitous among comedians of all types and genders – almost all of them include ageist jokes in their routines.

Over the course of his two terms, Barack Obama has proved that had he not gone into politics, he might have made a pretty good living as a standup comic.

He was in impeccable form Saturday night as the main attraction at his final White House Correspondents Dinner. Great funny zingers at all the traditional media and politics targets with the timing of a professional comic, as we have come to expect from him.

However. When Obama was barely three minutes into his 34-minute routine, these self-mocking age jokes turned up:

”Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor, and look at me now. (Laughter) I am gray and grizzled, just counting down the days ’til my death panel.(Laughter and applause)

“Hillary once questioned whether I’d be ready for a 3AM phone call — now I’m awake anyway because I’ve got to go to the bathroom. (Laughter and applause.”

The same old tired "humor" ensuring that the universal assumption old people lose all their faculties will continue. When the president, who would never malign an ethnic group, religion or women, turns being old into a hoary old stereotype for a cheap laugh, what chance is there of ever gaining respect for old people.

Not infrequently, the insult takes the form of the word “still” when a writer tells readers, for example, how amazing it is that John Smith, age 75, still walks the dog every day and cooks his own meals.

In fact, you can pretty well assume that the writer of any story about a person older than 70 or so – no matter what the focus of the story is - will reinforce the stereotype of infirmity by being amazed he or she can, for example, “still” get out of a chair unaided.

So it is shocking when a reporter has an obvious opportunity to throw in a couple of “still statements” to infantilize an old person but instead takes a higher road.

Last week, in The New York Times, Sarah Wildman did that. It was a feature story about Justus (pronounced YOO-stice) Rosenberg who, she explains, is probably “the last remaining member of an extralegal team” who helped Jewish cultural figures and anti-fascist intellectuals in Vichy France flee the Nazis in the early 1940s.

It's an exciting and amazing tale that is probably the best news story I read last week. Most impressive, particularly given the subject of my daily chronicles here, is the regard and respect Ms. Wildman pays Rosenberg. Take a listen:

”Officially, Dr. Rosenberg, who turned 95 in January, retired from teaching 20 years ago. Retirement didn't suit him.”

Wildman ignores every opportunity a lesser writer would take to tell us how “spry” or “feisty” Rosenberg is.

“'I think my life,' Dr. Rosenberg mused on a frigid February afternoon in the kitchen of his Rhinebeck, N.Y. home, 'as what the French call concours de circonstances – a confluence of circumstances.'”

Later in the story,

”'Have I mentioned it to you yet?' asked Dr. Rosenberg, picking up the narrative the next day as he drove from Bard's campus to his home in Rhinebeck.'”


”Two years ago he and his wife of 20 years, Karin, started the Justus and Karin Rosenberg Foundation to fund efforts fighting hate and anti-Semitism.”

Sarah Wildman reports his age, tells us he teaches and drives, suggests he knows his way around a kitchen, can recall a conversation from the day before and lets us know in passing that he got married at age 75 – all without remarking that any of it is surprising at his age.

Hallelujah. Sarah Wildman allows Justus Rosenberg to be just a person - as if he were 30 or 40 or 50 years old - and that is exceptional in as ageist a world as ours so we should take note when it happens.

If the media followed Ms. Wildman's lead, we would not need to notice and instead concentrate on what is a fantastic story, well told. It's titled “The Professor has a Daring Past” and you can read it at The New York Times. I recommend it.