256 posts categorized "Ageism"

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.

Trump's “Woman Card” is Similar to the “Old-Age Card”

Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, snidely attacked the Democratic presidential candidate by saying that Secretary Hillary Clinton has nothing more going for her than the “Woman Card."

Ms. Clinton's response to Trump's ignorance was perfection. Take a listen:

Trump, who has an ingrained need to debase every adversary (or, at least, try), further embarrassed himself the next morning when the Morning Joe show on MSNBC apparently lifted their self-imposed ban on his phone calls to the program.

Sounding as though he'd been out too late the night before, Trump slammed Clinton for the volume of her response to his jibe:

”I haven't quite recovered from her shouting that message...” he said. “I guess I'll have to get used to a lot of that over the next months.”

Of course, this is all standard behavior for the loutish Trump but I often wonder these days if there has ever been a public person who dared to express his mysogyny as openly and repeatedly as Trump.

My friend John Gear forwarded a link to me with Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri's delicious take on Trump's Woman Card barb. A sample:

”Ah yes, the woman’s card. I have been carrying one of these for years, proudly.

“It is great. It entitles you to a sizable discount on your earnings everywhere you go (average 21 percent, but can be anywhere from 9 percent to 37 percent, depending on what study you’re reading and what edition of the Woman's Card you have.)

“If you shop with the Woman Card at the grocery, you will get to pay 11 percent more for all the same products as men, but now they are pink.”

Petri's a funny woman. Here's some more from her about how the Woman Card works:

”Present the Woman Card to a man you have just met at a party and it is good for one detailed, patronizing explanation of the subject you literally got your PhD in.

“Offer it to someone on the red carpet and, instead of any substantive questions about your work, you will get a barrage of inquiries EXCLUSIVELY about what you are wearing.”

Well, to be fair, men on red carpets get the fashion questions too, but we get the point – and welcome it is.

As I was working my way through Ms. Petri's skewering of Trump, I realized that much the same could be written about an “Age Card.” And then, lo – I discovered she was way ahead of me:

”Hook up the Woman Card to your TV,” wrote Petri, “and you will get a barrage of commercials telling you that you did something wrong with your face and must buy ointment immediately so as not to become a Hideous Crone.

“Also, you are now expected to spend your whole life removing hair from your body, except for the areas of your body where your hair must be long and luxurious. (Do not get these two areas confused!)

“Unlike Man Cards, Woman Cards do not increase in value as they age. In fact, they depreciate. Do not collect Woman Cards. Even in mint condition, they are worthless.”

By god, Petri is on to something. It is hard to recall exactly, but I think I was issued my Old-Age Card about 12 or 14 years ago, just past by 60th birthday.

It comes with the advantages Ms. Petri lists except that when it's plugged into the TV, you are provided with the full range of “ointments” to fix society's litany of icky old-people flaws – you know, constipation, acid reflux, toe fungus, erectile dysfunction, constipation, COPD, overactive bladder, incontinence and vaginal dryness.

In the latest version of the Old-Age Card, you might even get all these remedies in one commercial break.

Among its other merits, the Old-Age Card allows you to be called geezer, coot, biddy, fogey and fossil along with honey, dearie and/or sweetie by all who are too rude to ask your name.

And unlike the Woman's Card, you may have noted that the Old-Age Card is issued to both sexes, doubling the cultural opportunities to malign 35 million people without consequence.

Best of all, it contains an amazing magical property: it makes you invisible to any and all who don't want to be reminded that they too will one day be issued an Old-Age Card.

It's a lot like the Woman Card but even more potent.

Stay Healthy and Mentally Sharp: Celebrate Old Age

Year by year over the past two decades, evidence piles up that being on the receiving end of ageist attitudes, beliefs and practices not only leads to poor health, it can shorten lives.

And it's not only others' prejudice that adversely affects health. Just as important is an elder's own attitude toward being old; if it's negative, your health is likely to suffer.

One of the leading researchers in the field of ageism is Dr. Becca Levy of Yale University School of Public Health. In fact, as her online profile notes, Levy is credited with

”...creating a field of study that focuses on how positive and negative age stereotypes, which are assimilated from the culture, can have beneficial and adverse effects, respectively, on the health of older individuals.”

To spare you too many research study quotations, here is a fairly succinct overview of the results of some recent health-related ageism studies pulled together for a story in the Wall Street Journal:

”...dozens of studies from psychologists, medical doctors and neuroscientists have shown that older people with more negative views of aging fare more poorly on health than those with less-pessimistic attitudes.

“Even when study participants have similar health, education levels and socioeconomic status, those with more negative outlooks about aging show greater declines in a variety of areas over time.

“They have shakier handwriting, poorer memories, higher rates of cardiac disease and lower odds of recovering from severe disability, according to studies by Prof. Levy.

“They are less likely to eat a balanced diet, exercise and follow instructions for taking prescription medications as they age. They even die younger - the median difference in survival rates is 7.5 years.”

A new study from Trinity College in Dublin, reported at sciencedaily.com, confirms that negative attitudes toward aging affect cognitive as well as physical health.

”...frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However, frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.

You will find the full study at Science Direct behind a paid firewall.

Ageism results from the many widely believed myths about growing old that no matter how frequently and authoritatively they are refuted, apparently defy correction. A handful of those persistent myths are:

The majority of old people have no interest in, nor capacity for, sexual relations

The majority of old people are unable to adapt to change

Depression is more frequent among the elderly than among younger people

Old people tend to be pretty much alike

Older workers usually cannot work as effectively as younger workers

None of those statements were true when gerontologist Erdman B. Palmore, professor emeritus of medical sociology at Duke University, published his Facts on Aging Quiz in 1998 - and they are still false today.

Nevertheless, the last one is under attack (again) with a new study my friend John Gear, an attorney in Salem, Oregon, alerted me to.

Using the results from one year of an Australian study of about 6500 people aged from 40 to 70-plus, researchers at the Melbourne Institute have concluded that people 40 and older get stupid after working 25 hours.

Okay, I'll admit that “stupid” is my word but that's what they appear to be saying:

”...in order for people over the age of 40 to perform their best, work weeks need to be three days with a maximum of 25 hours,” reports Daily Sabah.

“This is necessary to ensure productivity and enhance performance, the study said. “It was revealed that people who work three days performed much better than those working for more days.”

You can believe that or not but there is some additional information to consider than none of several news reports I read bothered to mention.

The data was taken from a longitudinal study, the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) Survey, that has been ongoing in Australia since 2001 but tested for workplace cognitive capability only one of those years.

Disturbing enough to rely on such limited information. But the implication that bothers me is the subtle suggestion that it is only middle aged and older workers who suffer this cognitive failure after 25 hours – a conclusion that is impossible to make since no one younger than 40 was tested.

(The full study, titled Use It Too Much and Lose It? The Effect of Working Hours on Cognitive Ability, can be found here [pdf].)

This follows a worrisome trend I've been been noticing for the past few years: that academics, political figures, governments, corporations and others grab onto isolated statistics or factoids, often as tenuous as this one, to propose ageist alterations to programs and institutions that benefit elders.

Think cutting Social Security, raising the Social Security retirement age, changing Medicare and Medicaid to a voucher programs, instituting an upper cut-off age for drivers licenses, in addition to others as subtlely ageist as this study from Australia.

And that's just off the top of my head. I am kicking myself that over the years I've been noticing the accumulation of these proposals, I've not kept a file. I'll start now (and you can help by sending me any you come across).

Meanwhile, don't take questionable research too seriously and make use of the important work Professor Levy and her cohorts do: Stay Healthy and Mentally Sharp: Celebrate Old Age.

Old Age Suit Update: I Stand Corrected

Every now and then you run across something so obvious and so true that there is nothing to do but slap your forehead and immediately rearrange your beliefs on the subject. Let me explain.

As I told you in a January post, I first encountered what many people call “old age suits” ten years ago and I got up my first close and personal encounter with one in 2011, at the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan:

Age Suit

The idea of them, of course, is to give young people, particularly those who design homes, automobiles, all kinds of appliances and even cities themselves a sense of how old bodies work differently from their own and, therefore, help them create a world which is easier for old people to navigate.

The point of that January post was to show you the newest, most up-to-date age suit that had been presented the prior week at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.

That suit, officially dubbed the R70i, was created by a former Disney imagineer named Bran Ferren for Genworth Financial (which sells long-term care insurance). You can see Ferren's video of the age suit at the Consumer Electronics show at that link above. Scroll down to the bottom of the story.

For all these ten years since I first heard of age suits, I have believed they are an excellent innovation to help remake a world that can accommodate the increasing millions of old people who will need all the help they can get in coming years.

And I still think so but now with some important reservations.

A week ago, The New York Times published a story about the Genworth Financial R70i written by a youngish reporter, Andy Newman, who begins his story,

”What could it possibly be like to be old? The stooped shuffle, the halting speech, the dimming senses.”

He answers his own question a scant two sentences later after donning the age suit: “It is not very pleasant.”

Mr. Newman walks his readers through the debilities the suit mimics: macular degeneration, tinnitus along with muffled and distorted hearing, aphasia and with the 40-pound weight of the suit, creaky joints and weakened muscles. After Newman has spent some time on a treadmill, Ferrin tells him,

“'So far you’ve walked about a half block and your heart is beating at 130 beats a minute,' he said.

“There are,” Newman continues, “entire realms of wretchedness attendant upon owning and operating an 85-year-old body that the Genworth Aging Experience exhibit does not even touch upon.

“Comprehensive sagging, internal and external. Pain in places you did not know could hurt. Difficulty urinating. Difficulty not urinating. Watching your friends die off. Watching yourself become irrelevant, an object of pity or puzzlement if acknowledged at all.”

Sounds awful, doesn't it. Much more awful than most people I know would indicate, even those in their 80s and 90s. There is a reason for that, a brilliantly obvious one I found in a letter to the editor. It is short so here it is in its entirety:

”When I began as a gerontological social worker 47 years ago, simulation exercises were all the rage. We were given glasses with lenses smeared in Vaseline, cotton balls to stuff in our ears, weights to tie on our ankles.

“Thus adorned, we were led through our paces: brushing our teeth, making beds, washing dishes and dusting the furniture. This, we were told, is what it feels like to be old.

“Now that I have become one of 'them,' I could not disagree more. It is rare that an old person will have every disability or that those she does have will be of equal intensity. There is an ebb and flow to physical functioning in late life just as there is in earlier years.

“And we are more than the sum of our bodily woes; we are individuals who meet the challenges of old age in individual ways. We do not live to take care of ourselves and our habitats; we do these things in order to do other things that give our lives meaning.”

Yes! And thank you to the letter writer, Ann Burack-Weiss of New York, who is the author of The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman's Life, a book that has been sitting in (one of) my “to read” piles since it was published last fall and which I have now moved to the top.

Lately I have come to believe (and you will undoubtedly be hearing more about in these pages) that both serious research and general discussion of old people's lives should not be undertaken without the presence of at least one old person as an adviser.

What younger people cannot know and no age suit can tell them is exactly what Ms. Burack-Weiss expresses in her last paragraph, worth repeating here:

“And we are more than the sum of our bodily woes; we are individuals who meet the challenges of old age in individual ways. We do not live to take care of ourselves and our habitats; we do these things in order to do other things that give our lives meaning.”

It is that kind of knowledge that, to me, make it imperative for old people to become consultants in the creation of an age-friendly world

I still believe there is an important place for old age suits but not as a stand-alone aid. Old age, as is true of just about anything worth knowing about, is more complicated than a robotic simulation of physical decline.

Presidential Candidates Ignoring Their Age Peers

As Marc Freedman, the founder and CEO of Encore.org noted in The Wall Street Journal last week, with the exception of Ted Cruz, age 45, all the remaining candidates of both parties are old enough for Social Security.

Bernie Sanders – 74
Donald Trump - 69
Hillary Clinton - 68
John Kasich – 63 (okay, early Social Security in his case)

Before I go any further, I must take a moment to throw some kudos to Mr. Freedman for this important statement in his WSJ piece (emphasis is mine):

”...what about the vast majority of the older population who are neither frail nor dependent, who are far from being elderly.”

Words matter, and he is the only person writing about elders I can recall – in the media in general but also among many who work in the ageing business – who does not use the word “elderly” to mean old people. Elderly means, as his sentence makes clear, “frail and dependent.” We must stop using it as a synonym for old.

The point of Freedman's essay is that although there has been, refreshingly, no pejorative discussion this election season of the candidates' ages, neither have any of them spoken up about the unprecedented and ongoing demographic increase of the nation's – and the world's – oldest citizens.

They have all failed, says Freedman – and I agree – to show any leadership for this revolutionary change in population numbers, addressing only (and barely as far as I can see) what he calls the “liability lens” - illness, dependency, caregiving, Social Security and Medicare.

What Freedman is looking for from the candidates is support for longer working lives for elders who want it and for the millions who, like the candidates, would welcome the chance to continue serving to society but lack the resources of the candidates.

”Can you imagine Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Kasich or Bloomberg characterizing themselves as 'seniors' and 'elderly'? asks Freedman. “A great many in the candidates' cohort don't identify with these labels, or associations they conjure.

“Yet the candidates have largely missed an opportunity to use their own age to argue for the power of experience and potential contribution of their many peers-citizens who have much to offer at a time that was once associated with being put out to pasture.”

None of this, certainly, is to ignore the importance of policy positions on Social Security and Medicare which are still woefully missing from candidates on the campaign trail. But I strongly suspect that if Freedman's appeal to Clinton, Sanders, Kasich and Trump were to be answered, fixes to earned benefits would naturally follow.

Perhaps a place for the candidates to start is the bully pulpit, to speak directly to their age-mates, explaining that they understand experience isn't always views as an asset in today's society, but that the nation needs us...

“Assuming this leadership might not only help the candidates win the support of a demographic group that will be influential come November, but launch a much-needed debate in America: one focused on how we can make the most of a new era of longer lives.

“That's a question with the potential to reshape what it means to grow older – as individuals and as a nation – for generations to come.”

That's not ignoring other age groups. It is about elders contributing to business, paying taxes, participating in volunteer opportunities that benefit everyone for as long as they desire to do so and are able. There is no down side to this.

Never Ending Ageism

Several new books about ageing and ageism are being published this year and they will not go unnoticed at this blog. Meanwhile, a reader alerted me to an op-ed piece published on Friday in the Los Angeles Times that goes a long way toward making books and articles about ageism necessary.

”It may be a joke. It may be 'tongue-in-cheek,' emailed Patricia Edie who blogs at Life, as I Live It. "But it caused a twist in the center of my stomach.”

The op-ed, titled How Millennials Should Deal with Baby Boomers at Work, is written by Ann Friedman who, the newspaper tell us, “is a contributing writer to Opinion. She is a millennial.”

So we are all on the same page, millennials are loosely defined as being born between about 1981 and 2000 so are currently between the ages 16 and 35.

Boomer age has long been more specific: born between 1946 and 1964, now between ages 52 and 70.

After opening with a snarky reference to a less that flattering description of millennials in, she tells us with no link to cite her quotation, The New York Times, Ms. Friedman makes it obvious where her story is headed:

”...what happens when baby boomers dominate your office culture? What are the best practices for handling their Luddism and fragile egos?”

That sure does set a tone, doesn't it.

Here is some of the advice about boomers from the put-upon and oh-so-superior millennials who are, Ms. Friedman tells us, “working professionals age 33 or younger” interviewed via Twitter:

“...never assume that your baby-boomer colleagues...are unfamiliar with new technology. It's far more likely that they've read about it, tried it once and decided they hate it.”
“And don't talk to boomers as if their methods (even the ancient ones) are stupid. Keep it constructive. Suggest ways to optimize without remaking their entire process.”
“In a boomer-majority office, it's often necessary to ignore mild but routine sexism, cautioned many millennial women. Remember that some boomers joined the workforce before anti-harassment policies were created.”
“It's also important to signal to your boomer colleagues that you're aware of American history prior to 1990, without threatening their conviction that lived experience is invaluable.”

Condescending much?

In the early years of this blog, when I was writing about ageism and age discrimination I sometimes employed what I called “The TGB Bias Test” that involved substituting racial or gender references in place of the ageist ones in quotations. Let's give it a try today and see what happens. Replacement references are in italic:

“...never assume that your black colleagues...are unfamiliar with new technology. It's far more likely that they've read about it, tried it once and decided they hate it.”
“And don't talk to women as if their methods (even the ancient ones) are stupid. Keep it constructive. Suggest ways to optimize without remaking their entire process.”
“In a Latino-majority office, it's often necessary to ignore mild but routine sexism, cautioned many millennial women. Remember that some Latinos joined the workforce before anti-harassment policies were created.”
“It's also important to signal to your Muslim colleagues that you're aware of American history prior to 1990, without threatening their conviction that lived experience is invaluable.”

Ridiculous? Yes. Offensive? Definitely. In fact, I'm pretty sure that none of those rewritten quotations could make it into print at the Los Angeles Times or any other legitimate publication. But boomer bigotry is a non-issue.

Some people in the comments at the newspaper suggested this story was satire. Really? To succeed, satire needs to be recognizeable as such.

Perhaps in an effort to redeem herself and her quoted millennial cohorts, Ms. Friedman ends her piece with

”Finally, remind yourself, like Anne Brown, that you'll 'probably be old and lame someday too.' Or, as Tim Brack put it, 'remember that you'll be in their shoes in the end... complaining about the latest generation.'”

“Old and lame someday” certainly nails this Op-ed's prevailing millennial attitude. For a long time, ageism has been - and obviouisly remains - the last acceptable prejudice.