BBC News reported a story last week headlined “Centenarian takes computer course,” in which Sidney Platt, who turned 100 in March, answered the standard inquiry, obligatory in all media interviews with people who have reached the century mark: To what do you attribute your old age:
“Porridge is the secret to a long life,” said Mr. Platt. “I have it in the morning and it’s the best start to the day.”
Aw, isn’t that cute. Almost as cute as the headline and the computer centre director’s standard comment in such stories: “He is one of the trail blazers of the centre…He’s an amazing character and a real inspiration to others.”
Also last week, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Maureen Dowd, in recounting her mother’s short-term stay in a nursing home, commented on the behavior of the residents:
“All through the night, Alzheimer’s patients would moan: ‘Help me! Why doesn’t anyone come to help me?’ They were unable to remember the last time an attendant stopped by…
“Soon the residents began acting as if I were one of them, just one with better mobility. They would call out for me to fix them tea in the microwave – ‘Just Sweet ‘N’ Low,’ one woman ordered briskly."
Another woman asked Ms. Dowd to telephone her daughter. When no one picked up the phone, she left a message on the answer machine.
“As I hung up, the old woman looked up at me with big suspicious eyes. ‘What are you doing in my room?’ she demanded in a hostile voice. She had forgotten me already.”
It’s all about Ms. Dowd.
These two stories are almost perfect demonstrations of two extremes of media interest in people in their end-of-life years. In the first case, it is what Nina at Nina Turns 40 (responding in a comment to “Crabby’s Bad Hattitude”), termed the “cute-ification” of elders which, in effect, infantilizes us: “Isn’t he cute, that old coot at the computer” – robbing him and everyone in extreme old age of the respect and dignity automatically accorded mid-life adults.
In the second story, it is the abhorrence – without a shred of shame or compassion – of what old age can sometimes inflict on our bodies and minds that is so hateful - and moreso when Ms. Dowd's entire story was in service to a cheap laugh, in the last sentence, at the expense of the women she described so uncaringly.
“Old age is and will always remain difficult,” says geriatrician, Dr. William H. Thomas, in a remarkable book titled, What Are Old People For? But nature has her reasons - and her compensations.
I have recently realized how shallowly I have scratched the surface in writing about “what it’s really like to get older." There is much more to do at Time Goes By.
“If aging is truly a catastrophic prelude to death, an alien rot imposed on an unwilling adult, then it deserves the dread it currently engenders. But what if aging and old age are a normal, natural ripening?
“Even a brief examination of the world around us would offer support for that optimistic outlook. Aging is everywhere. Far from being some dreadful anomaly, it works its way into the lives of millions of species and hundreds of billions of creatures each and every day. This ubiquity suggests that nature finds aging to be very useful, even essential.”
- - William H. Thomas, M.D., What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World
Mainstream media has a long way to go to catch up with nature in regard to their attitude toward elders.