Social Security – Part 23: Reform Dead, For Now
Age as Adventure

What Elders Want

Last week, we played a little name game to see how people felt about various words used to reference old people. M Sinclair Stevens left this comment on the poll results story:

“Sometimes y'all get me wondering "What do old folks (or is it elders?) want?" the same way that men confronted with women's lib in the 70s wondered "What do women want?"

“…Maria complains when there is a special class for seniors—something that, in my mind, acknowledges that someone has been considerate enough not to think everyone has the same needs or desires as the 20-year-old co-ed next to me. Ronni (rightly so!) points out how the process for flu shots could have been improved had some forethought and planning gone into providing for the needs of the elderly/aged/senior/mature recipients.

“So what's the message here? Should I expect people to treat me with the deference afforded by my age, just as long as they don't label me as senior?”

The reason for the existence of TGB is to explore what getting older is really like. Time Goes By was launched nearly two years ago because just about all popular writing about the later years of life is focused on decline, debility and disease and that can’t possibly be all there is to it.

We live in a profoundly ageist culture where youth is the gold standard of life and the appearance of youth substitutes for youth itself. Older people who don’t keep up their end of the bargain to deny that aging exists (through any means possible, including injecting themselves with a poison, Botox, and undergoing sometimes dangerous surgery) are marginalized, demeaned, kept out of the workforce and generally made invisible.

Mainstream media upholds this ageist attitude. Many “cute-ify” old people with underlying tones such as “Isn’t that cute how someone her age manages to publish a blog.” Another way this is done is to hold up the few old people who run marathons, for example, as the ideal of age, suggesting that those who aren’t triathlon competitors are slackers.

The most insidious result of an ageist society is age discrimination in the workplace which denies people even as young as 45 and 50 the right to advance their careers and even to work at all – only because they are no longer young.

By pointing out these issues, revealing other, positive sides to getting older, discussing what later life (increased, on average, by 30 years during the 20th century) should and can be, Time Goes By and its readers are helping to reinvent old age.

In the course of doing that, there are bound to be disagreements, false starts, errors in judgment, confusion and great discoveries too. We are in new territory and from my end, it is an exciting adventure every day. I am grateful to have so many readers who jump in with their thoughts, opinions, arguments and stories. Together we are discovering ourselves in this time of life.

And so if Maria wants an age-neutral exercise class, Jill objects to the word elder, Jude thinks biddy is just fine and Cowtown Pattie wants to know why "you ol’ heifer" wasn’t included among the poll choices – it’s all part of the process of figuring out what getting older is really like and how we might want to change things.

What each of us wants is not always the same and that is as it should be. We are proving that elders cannot be lumped together within the stereotypes the culture often tries to box us. We are as different from one another as people in any other stage of life.

The people who leave comments here surprise me every day and I don't always agree. But I learn from everyone who visits here and I have been changed because of it. I’m a having a terrific time exploring old age with all of you and hope you are too.


What can I say, Ronni ... getting older is one of the most interesting rides I've been on! Each day brings forth new and fascinating lessons emotionally and physically.

There is no one I'd like to share it with more than you. I thank you for creating this space for us all to talk, think, learn and explore about what it's *really* like to get older.

Taken out of connotation and without benefit of facial expressions and voice intonations, the term "you old heifer", might sound atrocious to some, but between Texas women it is usually a sign of affection. All depends on how and whom you infer it. Same goes for many of the descriptive words you listed for older people.

The key to ending age discrimination is not singular, but instead a whole ring of keys for opening the pathway, as TGB postings elucidate. I am enjoying the shared discoveries immensely!

On a different note, my age and where I have arrived was very much in my consciousness last evening at a Paul McCartney concert. The music sparked so many memories, but simultaneously reminded me that time and change are not negotiable.

It was a bittersweet night; the self-indulgence of youthful girlish memories, the awareness of my own aging, and the importance of cherishing each day of our lives and not bemoaning what cannot be reclaimed, relived. As we age, we must remember that each day is an opportunity to create a new memory; that by life's end, our own personal scrapbook is rich and rewarding.

"LeChaim, life!"

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, and thanks for the brief indulgence here, Ronni!

Thanks for your blog, Ronni, for allowing us to search and catalog the ways in which aging is changing us - and those around un.

I think this is one I'll print out and keep, Ronni! The interesting, moving and astonishingly diverse thoughts and example of those who are getting older alongside and ahead of me are certainly one of the main things that keeps me going with optimism and energy. I read TGB with constant gratitude and affection (and occasional deep irriation :-)as part of that.

Ah, Pattie, we didn't need to hear or see you to know the Texas humor and attitude behind "you ol' heifer." It comes through delightfully on your blog every day - and I do wish I'd included that phrase in the word list, but my three years living in Houston a long time ago obviously didn't rub off on me well enough.

I've come to the conclusion that for one thing, the experience of aging is more varied than other times of life. I guess that makes sense. It's the other end of a contuim that starts out with normal development having a clearly marked timetable.

At 9 months you're crawling and getting ready to take your first steps. You have a couple of teeth. That's typical, and absent a disability or abnormal condition you won't be too far from that norm. As time goes on, our timetables become more individual.

By 85 or 90, you might be fully independent and vigorous or you might be totally dependent on others or anything in between. You might have full mental clarity or your mind might be clouded with dementia - or anything in between. And neither extreme can really be called untypical.

As we age, things catch up with us. All kind of things - bad habits, work we've done for years, our genetic dispositions. The experience of aging, the limitations and lack of limitations it brings is so diverse, and that's why what one older person wants or, for that matter, needs, is not the same as what another does. For one, acknowlegement of continued productivity might be the most important thing. For another, accomodation to disabilities is more important.

I think the higher the age group the less it's possible to think of it as monolithic.

No matter the age, life long learning and exploring brings excitement to the day. Thanks for enabling this sharing Ronni!

Thank you for your postings and blog. I have always anticipated old age because my grandfather said our society had it all wrong. Old age could be the best time of life. He was a creative person and so am I. Hopefully I will continue to want to learn and create as he did. I like to read dlthat others have found similar satisfaction.

I came upon your blog awhile ago and think it's great. I just started my own blog for writers although I couldn't figure out how to do the links, or even if the one I picked had links. Will have to figure out more how to do the blogging.

I think these are great way to find other people who have the same interest as you do, and also a way to connect with other seniors.

My email address is

I'm writing a book for women fifty and older and looking for stories from ladies fifty and older who are doing something in life other than rocking away on the porch without any interests.

Looking for ladies who are living, starting over, perhaps got married, started a business, learned how to ski or mountain climbing....well you get the picture. Email me if anyone would care to be part of this book....

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