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February 2006

When is It Ageism and When is It Not?


Msoffice129 A few days ago, James Seah, who lives in Singapore and blogs - with a lot of photos - at A Walk Down Memory Lane, left a comment about this picture he snapped with his Treo. It is an advertisement for Microsoft Office Professional edition at an astonishingly low price. But only for students age 20 and under.

That’s not a problem. Students and elders have traditionally been given discounts on all sorts of products and services on the theory that the youngest earn little money yet and the oldest are on fixed incomes.

What you can’t see clearly in my size reduction of James’s snap is the main image. Here’s a larger version of it from the home page of Microsoft’s Singapore website with slightly different copy.


What we have is the international symbol for “No” directed at elders. If you look only at the symbol, which is placed in the ad so it pops out first at viewers, it’s a disturbing image akin to No Smoking, No Littering, No Parking and other such alerts we see every day prohibiting certain behavior. “No Elders” it tells us, and one isn't immediately certain what they are excluded from.

Opposing prejudice can sometimes be a tricky business. It’s important to fight it where you find it, but go too far and you risk losing your sense of humor. This ad is not funny, nor is it meant to be. The idea is grab the attention of viewers with a bold image so they will then read the rest of the ad. It does that, but it also fails by targeting only elders and not mid-age people.

Or am I being naïve? Was it the idea of the ad creative team to shock people with an image they would at first find offensive until they read the copy? Or is the just plain offensive?

It beats me. I can’t decide.

Health Savings Accounts - Part 2

category_bug_journal2.gif If you haven’t read Part 1 of this two-part series, please do (it’s short) because I will not be repeating the basics today.

Advocates and critics of health savings accounts (HSAs) have been weighing in with their opinions on the program’s advantages and disadvantages. I’m no expert, but I’m not stupid either and it appears to me that the advantages fall to the financial business sector and the wealthy, while the disadvantages fall to everyone else. Let’s take a look at some of them one-by-one.

Advantage: Lower premiums for the high-deductible coverage required to accompany HSAs will reduce the number of uninsured
Tell that to a family of four with the current median income of $44,000 and the half of the U.S. population who earn less. Millions of them have no coverage now because they can’t afford it. How are they are expected to pay a premium and set aside money to cover the deductible each year?

HSAs abandon the insurance principle of healthy individuals subsidizing the sick through a common pool of premiums. Over time, this will drive up premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who can least afford it, creating a two-tiered healthcare system.

Advantage: People will have more personal control of healthcare spending
This idea is that people will choose their healthcare spending more wisely when it comes out of their pocket. Really? More wisely than what? Will one of you readers explain to me what my alternative is when a physician orders a battery of tests to determine what's wrong? Or how I can make a reasoned decision about what medical services I need when I’m half-conscious, bleeding on a gurney in the emergency room?

Underfunded HSAs give people incentives to postpone needed care, jeopardizing their health.

Advantage: HSAs will grow tax-free
Only if you believe the stock market never goes down. HSA deposits can be invested in stocks, bonds and mutual funds and carry the usual risks inherent in the market. [NOTE: So far, I haven’t found any mention of FDIC insured accounts if, for example, an individual chooses a simple bank account for his or her HSA.]

HSAs are a gift for the wealthy who now have an additional tax shelter. That family limit of $5250 per year (it increases annually to match inflation) grows dramatically over 20 years for those to whom the deductible is inconsequential. And although it is taxed, at age 65, the money can be withdrawn for any use, not just healthcare.

"'We already have a large number of retirement savings vehicles in the United States,' said Jonathan Gruber, an economist and Treasury Department offician in the Clinton administration. 'It is not clear why we need yet another tax break for savings for rich guys.'"
- The New York Times, 27 January 2006

Remember, the stock market is the world's largest, legal gambling casino and that is where HSA - healthcare - dollars are deposited.

Advantage: Unlike current corporate health benefits, HSAs are portable
This is the single advantage to ordinary folks. No more scrambling, when changing jobs, with COBRA or seeking out private insurance. Plus, freelancers and independent contractors are eligible.

[There is a detailed explanation of health savings accounts in PDF format from the National Health Policy Forum.]

HSAs are not a proposal as the president's Social Security privatization plan of 2005 was. This program is a done deal and is expected to grow dramatically as employers eliminate traditional healthcare benefit plans in favor of HSAs and as financial institutions promote them. You would not be far off to think of this part of the State of the Union address tomorrow as a free commercial starring the president for the banks and insurance companies which operate HSAs and high-deductible insurance.

“Banks are already champing at the bit. ‘We happen to be in the camp that the HSA is a second retirement account to be used for medical expenses,’ said Nancy Todor, an executive who will oversee health savings accounts when Citigroup introduces them this year.”
- The New York Times, 27 January 2006

And American Express has added a dangerous twist to their HSA accounts that other institutions will be quick to adopt: a debit card with a credit line so people whose health costs exceed the balance in their HSA can get an instant loan to cover those costs. Just what the U.S. needs - more personal debt, which stood at $9.5 trillion in 2004, according to USA Today. [Don’t read this news story unless you want the bejesus scared out of you.]

According to the International Monetary Fund, personal household savings in the U.S. is currently running in the negative. Why would the advocates of HSAs, then, believe that Americans will suddenly change their savings behavior just because it’s called a health savings account?

But that is not the goal. What will happen is that more employers will drop traditional health benefits in favor of HSAs. Corporate benefits costs will drop dramatically while individual healthcare costs will soar and financial institutions will rake in tens of billions of dollars in fees.

Where is the healthcare benefit to Americans? That is the question to ask yourself as President Bush puts his carefully-worded spin on HSAs in his State of the Union Address tomorrow evening.

There is another solution that the government and corporate America are loath to undertake. It’s known by various names: single-payer system, universal coverage, national healthcare. It covers everyone, it exists in every industrialized nation except ours and you can read the Time Goes By series on it starting here.

Please read it, or re-read it and feel free to reprint all or parts of it on your own blog - and do take the appropriate action with your senators and representatives. Let them know you don't buy the sham of health savings accounts.

Silver Threads - 1/29/2006

Remember last Sunday when I said that thanks to a posting from Jude at long-toothed hinterland dweller about such exotic flora as chocolate pudding fruit and ice cream bean trees, Australia is now on my don’t-miss list before I die? CHANGED MY MIND. Jude neglected to mention some exotica of the beastie variety - the biggest-ass spider I ever saw. (Via Frank Paynter at Sandhill Trek.)

Registration is now open for Blogher ’06 being held in San Jose, California, July 28-29. Last year’s inaugural conference is with me still, a remarkable day of bright, shiny, smart, extraordinary women (and men) of all ages who make you proud to be a blogger. You should go to this if you possibly can.

Julie Gallagher of Centerville, Ohio, sent me an issue of Releasing Times, a quarterly journal of “reflections by women in our 50s and 60s” which she publishes. There are some remarkable, moving, well-told stories to read and you too can be published there. Check Julie’s website for more.

Crabby Old Lady may have found her counterpart in a Grouchy Old Man at Octogenarian. This week he takes his alma mater, NYU, to task for perpetrating education lite on students, and you shouldn’t miss his “Memoir: My Sex Life in the Army” piece (World War II era) from last weekend either.

The website is called Disabled Hands, but it’s just as useful for elders and anyone else who may need some help with everyday chores. There are reviews of products to ease you through such difficulties, along with some astonishing tips like the one explaining that bananas are easier to peel from the bottom. I’m almost sixty-damned-five years old and I never knew this until now?

You’re gonna love this one or hate it, the “50 Most Loathsome People in America 2005”, from Descriptions of the “winners” from the worlds of media, politics, punditry and sports are vicious, nasty, profane, fall-down-funny - and a whole lot of them are right on target.

Although AARP initially supported the new Medicare Part D, president Bill Novelli announced yesterday that the organization will petition Congress to change the troubled prescription drug program. Changes need to be made to the method of counting assets for low-income recipients, says Novelli, and AARP wants Congress to reconsider the legislation's ban on price negotiation with drug manufacturers. Good idea.

Jim Knipfel, writing in the The New York Press, ponders the difficulty of finding cultural references that anyone can recognize. He reminded me of a friend who had a cartoon rejected because, the editor said, none of the magazine’s readers would know who Sisyphus was. Knipfel is asking if we older folks are dinosaurs or if young folks are just more stupid these days. What do you think?

Perhaps it’s modesty on his part, but who knew our own Robert Brady of Pure Land Mountain is a published poet. Further on This Floating Bridge of Dreams, published in 1990, is available at Amazon, and you can read one from the collection posted by his brother Mick at their co-blog, The BlogBrothers. The Brady boys do seem to share a delicious felicity for language.

Health Savings Accounts - Part 1

category_bug_journal2.gif President Bush is expected, in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, to announce health savings accounts (HSAs) as his pet domestic issue for 2006. Congress is said to be hot for this issue too as an avenue to re-election in November.

Before you listen to the president spin the wonders of HSAs for working people next week, there is a crucial piece of information you need to know, one that he is unlikely to mention:

“Banks, credit unions and money management firms are now quietly positioning themselves to become central players in the business of healthcare, offering 401(k)-type accounts to cover future medical expenses…

“These supercharged checking accounts, which must be linked to a high-deductible health insurance plan, allow consumers to invest their own money for current and future medical expenses and have it grow tax-free…

“Bankers and others…charge $50 to $75 to set up a health savings account and they collect perhaps $40 or more each year in maintenance charges and service fees.”

- The New York Times, 27 January 2006

Can you spell Social Security Privatization? This is the same presidential scam U.S. citizens rejected last year in regard to retirement security, now applied to healthcare: the transfer of hard-earned income from the poor and middle-class to the wealthy.

HSAs are projected to be so lucrative for the financial services sector that medical plans and insurance companies like United Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield are chartering their own new banks to cash in on the windfall. It is estimated that $75 billion in money management fees is at stake as workers are forced into these accounts.

Keep that in mind Tuesday evening when the president tells you how this plan will make you healthier and save you money.

How Health Savings Accounts Work
Today, in Part 1, I’ll explain the genesis of HSAs and how they work. It’s not difficult to understand. On Monday, in Part 2, I’ll provide the commentary and you will be prepared then for what is expected to be the centerpiece of the president’s domestic agenda in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday. (You are going to watch the speech, right?)

Health Savings Accounts were established in 2003 with the legislation that created the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan for elders. They exist now and although only a few corporate employers offer them so far, that number is expected to quickly increase. About three million Americans have signed on to date.

HSAs are intended to pay for everyday medical expenses like annual exams and tests, a broken arm, infections, flu shots, asthma checkups, dental visits, eye care, etc. Once the high deductible is met, the paired insurance coverage kicks in. Here’s how the HSA system is set up:

  • Americans under the age of 65, may open an HSA (older people have Medicare)
  • A high-deductible health insurance plan must be bought in connection with the HSA
  • Having chosen the high-deductible health insurance plan, workers then choose a bank for their HSA
  • Account owners may contribute, in pre-tax dollars, up to $2650 per year for individuals and $5250 for families (it is said the president will propose increasing these limits in his Tuesday speech) or up to the amount of the insurance coverage deductible if that is less
  • A few employers are kicking in an annual contribution to employees’ HSAs, sometimes as much as $2500
  • Contributions can be invested in stocks, bonds and mutual funds which grow tax-free - or not, if the market drops, but the government doesn’t mention that possibility
  • Account owners write checks against their accounts to pay for approved medical expenses. What isn’t spent each year remains in the account for future use
  • HSAs are portable from job to job
  • After age 65, funds may be withdrawn for any use without penalty, but are taxed

A stated intention of HSAs is to reduce corporate healthcare costs and transfer those costs to employees. But less than half of the current three million HSA owners have deposited money into their accounts so there is no build-up for next year.

Unlike the Social Security program, healthcare in the U.S. is a real, not make-believe, crisis. According to The Century Foundation, “…if current trends persist the cost of health benefits for Fortune 500 companies will be greater than their profits by 2008.” That's only two years away and whether it is an exaggeration or not, it remains that healthcare costs are a serious issue that must be addressed - now.

Monday in Part 2: the advantages and disadvantages of HSAs, and other possible solutions

America's Approaching Decline

category_bug_politics.gif Nearly four decades ago, when I first arrived in New York City, a new friend, a journalist, playwright and novelist, told me that the government - any government - must be watched closely in every detail of every action they take (or don't take) because they will always arrange things to personally benefit themselves to the detriment of citizens.

I was surprised at my friend’s vehemence. I knew our federal government was shifty, but I still believed then that if Congress partook of a little graft here and handed out a legislative favor or two to corporate patrons there, in general, they aimed for the common good, as did the president.

I was wrong. And now that government and corporate America have become so intertwined as to be indistinguishable from one another (they have become one and same power), we are forced, by our employment, to participate in the approaching demise of our democracy (already mostly gone) and the sinking of the United States, possibly the world, into a new Dark Age. Surely I exaggerate, no?

I left off writing this to do something else and in the interim, one of my Google Alerts led me to Gore Vidal’s powerful, new essay, President Jonah. It is close in direction to where I was heading, and it is so smart, so importantly linked and so elegantly written, there is no reason for me to continue.

The writer to whom I frequently turn for a reality check in matters politic, and to whom I owe about 50 percent of my early and continuing political education, draws an analogy between the current state of affairs in the U.S. and the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale:

“Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, ‘cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,’ so like the people of Baghdad who cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction by the Cheney-Bush cabal.

“But the analogy becomes eerily precise when it comes to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when a president is not only incompetent but plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before.

“Witness the ongoing screw-up of prescription drugs. Who knows what other disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse he is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him.

“We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he. Look at Nixon’s radiant features after his resignation! One can see former President Jonah in his sumptuous library happily catering to faith-based fans with animated scriptures rooted in The Simpsons.”

Go read the whole thing. At 80, Vidal is at his brooding, eloquent best, and says it so much better than I.

TGB and Politics


“When I was young I was amazed at Plutarch's statement that the elder Cato began at the age of eighty to learn Greek. I am amazed no longer. Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.”
- W. Somerset Maugham

When I started Time Goes By two years ago, it was to explore, investigate and write about “what it’s really like to get older” because there is almost no popular writing about aging except in regard to the four Ds: disease, debility, decline and death.

I made a few rules for myself. One was that I would never publish anything that would shame me to see on the front page of The New York Times. That is my test for every post and it keeps me honest. I cite sources, try not to exaggerate except when it is obvious and serves to emphasize a point, and I explain the reasons for my opinions and points of view.

There are other rules, but the toughest one to follow has been “no politics except as it relates directly to elders.” For a woman whose first closely watched presidential campaign was between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1952, this has been a tall order and it gets tougher every day.

But TGB is about aging and, I believe, should stay that way. There are already too many political blogs which, with a few exceptions, are of either the snarly, snarky, derisive variety or so deeply pseudo-intellectual they have no useful bearing on real-world issues.

So I’ve remained a dry drunk within TGB in regard to politics or, when I’ve slipped on occasion, the tortured paths I’ve taken to relate my arguments to aging have embarrassed even me. (And you, dear readers, have been kind enough not to point out those verbal contortions.)

All my life, I read stories about the mellowing that comes with age. I’ve been waiting for it, looking for it, checking for signs of it – but all I find is greater rage than at any time in my near-65 years at what is happening to my country.

Times change and so do ideas about the right thing to do.

What could I have been thinking, I’m asking myself now, when I decided Iraq, domestic surveillance, torture, tax cuts for the rich, secret prisons, corruption in high places, lies, theft of public funds, FEMA, environmental destruction, the imperial presidency (shall I go on?), are not concerns of elders?

And who, if not elders, are best positioned to raise a ruckus when politics and government go so wrong? Who can bring more reasoned thought and experience to the battle? Who has less need or desire to build power for themselves? Who has learned that wealth is not the only or even best measure of riches? Who’s got those complex, double-sided brains to put to work? Who, as midlife gradually blends into late life, has the time? And who might have a modicum of wisdom to apply?

Elders, too, usually have a yearning to make things better than they are, to leave behind even a small legacy of something for the greater good.

And so, aging and what it’s really like to get older will remain the prime focus of Time Goes By. But now and again it will veer into the general political fray even when the topic, event or issue does not apparently apply directly to elders because

  1. I understand now that to do otherwise is to exclude us from the flow of life, and
  2. To remain silent when the struggle is between the powerful and the powerless is to side with the powerful.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead

Sex and the Seasoned Woman Revisited

category_bug_ageism.gif As the publicity machine that propelled Sex and The Seasoned Woman onto The New York Times best-seller list at 14th place last Sunday continues to surge forward, it becomes more disturbing. God knows it’s not that I’m against sex at any adult age, or that I think elder sex shouldn’t be spoken of. And if some women need a nudge to enjoy sex in their old age by reading about other women’s sexual experiences, where’s the harm?

An interview with the author, Gail Sheehy, a week or so ago, gave me a clue.

ANDREA SACHS: Aren’t some older women happy to leave sex behind?

SHEEHY: Yes, and there are men like that too. The sadder women are those I call the LLs, the Lowered Libidos, who expressed to me that they had very little libido but weren’t doing something about it. And they seemed to be closed off to knowing or doing anything about it.”

- Time Bonus Section, February 2006

Older women who aren't trawling for a date every night don't need a two-bit psychobabble diagnosis of their state of mind from a celebrity writer with little more to recommoned her than a good publicist. It's patronizing and insulting.

In the 1960s and '70s, women who chose to be stay-at-home moms were refused membership in the “sisterhood” of the women's movement. The feminist leaders of the day lost a lot of support from a lot of women for a long time because they belittled women who made different personal choices in life.

Something similar is afoot with this elder sex trend. There are half a dozen new books like Sheehy’s and we are present at the launch of a determined media effort to turn this into a new, manufactured marketing sector - a warning that if we’re not having, in our old age, the hottest sex since Debbie Does Dallas, and having it every day, something is wrong with us.

Coming up right behind this media blitz will be expensive remedies to go along with Botox and cosmetic surgery. Can Kegal classes on television be far behind? Watch for it any day now on Oprah, a woman who never met a trumped-up trend she didn’t like.

Just as some women prefer raising children to a big-time career on Wall Street, some older women prefer to take their “Lowered Libido” as it comes, as a new stage of life – and they are not “sadder” for it, as Sheehy believes.

“Sex's importance is constructed,” said Leonore Tiefer, a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “It can be very important or not so important. The trouble for me is when the answer for that is uniform. That's an oppressive message.”
- The New York Times, 13 January 2006

That oppression is, once again, being perpetrated by the women who consider themselves feminists. And that is shameful. A true feminist welcomes all flavors of womanhood into the fold and it is a cheap sales ploy for a trendoid book to demean anyone who is doesn't meet Ms. Sheehy's definition of the good life.

In another section of the Time interview, Sheehy has an equally objectionable message to pass on to the midlife children of elders who might be squeamish about Mom’s sex life:

“…[Mom] won’t be nagging them about how they have to come to her for Christmas. And on summer vacation, they won’t have to go with her or take her along with the kids. She’ll be off with her boyfriend and his family.”

Right, Ms. Sheehy. Let’s not spend anymore time than we’re forced to with grandma. Old people are boring and whiny and let’s be sure to pass that piece of wisdom on to the kiddies. Wouldn’t want them growing up free of prejudice about elders now, would we?

As stated many times at TGB, ageism is as vile and destructive as any other kind of bigotry and this new elder-sex trend perpetuates it in its assumption that if we are not “doing it” as often and as athletically as we were at 25, we are failed women in need of an estrogen boost. The additional insinuation that grandma’s sex life relieves the children of including her in family events is repellent.

The Dangerous Medicare Part D Mess


John Holbo at Crooked Timber quotes from a new book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson:

"When the debate over prescription drug coverage picked up in the late Clinton years, the pharmaceutical lobbying group PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, pronounced “Farma”) went so far as to establish a faux grassroots organization that putatively represented the elderly: “Citizens for a Better Medicare.”

"Despite the lofty title, Citizens for a Better Medicare had few, if any, actual citizens on its rolls Its main activity was to spend millions of PhRMA dollars on slick ad campaigns supporting an industry-friendly drug plan. When Citizens for a Better Medicare came under fire, PhRMA switched its “grassroots” efforts over to the United Seniors Association, a conservative direct-mail organization that had cut its teeth with frightening scare letters to senior citizens. The United Seniors Association board included, among other GOP political operatives, Jack Abramoff…"

category_bug_journal2.gif Forget the confusion of choosing among the myriad Medicare Part D drug plans; the real problem is that it just plain doesn’t work.

It’s always that way with this administration – those least able to help themselves are harmed the most, and the poorest among us have been hardest hit by the mess that has been made of the Medicare Part D.

Millions of low-income members of the Medicaid program were automatically switched to the new Part D, and assigned a Medicare drug provider at random without correlation to the drugs they use. During the changeover, some people’s names were dropped, some were told they owed astronomical co-pays and deductibles and some were refused their drugs altogether.

A large percentage of these people are old, poor and/or mentally ill. There is no one to help many of them except overextended social workers and busy physicians. No one knows how many former Medicaid clients are affected, but the State of California claims at least one-fifth of its one million Medicaid recipients can’t get their prescribed medications.

And no one is (yet) speaking of how many mentally ill patients have slipped the delicately-balanced moorings their meds provide; how many HIV, diabetes and other patients are backsliding without their drugs; or how many have or will die for lack of medication.

  • One social worker, trying to get the correct drugs for a client, has telephoned the assigned provider eight times in two days without getting through.
  • Doctors, to get the correct drug for patients when they are not covered under a randomly assigned plan, must prove they have already tried other medications.
  • Pharmacists are not honoring the transition requirement to provide drugs not covered for one month until the glitches can be ironed out, because they do not believe the government will reimburse them.
  • In extreme cases and as a last resort, mental health agencies are checking clients into hospitals so they can get their drugs.

Here are only three among many things you might not have known about Medicare Part D:

  • Health plans are permitted to drop drugs from their formulary (list of covered drugs) any time they want with 60 days notice to patients; patients are allowed to switch plans only once a year, at the end of the year. (Think about what happens when your drug is dropped in March, you're poor and you can't change to a plan that has your drug until December.)
  • Physicians must fill out mounds of paperwork and spend hours on the telephone with providers even for drugs on the provider’s formulary. They are required to switch patients to cheaper, similar drugs or prove their patients have already tried the cheaper drugs without good results. (How many won't get the right drugs now because there are just not enough manhours to go around.)
  • Providers can charge any amount they choose for individual drugs. One drug ranges from $470 to $602 for a month’s supply, depending on the provider. But listen to this: a month’s supply of the same drug sells at for $67.99. (ONE-TENTH the top price if you buy in cash online. Some people might call this price-gouging.)

Last week, the two men in charge of the Medicare program defended the mess:

“A surge of 2.6 million more enrollees in the past month overwhelmed Medicare’s computers, but things will get better soon, says Mark McClellan, chief of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services…McClellan is the same official to had promised a ‘seamless transition’ of Medicaid patients into the new program…”
- USA Today, 19 January 2006

McClellan’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, is making excuses too:

“We are just 19 days into the start-up of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. It is the largest change in Medicare on 40 years, and it is happening all at once with 24 million people now enrolled in all 50 states."
- USA Today, 19 January 2006

No, it did not happen all at once. The legislation creating the drug program was passed by Congress in 2003, so the start date of 1 January 2006 was no surprise to anyone.

These two sound remarkably like former FEMA head Michael Brown and his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff in the wake of Katrina: “Not my fault. Must be all be all those poor people’s fault for getting sick.”

It's true that any new program will have a few glitches, but the magnitude of the Part D mess is more than that and worse, no one properly planned to get drugs to people when the inevitable glitches happened.

I cringe now at what my medical care will entail for the rest of my life after I join Medicare on 1 April. Already, it's off to a bad start. A six-year-old could have created a better Medicare website. Nowhere is there a link to enroll. Silly me. Everyone knows you sign up for Medicare on the Social Security website, right?

And although enrollment for Medicare Part D can be done online, you can't enroll for Parts A and B anywhere online. There’s an 800 number for that, but in the four phone calls I’ve made so far, I gave up each time after 30 minutes on hold.

Remember when it comes time to vote in November that our government created the new prescription drug program and while the neediest among us are going without necessary, even life-saving drugs, members of Congress - who approved presidential political appointees to these Medicare and HHS posts - are scrambling to cover their behinds from the revelations of confessed felon Jack Abramoff by donating campaign funds he directed to them to charity. No one in charge is thinking about the poor and sick among us.

The New York Times, 22 January 2006
Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2006
Gotham Gazette, January 2006

Old Folks Being Naughty in the Movies

Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener alerted me to a piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, an overview of a recent rash of British and American movies featuring a lot of old people – mostly women - getting naked, talking bawdy and being naughty.

“Old ladies act like teenagers, giggling and rolling around, after mistaking marijuana for teas leaves in 2000’s Saving Grace. And who can forget that wizened and completely naked Irishman…riding on his motorbike in 1998’s Waking Ned Devine? (The same movie, incidentally, asks us to laugh when a nasty old lady in a telephone both is knocked off a high cliff – booth and all – after a careering van hits her.)

“In…Grandma’s Boy Shirley Jones…plays a very promiscuous senior who hops into bed with a young man…Wedding Crashers…features a foulmouthed granny…who apparently knows how to rap with the best of ‘em…We are supposed to laugh, in large part, because, you know, these women are crazy old codgers.”

Given the patronizing attitude of the Washington Post writer who did a story on older bloggers in August 2005, Desson Thomson deserves election to the Honorary ElderBloggers list – or maybe with us ElderBloggers; I don’t know.

For a long time, old people hardly appeared in movies at all. Now we’re everywhere, but as

“…figures of fun. And isn’t it ‘cute’ that an old person is smoking pot? You never see their sex lives or other emotional issues. It’s assumed they’ve given all that up.”

That’s a sympathetic statement until you realize it was said by the writer of Mrs. Henderson Presents, the latest film to feature old people (starring Judi Dench, in this case), as “figures of fun,” doing things that are “cute” at their age, according to the WP writer.

Judi Dench starred with Geoffrey Palmer in the best show about old people ever made for television - As Time Goes By. A British romantic sitcom recounting the life of a couple in their sixties reunited 40 years after their initial love affair in the 1940s, it was funny and sweet and most of all, real.

ATGB was about being old – including the aches and pains and sometime discomfort with the modern world. And it was about falling in love, real love, late in life – without resorting to pandering or dirty-old-man (or woman) jokes that are the staple of so much so-called comedy involving elders. You can still catch it now and again on PBS channels in the U.S.

I haven’t seen any of the movies mentioned in this Washington Post piece and although I'm glad some older actors are getting work, nothing mentioned lights my fire. Maybe I would be inclined to check them out if they existed among other movies as good as the As Time Goes By sitcom.

Silver Threads – 1/22/2006

Silver Threads is the new name for the Sunday feature and the award goes to - [drumroll] – Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles. The voting was close and honorable mention must go to Jude at long-toothed hinterland dweller. I like the wordplay in her title, and I like the “thread” reference - as in following threads in online conversations - in Pattie’s title. Maybe I’ll able to think up another use for Jude’s Elder-ado. Thank you everyone who helped out with suggestions and votes.

Speaking of Jude, she has recently been showing us northern hemisphere dwellers a bit of the exotic plant life down under. The odd animals peculiar to Australia have always made me think of it as a chunk of another planet that tore loose and splashed down on earth eons ago. And now Jude is talking about a tree that bears “chocolate pudding fruit” and the “ice cream bean tree.” I must get to Australia before I die to see (and taste) such things for myself.

If you are not an advertising or marketing professional, it may not be an obvious choice to read Ageless Marketing. But if you’re interested in the psychology of aging and how it is used and misused to sell us stuff, David Wolfe’s blog is a must. He points me in all sorts of interesting directions on aging I wouldn’t think up on my own, and there are his fascinating tidbits like the fact that Scott Adams, who writes and draws the Dilbert cartoon, is considered the 12th most influential business thinker in the world.

Howard at Nuggets has a sharp eye for the small oddities, ironies and hypocrisies of our politics and culture. Who knew, as he reported last week, that that there are a few right wingers with a wicked sense of humor and that each of the five boroughs of New York City has its own Main Street. (I would have sworn I know every street name in Manhattan. Hmmph.)

Donald M. Murray isn’t a blogger. He writes a weekly column for the Boston Globe that is so eloquently evocative about getting old – he’s 81 or so – that I wonder what I’m doing here bothering to punch out this puny stuff on these keys. His column is published on Tuesdays and there are usually four columns available free before they go behind the paid firewall.

That’s it. It’s been a busy week and I’m way behind in my reading.

The Cost-Effectiveness of Older Workers

category_bug_ageism.gif So much new evidence of the brainpower and other advantages of older workers is piling up that none of the tortured explanations of the past can withstand even the slightest scrutiny anymore. The sole remaining excuse for age discrimination in the workplace is blind bigotry and prejudice of recruiters and hiring managers.

In addition to the brain studies reported here earlier this week showing that people do become smarter and wiser with age, AARP released a report in December debunking some of the myths that abound about older workers: that we are too expensive, not motivated, won’t stay on the job long enough to be cost-effective and are not as engaged in the work as younger people.

The AARP/Towers Perrin report, titled The Business Case for Workers Age 50+, refutes all these myths. Most interesting is the cost myth because it is so frequently invoked by employers. According to the study, which looked into four broad industries – energy, financial services, health care and retail:

“The extra per-employee total compensation cost of enhanced retention of 50+ workers is modest, not exceeding three percent per year…Offsetting factors are turnover-related costs of replacing veteran employees with deep institutional knowledge and job-related know-how, and the time it takes to select and train new workers.”

What that means is that with the offsetting factors, retention costs are marginal and experienced people offer performance advantages that save more money. And on the hiring front, training costs are the same whatever the employees’ ages.

Because the population is aging, labor shortages are projected to appear in many sectors within the next five years. That makes retaining older workers in their current positions and as new hires crucial not only to individual business’s bottom line, but to the overall economic well-being of the U.S.

To reject people for no other reason than their gray hair and wrinkles (and that's all it is) is stupid beyond comprehension.

“[Businesses] will no longer be able to rely on a rapidly growing group of younger workers in the future. Increased employment of older workers seems like a natural solution, but employers will have to change their hiring and retention policies if they want to attract these highly productive older individuals,” said Alicia Munnell, director, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Even though it is illegal, age discrimination is a fact of life. If business will not ditch these practices even for the financial well-being of their companies, the law must be enforced. That won’t happen unless we – elders – in our jobs and our job searches demand to be treated equally with young people.

[Three paragraphs removed in the interest of self-preservation.]

Kids and Elders Together

Six toddlers are in the middle of a circle of five elders who are singing the words to The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

“The children are dancing and clapping until, on cue…[the elders] reach the line about the rain coming down. In unison, they each release the contents of a paper bag, causing crumpled, colorful tissue paper to rain down on the floor.

“The toddlers squeal with delight. They want to do it again and again. They pick up the papers and refill the bags held open by the five senior citizens, their fun undiluted by the fact the adults around them have canes, walkers, hearing aids and, in some cases, mild to moderate dementia.”

-, 31 December 2005

Games like this, mixing elders with babies and toddlers, happen regularly at ONEgeneration Daycare in Van Nuys, California, and at 500 other intergenerational daycare centers throughout the U.S. It’s a new idea and one whose time has come.

Forty-five percent of grandparents live more than 200 miles from their grandchildren. Fifty-five percent of mothers of infants work outside the home. Neither the grandparents nor the infants have much opportunity to know and appreciate one another. With the burgeoning growth in the number of elders, these programs seem poised to benefit everyone – kids, elders and working parents.

“’The needs of the two generations fit like a glove,’ say Kelly Bruno, vice president of ONEgeneration. The children want an adult smile of acceptance. The adults want to feel needed.”

The programs are little more than a decade old and research is only beginning to emerge, but both the kids and elders have already been shown to benefit. Contact with the youngsters improves the mood of those with dementia, and the children who spend regular time with the elders are, on average, eleven months ahead in social development compared to those in standard daycare.

“They were most advanced in manners,” says [Vicki Rosebrook, executive director of the Marilyn and Gordon Macklin Intergenerational Institute in Ohio]. “I guess grandmas and grandpas teach them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’”

At the Van Nuys center, “several times a week…seniors who want to visit the kids’ areas mosey across the sidewalk and pathways that separate the two facilities. They might cook with a child, bring a guitar and play some old cowboy songs, or simply sit and rock a baby.”

And maybe this works so well, too, because elders and small children have a similar sense of wonderment, as noted by Betty Friedan a couple of months ago in a story here at TGB:

“Wisdom appears to invoke the return of wonder and mythic delight in the world…Central to the attitude of wonder is an affirmation of life just as it is in the present. The individual neither hankers after a lost past nor a future yet to be…an affirmation of one’s life just as one lived it, for better or worse…an affirmation of one’s past, the return of wonder invokes a similar affirmation of the present, down to small, ordinary events.”

Small, ordinary events. Like rocking a baby and playing Itsy Bitsy Spider. So simple. So important.

Donna Butts, the executive director of Generations United, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group that promotes intergenerational programs like these, believes people are “waking up to the demographics,” eager to start more such centers.

I would go further than these projects have so far. I would also recruit retired elders who are not in need of daily supervision to become aides at licensed childcare facilities, which would then require fewer professional caregivers to oversee the children. Many elders might do this on a volunteer basis, saving money for communities and parents, and returning elders to their historic roles in caring for children.

“They can share their natural instincts,” adds Lois Pellegrino, director of My Second Home, an intergenerational care program in Mount Kisko, N.Y. “In that setting, the walker is no longer an assistance device. It becomes a jungle gym.”

These programs deserve to be widely funded. May they bloom in every neighborhood.

Author Spam

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Two names are under consideration for the Time Goes By weekly Sunday feature. If you haven't done so yet, please vote for your choice.]

Crabby Old Lady’s email client dumps most spam into its own folder, but just enough of those fake financial advisories, promises of wealth from Ivory Coast and naughty products sneak through to exhaust her mouse finger deleting them. Currently, she is into the fifth or sixth day of a massive Trackback spam attack – 30 or 40 a day - and she is one weary old lady.

Half a year ago, Crabby turned off Trackbacks on all new posts due to another spam attack, but in Typepad, Trackbacks can’t be globally switched off previous entries, and some guy in Ukraine has taken a liking to those 150 or so archived posts at which he aims his junk several times over.

But that’s not what Crabby is here to tell you about today...

The latest annoyance is author spam. Several times a month, a different writer leaves a comment tailored (sometimes tortuously) to the topic of TGB promoting his or her new book. They always say nice things about Time Goes By, mention the book title, of course, at least once and there is always a link, often two, sometimes three, to an advertising or purchase page.

Being no fool, Crabby Old Lady is not taken in by this blatant attempt to cadge some free advertising.

Crabby has a great, big, squishy soft spot in her heart for writers or, at least, those who aim for excellence. It’s not easy to tell a story and say what you mean with a fair amount of style, grace, clarity, rhythm and, when it’s going well, a turn of phrase or two in which there is some pride to be taken. So each piece of author spam, from someone Crabby would otherwise feel kinship, breaks a little piece of her heart.

The most recent author spam appeared on the The New (?) Seasoned Woman entry from a writer with a book similar to (well, the same as) Gail Sheehy’s new book. Crabby feels for her – to a point. She is a lesser-known writer whose book was released in paperback rather than hardcover and she’s being overshadowed by a celebrity author after having put in the same kind of work as Sheehy interviewing old women about sex. But that momentary slip in Crabby's crotchety facade didn’t keep her ire from boiling over.

Enough author spam lands on TGB, that Crabby has written a standard response she copies and pastes into an email with only a slight alteration or two to suit individual circumstance. She fired it off to this latest freebie seeker:

“I have removed your post from Time Goes By which does not accept advertising in the fraudulent guise of a comment. Some writers lately think this is a clever way to promote their books on popular blogs and I haven't decided whether you are all being particularly brazen or just think we bloggers are too stupid too get what you're doing.

”Either way, it is rude, unacceptable on my blog and amounts to one more piece of spam I need to remove. If you want to advertise your book on Time Goes By, let me know and I will send you a rate card.”

What makes Crabby laugh out loud is that every writer who has done this replies immediately with a “sincere apology,” stating that they believed Crabby’s readers would be interested in their book. Some might be, but that isn't the point, and their responses are so nearly identical, Crabby suspects there is a form letter they’re given to use when they are caught out. All seem to believe theirs is the first author spam Crabby has ever seen.

You have to feel sorry for the poor dears who are spending their evenings trolling the web for appropriate places to drop their advertising instead of writing their next book. It must be tedious for them.

But it is equally tedious for Crabby to remove the spam and further, she resents their apparent belief, evident in a tone of superior expertise, that because blogs are done by “amateurs,” we would welcome the attention from “real” writers. Spam is no less spam for being from traditionally published writers.

Do you think, Crabby wonders, author spam might be covered under that new “annoy legislation” President Bush signed into law a couple of weeks ago.

Follow Up: Say Something Nice Project

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Two names are under consideration for the Time Goes By weekly Sunday feature. If you haven't done so yet, please vote for your choice.]

Wow. What a remarkable number of you responded to the Say Something Nice project. My inbox overfloweth.

Some of you reading this - more than 50 - have received an email with the nice things other people said about you. Sit back and let the pleasure sink in. If you sent your “nice things” and didn’t get an email – well, this wasn’t as perfect a plan as the teacher’s closed classroom. I know you will take pleasure in having spent time thinking about what you like in others.

What excellent communities we create together - in our case, among elders. And, it is WE who do that, not anyone else although a hat tip to the inventors of blog software is certainly in order. It allows us to reveal more of ourselves to one another than the forums that were popular (may still be, for all I know) before blogging developed - in ease of use; inclusion of images (audio and video too, nowadays) that in addition to words, reveal our interests, ideas and sensibilities; and the comment space where conversations on a single topic can flourish.

Through these we come to know one another almost as well (moreso, some believe) as in “real life.” This isn’t the time to go into “we media,” participatory journalism, social software or Web 2.0, but never before has there been a platform – a public soapbox - where anyone can share expertise and opinion with others, make personal connections we couldn’t find in any other way, learn from one another and tell our stories. And you never know how powerfully you might affect someone else.

Listen to yourselves in some of the "say nice" comments:

  • You keep me on the move, mind, heart, soul searching, wondering and thinking.
  • [You are] the first to offer help and comfort any time it is needed.
  • You always have a steady, solid, gentleness in your posts.
  • You have taught me a humbling lesson, that I have more in common with people who are very different from me than I ever knew.
  • I so admire her even-handed grip on life and her honest benevolent nature.
  • Visiting you is so comfortable, and reassuring.
  • She is funny and articulate and makes you realise that yours isn't the only life teetering on the knife-edge of chaos.
  • A true visionary, who sees life so much clearer than most.
  • Thoughtful, and most of all, filled with curiosity and wonder.
  • You always make me laugh and at the same time share your complex feelings and confusion.
  • She's gutsy, optimistic, clever and versatile.
  • Wicked humor and fearless truth-telling.

Many who read these things about themselves never suspected their affect on readers or, if their wish is to make even a small difference here and there, were uncertain if they do. No longer.

It is the anonymity of the “say something nice” project that makes it so powerful. Without names attached, no one can think, “oh, they’re just being polite, that’s not really me.” Some of you cheated by including me on your lists which, obviously, can’t be anonymous. But I am engulfed in warm feelings from your what you've said.

So many have shown such enthusiasm for this project that I’ve decided to repeat every few months and next time, I won’t limit the number of people you can write about. So as you make your rounds about the blogosphere, keep in mind what it is that makes the blogs you like, and the people behind them, special to you.

Proven: Older IS Wiser – and Smarter

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The time window for entries in the "Say Something Nice" exercise has closed, and what a lot of email poured in. I am collating the comments and will send them out by individual email to everyone by sometime tomorrow morning. I hope all of you who participated enjoyed this as much as I have.]


“In midlife,” says UCLA neurologist George Bartzokis, “you’re beginning to maximize the ability to use the entirety of the information in your brain on an every-day, ongoing, second-to-second basis. Biologically, that’s what wisdom is.” [T]

Both the major newsweeklies published science stories last week on age and human brain, and they are crammed with the latest facts and research on how older brains work. Bottom line? Old brains work better than young brains which would shock old Sigmund who said, “About the age of 50, the elasticity of the mental processes on which treatment depends is, as a rule, lacking. Old people are no longer educable.” Not so, Mr. Freud.

Although the Newsweek story relies more on anecdotal information, both its writer and the Time story do good jobs in synthesizing and explaining the research. There is little I can add, so I’m going to quote a lot of it because I want it here on TGB for our future reference to refute general ageist attitudes and age discriminatory employers who think we are past our prime. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both stories are linked in the preceding paragraph, although they go behind a paid firewall at some point. I’ll use a bracketed [T] for Time and [N] for Newsweek so you know where the information originated and save me those tedious, interruptive citations.]

Let’s start with the physical stuff – the brain itself:

“The most important difference between older brains and younger brains is also the easiest to overlook: older brains have learned more than younger ones. Throughout life, our brains encode thoughts and memories by forming new connections among neurons. The neurons themselves may lose some processing speed with age, but they become ever more richly intertwined.” [N]

“Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before….you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger.” [T]

“It’s not just the wiring that charges up the brain as we age, it’s the way different regions start pulling together to make the whole organ work better than the sum of its parts…As we age, however, the walls between the [left and right] hemispheres seem to fall, with the two halves working increasingly in tandem. Neuroscientist Roberto Cabeza (great name for a man in his line of work - RB) of Duke University dubs that the HAROLD (hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults) model, and judging by his work, the phenomenon is a powerful one.” [T]

Now let’s move on to how these physical changes affect our minds and behavior. A researcher in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been regularly testing 123 women beginning when they were 21 in 1958:

”On the whole, they found, the women’s highest scores in inductive reasoning occurred from their 40s to their early 60s. Similarly, their…(ability to highlight the better aspects one’s personality and restrain the less attractive ones) and…[the ability to evaluate various contradictory ideas and remain objective) did not peak until their 50s or 60s. There was also an increased tolerance for ambiguity and improved ability to manage relationships.” [T]

“As our aging brains grow wiser and more flexible, they also tend toward greater equanimity…An editor I know at a New York publishing company…in his 60s, and contemplating retirement, when he realized that he had finally matured into his job. Despite a sharp intellect and a passion for excellence, this man had spent much of his career alienating people with brusque, critical comments and a lack of sensitivity. Now, he told me over lunch, he was finally beginning to master interpersonal communication…he morphed from a brilliant but brittle loner into a mentor and a mediator of conflicts.” [N]

Take that, you ageist employers who fire and refuse to hire anyone older that 50.

"It's that talent for reflective thinking that explains the role older adults have always played in the human culture. It's not for nothing that history's firebrands and ideologues are typically young, while it's judges and peacemakers and great theologians tend to be older." [T]

The Newsweek story focuses on refuting the myth of the midlife crisis and the writer, Gene Cohen, who is a physician and researcher, says that what some perceive as a crisis is, in reality, “the start of a thrilling new phase of my life.”

“…I realized that our view of human development in the second half of life was badly outmoded. We tend to think of aging in purely negative terms, and even experts define ‘successful’ aging as the effective management of decay and decline. Rubbish.” [N]

Just what I’ve been saying here for two years, and because that’s what impresses people, I like having my observations supported by folks with letters behind their names. All this throws a big, fat monkey-wrench into every age-discriminatory practice in the land.

But none of this means elders can sit back and rest on our brainy behinds. As with our bodies, it’s a “use it or lose it” proposition and Dr. Cohen repeats what we all know, but don’t always practice:

  • Exercise physically
  • Exercise mentally
  • Pick challenging leisure activities
  • Establish strong social networks

That all this research has made it out of lab and into mainstream media means attitudes will begin to change, but it must be regularly repeated over time to make a dent in the ageism and age discrimination that is so powerfully entrenched in American culture.

Nevetheless, this is a start, and young people who dread getting older can now rejoice in knowing that science has finally proved what elders have always known about ourselves: like fine, old wine - we get better with time. Just nobody else, even the great thinkers like Freud, ever believed it before.

This Week in the Elder Blogosphere
15 January 2006

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Say Something Nice lists are still coming in. If you missed reading about it, please take a look and consider joining in. There is still all day today until midnight eastern U.S. time to participate. One note, there are so many responses that keeping them organized is a bit like herding cats. So it will help conserve my time if you would follow the instructions closely. They are few, but it helps me out a lot.]

President Bush signed legislation creating a new "annoy law" which prohibits "posting annoying web messages or sending annoying email messages without disclosing your true identity." Legal nitpicker types are now trying to figure out if the legislation is enforceable and under what circumstances. Of course, one person's annoyance can be another's pleasure and I suspect there will be as much difficulty defining annoy as there is defining obscene. I wonder why I think the law will not be used to stop those annoying p***s enlarger and bogus PayPal emails that clog my inbox?

Last week, we reported that the NFL had banned anyone older than 45 from taking to the field during the Rolling Stones’ half-time show at the Super Bowl. It is a pleasure to report that the NFL has reversed itself, thanks to the post here at TGB (just kidding). Their website now states that anyone 18 and older may join the crowd.

Yaakov Kirchen’s The Dry Bones Blog has been nominated in four categories at the 2005 Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards Competition. The categories are: Best New Blog, Best Jewish Humor Blog, Best Politics Blog and Best Overall Blog. Weirdly, they allow people to vote every three day, so give my old friend a leg up on the competition and help him win an award or four. Voting is open through 19 January.(His blog is listed alphabetically under “T” for The)

While we’re on the topic of awards, voting remains open until midnight tonight for Best New Medical Blog where another friend we mentioned last week, Elisa Camahort, has been nominated for one of her blogs, HealthyConcerns. You might want to help her out too. Have you ever noticed, among the plethora of blog awards, there is never a category for blogs by or about elders? Guess I’ll have to start that one myself.

Just to keep your mouse finger nimble, one more click task. Thank you for your suggestions to rename this weekly Sunday feature. All of them are appreciated. I am equally divided in my attraction to two submissions, so we'll have a vote. The new name, chosen by you, will appear in the headline space next week when the winner’s name will be revealed too.

Which name for this new Sunday feature do you prefer?
Silver Threads
Free polls from

Voting will remain open until midnight Saturday, 21 January, but unlike Yaakov's awards site, you get only one vote.

Sophy Merrick, who is a regular commenter at TGB, although not a blogger herself, emailed a story from the Sydney Morning Herald in the land of Oz down under. As the writer hilariously points out, elders are in a fight to the death – which may be required sooner than we expected.

Honorary ElderBlogger, chef extraordinaire and ex-pat South African living in the U.K., CookSister, has brand new blog banner that is as scrumptious as her glorious descriptions of food. Take a look.

ElderBlogger Sali Ariel, a well-known artist in Israel, continues her weekly series at Horsefeathers with her Tel Aviv paintings. Hers is a new blog and it gets better every week. Last week’s post, Secrets, delves into some of the paradoxical decisions municipal governments’ make in regard to city planning. You can tell a politician from 50 paces anywhere in the world - they're all alike.

One of the things ElderBlogger Jill Fallon does at her Legacy Matters blog, is track the oddities of death. She’s been on a roll lately with camouflage coffins, what Bellevue Hospital in New York City does with unidentified dead bodies, a woman who suffocated under piles of household clutter, and another woman who kept a dead body sitting in front of the television for more than two years. Laughing in the face of death is a guilty pleasure which I sometimes suspect will come back to bite me, but Jill is fearless. Her stories are at least as good as the Darwin Awards and often better.

Elder Transportation

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The response to Say Something Nice yesterday is enormous. If you missed reading it, please take a look and consider joining in. There is still all day today and tomorrow until midnight to participate. One note, there are so many responses that keeping them organized is a bit like herding cats. So it will help conserve my time if you would follow the instructions closely. They are few, but it helps me out a lot.]

America’s love affair with the automobile is no secret. And neither is the harsh reality that as we age, our faculties slow down and there will come a time for each of us when we must let go of the freedom cars give us for the safety of ourselves and others. It’s not easy to admit waning eyesight and reaction time that come with age, and there is an emotional toll too in turning in our driving licenses:

“…more than half of Americans age 65 or older who can’t drive – almost four million people – stay home on any given day because they lack transportation…Former drivers also report higher levels of depression than active drivers…”
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12 January 2006

Given the sorry state of public transportation in most communities, elders who can no longer drive face isolation and reliance on the kindnesses of family, friends and neighbors. In addition to such necessities as food shopping and doctor appointments, access to the library, social engagements or an evening at the movies are no longer simple matters without a car, and not wanting to burden others, elders may forgo those activities, further isolating themselves.

A few cities have buses that loop every hour, but in my experience, service is iffy and they cannot cover all the areas elders need to travel. Now, activists and organizations are gradually developing some innovative options to help. Some programs rely on volunteer drivers, but can be hard to maintain because drivers fear an increase in insurance premiums and are concerned about liability in helping older people in and out of cars.

The most successful program to date is Maine’s non-profit Independent Transportation Network (ITN) which operates 24/7 and costs an average of eight dollars per trip. Using four donated cars, ITN made 15,250 trips in 2005, serving 600 riders.

“June E Snow, an…80-year old Falmouth resident now uses ITN’s Portland program to go to the grocery store and doctor’s office. ‘If I didn’t have ITN, I don’t know what I’d do,’ she says. ‘Pride gets in the way of asking your friends to drive you around.’”

U.S. Senator Susan Collins [Rep., ME] is currently drafting legislation, the “Older Americans Sustainable Mobility Act” which

“…would create a tax deduction for senior citizens who donate their cars to a transportation program – and also would require that they get financial credit toward future rides with the same program. The bill also would provide five years of grants for developing and expanding driving programs patterned after ITN’s Portland service.”

Connecticut and Rhode Island are making efforts toward similar state programs.

The Beverly Foundation, which specializes in studying transportation options for elders, has put together a “Turnkey Kit” for creating such programs which includes a template for a business plan together with information on insurance and liability. Foundation CEO, Helen Kerschner, sees these programs as a big step toward helping elders remain part of the community:

“We have to help people go to the library, volunteer activities, all kinds of things that they have been doing that indicate that they are still vital – and that there’s more to life than just going to the doctor.”

Maybe you don’t need this service yet, but what about doing something really useful with additional time you may have: maybe you could get one of these programs going in your community. It would help other elders and be there for you when you need it someday.

Say Something Nice Today

Let's have some fun today - the kind that will remind us of the excellent qualities we like in other people and make us feel good about ourselves too.

I was poking around some blogs a few days ago, reading random older posts I'd missed, and found a story at Elisa Camahort's Personal Weblog that I'll link to in minute. The story is sloppy and sentimental and it will make you weepy. Elisa received the story in an email chainletter and as she notes in her introduction, it probably isn't true. That doesn't matter.

So now, what I'd like you to do, is go read the story - it's short - and then come back here to read the rest of this post. Please don't cheat. Read the story first, be sure to take a Kleenex or two with you, and I'll see you back here in a couple of minutes...

...humming while your gone...

...singing while I wait...

...getting up to refill my coffee...

...pausing to pet the cat...

...settling back down at the computer...

...making a list...

...checking it twice...

...humming again...

...I'm waiting...

Ah, I see you're back now. Think about all those tattered lists transferred from wallet to wallet over the years, read and re-read - perhaps at moments of dejection and despair - and how important they became to each member of the class.

Elders are likely to lose friends we love more frequently than young people as the years go by and there are few of us, when someone dies, who aren't sorry we didn't tell them how special they are before it was too late.

We have discussed several times, here and elsewhere, the bonds that are forged among bloggers even when we've never met face to face. Friendships blossom, lasting connections are made and I think we've pretty well agreed they are no less important to us for being at a physical distance. So here's your assignment, class:

Choose five people you know from the ElderBloggers and Honorary Elderbloggers lists on the left and right sidebars. Prepare an email in which you list the name (or blog name) of each along with his or her email address, and then write the nicest thing you can say about each one. When you are finished, send the email to me - ronnibennett AT gmail DOT com.

Like the teacher in the story, I will collate the statements for each person, removing your name - for it is the anonymity of the writers that makes this work - and send them on to each person.

Because we are a much larger "class" than the teacher's in the story and are using random choice to select people, it is not unlikely that some who send nice things about others will not get any or get only one or two. Please don't be disappointed in that. You will have done something nice for someone else and that is the point.

So I won't be fielding email for days or weeks to come, let's give this a deadline of Sunday, 15 January at midnight ET in the U.S. If it turns out well, we can do it again a few months.

The New (?) Seasoned Woman

Susan Harris, who writes the excellent Takoma Gardener blog, alerted us in a comment here to an excerpt in Parade magazine from Gail Sheehy’s new book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman.

“The seasoned woman knows who she is. She could be any one of us, as long as she is committed to living fully and passionately in the second half of life…

“This is the new universe of passionate, liberated women – married and single – who are unwilling to settle for the stereotypical roles of middle age and are now realizing they don’t have to.”

I think women reached this conclusion decades ago. We began living fully engaged lives in our young womanhood and it’s not news that we continue to do so in our elderhood. No older women I know of - in the real world, online and in every story about “women of age” in the media – has retired to her rocking chair and suddenly taken up knitting (unless that skill is her pleasure or passion).

It seems obvious to me that the same women who marched for equal rights in the 1960s and ‘70s continue in their later years to relish the freedoms they won in their youth. I detect a speck of ageism in the perceived need, in this article (and book), to urge older women to kick up our heels and go for it. We haven't forgotten how just because we got older.

The largest portion of the Parade story is (as its title states) taken up with the pleasures of aging sex, noting that without fear of unwanted pregnancy, it can be a freer, more intimate, more exciting experience than when we were younger. We know that already too.

Ms. Sheehy identifies two additional paths to “a more passionate life”: Resurrecting a neglected dream or finding a new one comes in second, and in third place, spiritual exploration. But for Sheehy, all roads lead to sex.

One woman Ms. Sheehy mentions jettisoned her husband who had for years denigrated her private enjoyment of singing, and took up voice lessons.

“Singing reawakened her hunger for intimacy, physical touch, someone to dance with,” writes Sheehy, “and she is dating again.”

In an example of the third path, a woman returned to her abandoned faith and after an experimental separation from her husband involving dating him, revitalized her marriage:

“Finding a basis for a faith they could share has been important in allowing this seasoned couple to move on to a true and lasting love.”

I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of sex, love and intimacy, nor the experience of the real-world women Ms. Sheehy quotes. But dear God, not everything is connected to the flesh or the opposite gender.

To define passion this narrowly denies the infinite variety of our interests and emotional lives, particularly at an age when waning hormones at last frees us from the need to constantly scratch that primal itch. Although hardly a proponent of celibacy I, for one, am happy to leave behind the incessant wondering of when I’ll next get laid again.

It is also disturbing that this article and book, like essentially all writing on the pleasures of later years, is about and addressed only to women. We’re not the ones who need this kind of cheerleading. As I noted last April, the highest incidence of suicide in the U.S. is among men 65 and older. It seems, according to some experts, men do not face retirement and old age with the enthusiasm women do. As Abigail Trafford wrote about a baby boomer conference she attended,

“We women had a sense of exuberance when we talked about what we wanted to do with these bonus years. The men had a sense of hopelessness.”
- Washington Post, 12 April 2005 [fee archive]

Methinks men need a lot more attention than women do about the later decades of life and this is one of those books about which one magazine article is all I need to know. Now watch me be proved wrong as Sex and the Seasoned Woman climbs the best-seller lists. Sex sells at any age.