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March 2008
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May 2008

Medicare Generational Split?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There are just two more days - today and tomorrow - to take The TGB Elderblogger Survey. If you haven't done so yet, you know what to do with this link.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Not infrequently, I run across young workers, on their blogs, complaining about the 1.45 percent payroll deduction for Medicare. The complaints generally run to something like, “Why should I have to pay for those old farts’ healthcare.”

With global resources shrinking and the beginning of a recession that probably won’t end any time soon, there is already the prospect of a generational divide. Now, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, who oversees Medicare, is fanning the flames.

“’I suspect that’s one of the things that worries me most about the Medicare situation, which is that it is destined to divide our nation along generational lines. Right now, there are four earners for every Medicare beneficiary. I think it’s 2028 when there are only two,’ he said…

“And I’ve had this conversation with my sons, and of course at their age, they say, ‘Well, we ought to reduce the benefits. They don’t need unlimited care. They ought to be sharing part of the burden,’ he continued.

“But if you are 65, what you say is, ‘Well, look, I paid for it. I did my time, now they need to do theirs.’ So you’ve got this generational conflict happening,’ he continued.

The Washington Times, 25 April 2008

Before I get to what I came here to say today, I want to point out the head of HHS, who is responsible for the government’s role in the health of all Americans, correctly states that Medicare faces huge fiscal problems. But he then signals that the Medicare deduction is unfair to young people. Nowhere in the report of this interview with the secretary is there a mention that he might have an idea about a solution to the looming Medicare deficit. We can only assume he doesn’t have one.

In response to Secretary Leavitt’s points:

Elders Sharing the Cost
Medicare was established in 1965, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency to provide older Americans with comprehensive healthcare at a reasonable cost, something that previously had not existed, leading to what was generally agreed to be a healthcare crisis among older Americans.

That first year, the premium for Part B (outpatient medical care), which beneficiaries pay, was set at $3.00 per month. In 2000, it was $45.40. This year, it is $96.40. In addition, most elders purchase supplemental policies to help cover the gaps in Medicare. And many also buy prescription drug coverage – Part D. Premiums for Parts B and Part D vary wildly depending on deductibles and other choices from the private insurers which offer it.

With careful investigation into the varieties of coverage, I’ve kept my monthly cost for healthcare premiums to $265.10. Other elders may pay more, but I doubt many pay less, and with average, monthly, Social Security benefits currently at $989.80, that’s is undoubtedly a hardship for some elders. But we do share the burden of the cost. Medicare is not free.

The Cost to the Young
Every elder who benefits from Medicare today spent decades paying their 1.45 percent salary deduction. It was and is not a savings account. Nor an insurance premium. The money goes into the Medicare pool to benefit current elders and, by the way, the disabled of all ages.

What I find shocking about the young people’s blogs I read and Secretary Leavitt’s apparent agreement with his sons is how stingy they are. In all the years, decades, I’ve spent discussing the high cost of goods with friends along with our complaints of how much the government took from of our paychecks (“I’d rather have the government’s portion of my salary,” we used to say, exaggerating only slightly), no one ever, not once, begrudged the deduction for Medicare.

If we thought about it at all, I think we believed it was for the common good, that it is everyone’s responsibility to help where it is needed and the Medicare deduction was small enough for the great good it accomplishes. For if there were no Medicare, only wealthy elders could afford any healthcare at all because there is no affordable insurance after about age 60.

The Medicare Crisis
Secretary Leavitt is correct and I would state it even more emphatically: Medicare is a looming catastrophe thanks to all those damned baby boomers who have the effrontery to get old and didn’t have the foresight to have enough children to pay for Medicare. Shame on them.

Actually, the Department of Health and Human Services, through many administrations and secretaries, knew this demographic shift was coming. It has been warned of and discussed by actuarial experts for decades, but was irresponsibly ignored by our representatives in Washington. Now there is a real crisis.

The Solution
But there is a solution – for you, me, the baby boomers and the kids who resent that paycheck Medicare deduction: universal healthcare, single-payer system, national health, whatever you want to call it. Nitpickers will tell you there are differences among those names, but the idea in each is to make healthcare available to everyone.

Medicare should be folded into it, everyone pays into the system and everyone takes out as needed. It works in Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany and every western democracy except ours, and there is no reason it cannot work here.

But it must be universal to succeed. Neither Democratic presidential candidate has a true universal healthcare proposal and Senator McCain's plan, released yesterday, will cost families even more than they pay now. All the plans continue the grab bag of private and government coverage that continues giving private insurers huge profits and still doesn’t cover everyone - undoubtedly because the giant pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry donate big bucks to their campaigns.

Healthcare is not optional; it is a human right. It is disgraceful that the United States leaves millions of people without access to care and allows millions more to be under-insured.

We must demand from this year’s candidates for Congress that universal coverage be among their top two or three priorities when they take office in January. Without it, not just Medicare, but the entire healthcare system is in danger of collapse. There is much public discussion that should be had regarding healthcare and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should be leading it - not supporting divisions among age groups. [See also Universal Healthcare and the 2008 Election.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, a message.]

Senator McCain: Older Than Coke in a Can

category_bug_politics.gif An email arrived from Ruthe Karlin who blogs at Studio Ruthe discussing Senator John McCain’s capabilities – or lack thereof – due to his age:

“I've been giving a lot of thought to John McCain,” writes Ruthe. “While I deplore the ageist jokes and obvious ageism, I think the issue of loss of some capabilities as we age needs to be addressed.

“What concerns me is not McCain's ability to make judgments given time and lack of pressure, but rather what happens under pressure in the middle of the night…

“I am two years older than McCain. I'm in good shape mentally and physically…But, I know I don't want to make any important decisions after about 4 pm. That's been true for years, and I know it's the same for most of my peers.”

A lot is being said about Senator McCain’s age, almost entirely in the negative. Here’s a short, derisive video undoubtedly created by relative youngsters recently posted to YouTube (1:05 minutes):

After watching the video, my first question was: And your point is? It is shallow and irresponsible to not vote for a candidate because he is older than Coke in a can.

On the other hand, to Ruthe’s point about decision-making and time of day, I too have been saying for years that I’m stupid after 3PM because by mid-afternoon it is harder for me to concentrate. But when it is necessary to be sharp, when something important comes up, I am able to rise to the occasion.

It didn’t please me, when I agreed to appear on The Brian Lehrer Show a few weeks ago, that it is broadcast live at 7:30PM and I would have been traveling all day. But I knew I needed my full mental energy for the program and it was there for me. And so it will be for a president at 3AM. I am confident in my mind that when something is urgent enough to wake the president in the middle of the night, his or her response is comparable to a smoke alarm suddenly screeching in anyone's home.

There has been a tendency among nations in recent decades toward younger heads of state than in the past. The average age of current western national leaders is about 55. But it wasn’t always so.

In post-World War II Germany, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was 73 when he took office in 1949. Britain’s Winston Churchill was 77 when he became prime minister for the second time in 1951. Charles de Gaulle of France was 69 in the first year of his presidency in 1959. And Israel’s Golda Meir was 71 when she became prime minister in 1969. All served their full terms and all their countries survived, even thrived, during their tenures.

Currently, three of the most powerful and successful business leaders in the world, who keep schedules that would stretch a young baby boomer, are older than Senator McCain: Warren Buffett, George Soros and Rupert Murdoch are all 77 to McCain’s 72 when he would take office if he is elected U.S. president.

These are just the most well-known examples; there are others.

I think it is a mistake to compare our own capabilities at a similar age, in retirement or in far less demanding jobs, to heads of state and titans of industry where lives and trillions of dollars are in the balance. Unlike ours, their mistakes can be catastrophic not just for themselves, but for the world.

In addition, men and women who aspire and rise to these heights are ambitious and driven in ways I think the rest of us do not understand. It takes ruthlessness and an unswerving eye on the prize over a lifetime to win, continue to win and to fend off rivals and upstarts who are equally ambitious to replace them.

Of necessity, these people are smart, sharp and unyielding because they are loath to give up their position and power until their dying gasp.

It is good to keep in mind too that presidents who, like all of us, cannot know everything, are not making decisions in a vacuum, alone at their desk in the Oval Office. They are surrounded by advisors who, whatever we the public may think of their ethics and politics, are experts in their fields. And when a president calls on other experts outside the administration, all pick up the telephone, eager to provide their best counsel.

Although Ruthe did not mention it, others have suggested that McCain’s age means he may die in office. That is true. And so may Senators Clinton and Obama, if one of them is elected. No one wants to anticipate it, but assassinations happen; John F. Kennedy was 46, Abraham Lincoln 47, when they were killed.

The four U.S. presidents who died in office of natural causes ranged in age from 58 to 67.

Earlier this month in a TGB Interview, I asked 80-year-old geriatrician Robert N. Butler, who has been a staunch opponent of ageism since before he coined the term in the 1960s, what he would advise voters to consider in regard to Senator McCain’s age:

“I am concerned that there is a storm of ageism being projected against Senator John McCain. Yet there have been great leaders of great age such as Charles de Gaulle in post-war France, Konrad Adenauer in post-war Germany. The issue is not age, the issue is function, that is, intellectual and physical capabilities to carry out the job. [emphasis added]

That is the kind of determination – in addition to his policy positions - each voter must try to make by watching and listening to Senator McCain in speeches, interviews and debates. In doing so, it is important to remember that people age at dramatically different rates. Some 50-year-olds have already lost capabilities; some 90-year-olds are as sharp as they were in youth.

To be clear, this post is not a political endorsement of Senator McCain for president. It is a plea that no one dismiss him based on only the number of his years.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, liloldme explains what it took to try to prove what she had been told, that Great Grandma Was a Snob.]

Retirement Quandaries Redux

[EDITORIAL NOTE 1: Wow. Responses to The TGB Elderblogger Survey are coming in at a terrific rate. It will remain open for bloggers and blog readers age 50 and older until 1 May. If you haven't done so yet, clicking the link above or the survey badge in the right sidebar will take you directly to the survey. And thank you for passing it on to other elderbloggers and elder blog readers you know.]

Have I ever told you how much I love the readers of this blog? You are fabulous - smart and thoughtful, enthusiastic and filled with good ideas.

Last week, I posted a story, Retirement Quandaries, in which I posited a lot of questions about retirement. It was a new kind of post for me, all those questions at once, and I hoped some of you would use them as a jumping off point to tell us your personal retirement stories, give us some ideas and thoughts about life after full-time work and maybe help lacochran, whose blog post sparked my own, with some useful food for thought.

You came through in a rainbow of flying colors.

Your responses were long, filled with delicious detail and left me with three overall impressions:

  1. Retirement is at least as busy and fruitful as career years
  2. Retirement is as happy and fulfilling a time as work life
  3. Retirement plans are likely to change

Regarding item 3, several people found opportunities they had not counted on:

“…I have actually done few of the things I had originally planned on doing, not because I have been frustrated in doing them or lacked opportunity, but because in retirement I have found new interests and pursuits that appeal to me more…”
“I made a flyer, stuck it in 50 mail boxes and went home. The next day I was bombarded with calls from seniors, people who can't do physical work but want to remain in their homes, and a few celebrities! I already had the tools, LOVE gardening, so off I went on this new adventure.”
“Also, speaking of new interests surfacing, when I began serious retirement planning back in the late '90s, I never once thought, ‘I'm going to devote a part of every day to reading and writing blogs.’ In fact, the word itself was unknown to me.”
“I began to discover that all the things I had thought I wanted weren't what I wanted at all. New ideas and interests were popping up. The ground seemed to be shifting under me.”

Although I didn’t ask about finances, several people referred to living with less money than before retirement, but are able to accommodate the change without undue hardship:

“…we had learned to live so simply that we could manage on a very small income.”
“Money is tight, but I am thrifty. My plan is, I'll spend till it's gone and then maybe get a job as a Walmart greeter if I have to. Or an art school model, that pays better. Whatever.”
“I had calculated that we had enough funds to survive the four years till my pension would be paid - but I got it wrong. However, we have managed with loans from friends and judicious use of credit.”
“An early retirement was forced on me due to a worsening hearing loss. At first I was devastated, but it was mainly because of the loss of income. When I became eligible for [Social Security], it got easier and I gradually adjusted to a new life style.”
“They imagine I'm rich, I tell them I'm not, but they don't believe me. My expectations are a lot lower than most people's and I did set aside every spare penny I had when I was working, so I probably saved more than a lot of people at my income level did.”

Some miss the camaraderie of the workplace (but, hey, what are blog friends for?):

“I do miss the people at work and have to be careful that I don't become a hermit (it is SO easy to be too comfortable in pajamas at home) so I keep in touch with friends…”
“…there were times when I cried. I felt a bit sad, missing my colleagues…”
“The only thing I miss is having other retired people to play with, most people I know of my age are still working.”

Joy radiates from most of your comments; many retirees appear to be living on the far right end of the happiness scale:

“Retirement has gone well for me and I almost feel guilty till I remember the 28 years of service time I put in to earn it.”
“As time went by I reveled in the freedom that comes from not having to punch a clock and of being master of my own fate.”
“How could anyone be bored? TV - what is that? Retirement - what are you? Am I retired and do not know it?”
“I love being in charge of my own time and my own direction. I focus on being a good and peaceful person in the present...I find that the health and rhythms of my mind and body signal what the time will be like, and I delight in the freedom to do what is creative, loving, and contributing in that space. I try to be easy on myself and on others.”
"I LOVE being retired! The word doesn't bother me at all because I earned it. I taught high school and younger gifted students for 37 years and also had part-time jobs. I enjoy the silence, no bells, no schedules, sleeping late, staying up late, and the freedom. I try not to do anything I don't want to."
“…for me, 'retiring' from work was kind of like 'retiring' from the dining-room into the drawing-room, like the ladies in old-fashioned novels used to do. Simply going from one room of my life into another. And I love this one. It's wonderful.”

This collection of quotes from the comments doesn’t come close to the full richness of your many and varied comments. Of course, it’s not all peaches and cream. Some can’t afford to retire and there are other difficulties which are part of the retirement spectrum. But most of all, considering the responses as a whole, there is more that is honest, inspiring and wise about retirement than I have read in any book or any other one place.

I’ve not given names and links to quotations because those I have omitted are equally enlightening. If you have not done so, go back and read all the comment essays. There is much to know and learn there.

And again, thank you all for your enthusiastic participation. You are the best.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior explains why she's no longer interested in fishing for Smelt!]

Interim Report: The TGB Elderbloggers Survey

Thanks to so many of you who have blogged or emailed friends about The TGB Elderblogger Survey, responses are coming in at a satisfying clip. Hundreds of them.

The survey is still open, so there are no final numbers or conclusions yet, but one of the trends that interests me is how well educated elderbloggers are. More than 32 percent, so far, are college graduates, and an equal number hold advanced degrees.

In a peek into our technology use, an astonishing 45 percent taught themselves how to use a computer; 50 percent have been keeping a blog for three or more years and 68 percent do their banking online.

That’s just a tease and there are four more days until the survey closes at midnight eastern U.S. time on Thursday, 1 May, so those numbers can still change.

If you have not taken the survey, please do and please also pass on the link to any other elders you know.

Thank you all for your enthusiasm for the survey.

This Week in Elder News: 26 April 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Fffcover2_2Let's hear it for elderblogger, Mary Lee Coe Fowler of Full Fathom Five. Her book of the same title as her blog, to be officially published on Tuesday, is about her quest to learn more of the submariner father - who died in World War II - she never knew. There are links to excerpts from the book at Mary Lee's blog and it can be purchased at Amazon.

Are you up to speed on Net Neutrality? As the internet works now, everyone - small blogger or giant corporation - has the same access. (Well, unless your ISP is Comcast, and that makes the point.) The telcos, including Comcast, want to change that access so some are more equal than others.

They want to do this by controlling which content is transmitted and at what speeds - for a fee, of course - and if they succeed, the internet will be more like cable television and less like the two-way street it is now. Our blogs - our little First Amendment machines - are at stake. You can get details at savetheinternet, and here's what Senator Obama has to say on Net Neutrality. [:51 minutes - Hat tip to Marion Dent of And the Beat Goes On]

Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the largest encampment of FEMA trailers - 600 - in the tiny town of Baker, Louisiana, will soon close. Mayor Harold Rideau's story is worth knowing, for when larger communities all over the south refused to allow temporary housing for storm victims, he welcomed them and did everything possible to make their time in his town livable. For all the failures following Katrina, here is one man who did the right thing.

In the dumbest attack yet on Senator Obama, last week someone attached to the Clinton campaign complained that Obama was a "copycat" for appearing on the same episode of The Colbert Report as Senator Clinton. As anyone only half awake at the wheel knows, no one appears on any television program without an invitation. Here is Colbert's hilarious response. (2:47 minutes)

Traditional newspapers have taken a beating in the past few years from attacks on their credibility to shrinking readership and revenue. But last Sunday, The New York Times published a great piece of journalism by David Barstow, which is the result of a two-year investigation into what must be the largest, government disinformation campaign in U.S. history.

For years, dozens of retired military officers (you've seen them almost every day on cable news since 9/11) have been handed their talking points by the Bush administration and sent out to spin war information many of them know to be false to news organizations, most of which never questioned the information or the generals' financial ties to defense contractors.

The story is long, detailed and although you always "knew" this stuff goes on, here is the proof and you should read it if you haven't done so yet.

Maxine cartoon
For Maxine fans, the blue-haired cartoon character is now blogging, although so far there are only three posts. You can also find a new cartoon there every day. [Hat tip to Suzz of Suzzwords]

Quote of the week:

"Benedict directly challenged an assumption so many Americans make about religion: that it is a matter of private devotion with few public implications.

"Not true, said the pope. 'Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,' he told the country's Catholic bishops Wednesday. 'Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.'"

- Washington Post, 17 April 2008

Housing Challenges of LGBT Elders

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

The Human Rights Campaign Fund is a big, Washington, D.C.-based gay civil rights lobbying outfit - often not my favorite sort of institution. Professional advocacy necessarily rubs off the quirky edges of our lived lives in order to score its points. It’s uncomfortable being presented as an issue, though it may at times be necessary.

But HRC does offer some genuinely interesting perspectives about the housing challenges of LGBT elders. (They use the language "seniors.") When lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors need to turn to others for housing assistance, they often face three challenges: lack of family help, a shortage of welcoming housing and fear of discrimination and harassment.

Lack of Family Help
While heterosexual seniors often rely on their spouses or children to help them, many lesbian and gay seniors find themselves without either resource, says Steven Karpiak, executive director of Pride Senior Network.

In fact, when Senior Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) conducted focus groups in New York City, they found that approximately two-thirds of the lesbian and gay seniors interviewed lived alone - a higher rate of isolation than among the general elder population. Other research has found similar results.

Shortage of Welcoming Housing
"The reality is, most older people don't live in retirement communities, period. So there isn't any reason to believe that would be particularly different in the gay community,'' says David Aronstein, a social worker and managing partner of Stonewall Communities, a project to build gay- and lesbian-friendly senior housing in Boston.

"One thing that came out in our focus groups is that people wanted it to be gay-managed [and] owned and predominantly occupied by gays, but people were very clear that it would be fine if there were straight people who lived there, too. People have wide friendship networks that aren't always exclusively gay."

Fear of Discrimination and Harassment
The greatest obstacle for lesbian and gay seniors, however, appears to be an unseen one: fear of discrimination and harassment in mainstream housing facilities. To what extent it exists is difficult to determine, according to most experts. But there is anecdotal evidence that discrimination exists.

Yet perhaps the most common problem is one of isolation and loneliness, brought on by a fear of discrimination.

"The major struggle that older lesbians and gay men have in long-term care facilities is the need to remain closeted out of fear of retaliation and out of an instinct of self-preservation," says Doni Gewirtzman, a Lambda Legal staff attorney who specializes in age discrimination.

In part, Gewirtzman says, this is because the current generation of lesbian and gay seniors came of age in a time of "officially sanctioned homophobia and abuse of gay people," and the coping strategy that many of them learned was just to remain in the closet.

The result, however, is that many lesbian and gay seniors find themselves unable to freely discuss what most people talk about when they get old - namely, the people they love.

That sounds about right to me. Last month I visited a friend, heterosexual, who lives in a "life care retirement community" - quite a marvelous place really for the tiny minority of elders who can afford such a thing. Elders buy in and pay monthly fees, knowing they'll have a place to live and health care for the rest of their lives (as long as they can afford it.)

According to the community's own public profile, three hundred some people live in this rural community. The average age of residents living independently is 83. About 70 percent are women; 30-some percent are members of couples.

My friend has lived there long enough to know a good deal more about the community than the pretty exterior reveals. She is sure that none of the current couples are LBGT, although there have been a few during the 15-year life of the place. She only knows one gay current resident, a lesbian now in her eighties who moved in with her woman partner. Her partner died almost immediately; the lone lesbian has lived on alone almost ten years.

My friend suspects that hardly any of the current residents know this woman had a woman partner. I was introduced, but quickly understood this was not a person who wanted to talk about a life that hardly anyone around her is aware of. I didn't even try for an interview.

What would that be like - to grow old while being unable to talk about, to share, central parts of what life has been? I imagine many heterosexuals also carry such locked up secrets. I belong to a slightly younger generation less prone to be silenced that way, perhaps even inclined sometimes to put out TMI - too much information.

But I know that feeling constrained to keep my life story "private" would make me feel invisible, not fully myself. It would not matter if the constraint was not so much fear of rejection as simply convention. I think there is a lot of that going around for LGBT elders, maybe more than any of us who aren't living it realize.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones weighs in on a lifelong obsession many will recognize in Weighing In.]

The Outrageously Ageist Media

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A satisfying number of people of have taken The TGB Elderblogger Survey. The numbers are ticking upward daily, but more is good. So if you haven't yet, please take a few minutes to answer our questions. The survey is open for bloggers and blog readers age 50 and older until 1 May.]

category_bug_ageism.gif The late-night TV hosts haven't let up on ageist jokes about 71-year-old, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain. What’s doubly awful about them is that some are funny in the sense of being well-crafted jokes with a good, surprise punch line. One of Jay Leno’s makes me laugh every time I think of it (it’s hard to forget), and every time I do, I’m ashamed of myself.

That the jokes are funny is what’s so insidious about them. When we laugh, we feel good which takes the sting out of disrespect and prejudice. And if those likable, late-night guys say these things, a certain number of people believe it must be acceptable.

And thereby, ageism spreads.

Although the news media isn’t telling jokes about it, age is on their minds too and they appear to believe that “elderly” is the proper word to describe older voters. I caught Keith Olberman, Chuck Todd and some others on MSNBC who were reporting the primary returns from Pennsylvania Tuesday night referring to the “elderly vote,” not realizing for a nanosecond that the word is offensive to many elders.

It’s an ongoing battle, that word “elderly”, which I’ll let go for today to take up cudgels against a newspaper column (brought to my attention by Marion Dent of As the Beat Goes On) written by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann. It was published yesterday in the New York Post, on Morris’s website, at other places around the web and in whatever number of newspapers carry his syndicated column.

You remember Dick Morris, don’t you? He was Bill Clinton’s trusted advisor and 1996 presidential campaign manager until he was forced to resign (on the very day Clinton was accepting the nomination on the stage of the Democratic National Convention) for allowing a prostitute to listen in on his telephone conversations with then-President Clinton. It's said she was naked during these calls which gives a more literal meaning to bare-faced political lies than we are usually accustomed to.

Since then, Morris has published a book or two critical of the Clintons and these days, he uses his newspaper column to trash Senator Hillary Clinton. But elders are taking a licking too as Morris uses us as a club with which to bludgeon Hillary.

Here are some excerpts from yesterday’s column about Senator Clinton’s prospects for the Democratic nomination following the Pennsylvania primary. Morris begins almost blandly, noting that “…the Keystone State electorate is dominated by the elderly who are staunchly for Clinton.” Then:

“Older voters are flocking to Clinton as fears mount of what Obama might do as president mount (sic). But those under 45 – less focused, perhaps, on race – are moving toward Obama.”
“Of the 50 states, only Florida has a higher over-65 proportion of its population. But there’s a key difference: Florida’s elderly moved there – Pennsylvania’s are the folks that are left after the young people moved away.

“Pennsylvania Democrats, in other words, suffer from future shock. They welcome old, established ways and embrace dynasties happily because they are so familiar.”

“But don’t expect the open primaries of Indiana and North Carolina to behave like Pennsylvania’s geriatrics. Both states are younger.”

So according to Dick Morris, elders as a group are feeble, racist troglodytes, but at least there aren’t enough of them to do harm to the Obama vote in two upcoming primaries.

It’s been a long time since we have used it, but this foul stuff begs for the "patented TGB Bias Test" wherein we substitute the word women or blacks for old. Obama would be spending the rest of this week defending himself again for another person's words if Morris had written:

Older Women voters are flocking to Clinton as fears mount of what Obama might do as president mount (sic). But those under 45 men – less focused, perhaps, on race – are moving toward Obama.”


“Pennsylvania Democrats blacks, in other words, suffer from future shock. They welcome old, established ways and embrace dynasties happily because they are so familiar.”

Dick Morris can be dismissed as a bottom-feeder and I hold his editors accountable for allowing his slime to be published. Political demographics, including age, can be discussed without embedded bigotry.

Ageist rhetoric will only get worse when the general election campaign gets underway. I doubt either an Obama or Clinton campaign will be able to resist using Senator McCain's age against him. So it will get ugly while at the late-night shows, the age-joke beat goes on.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson walks us through the marital experience of Shopping Alone - or not.]

Retirement Quandaries

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Until 1 May, The TGB Elderblogger Survey is open for bloggers and blog readers age 50 and older. It will be good to have as many participants as possible, so if you haven't done so yet, clicking the link above or the survey badge in the right sidebar will take you directly to the survey.]

One day at the coffee machine in 2004, when I was 63, I felt blown off my feet when a young colleague idly asked, “Why don’t you retire, Ronni?” I had no answer for her.

Call me stupid, but the idea of retirement had hardly crossed my mind throughout my working years and at the time she asked, I still hadn’t considered stopping work or what I would do when or if I did.

About three months later, both of us were laid off in a cutback and after a year of futile searching for a job, as I sank more deeply into debt with each passing month, I did what was necessary to survive. I sold my New York apartment and moved to a less expensive city.

At the time of the layoff, I had recently launched Time Goes By and during the year of my job search and the subsequent year of making the move to Maine, the blog became my full-time “job.” So I slipped into retirement without actually making the decision, without ever having asked myself what I would do when I stopped working.

A couple of days ago, I ran across a blog post from lacochran of lacochran’s bloggery. She appears to be in her early or mid-50s and is wondering these days who she will be, what she will do and how she will identify herself when retirement arrives:

“…the first question almost always asked is "What do you do?" as in "How do you spend your day?" The assumption is that you work, or go to school, or take care of children. Or, if none of those, that you do philanthropic work or creative endeavors. This is how we define each other when we meet. This is how we create context.

“…once we are retired, then what? Do I work part-time in something that is less stressful than my current job or even enjoyable once salary isn't an issue? Do I volunteer and make the world a better place? Do I start drinking lime daiquiris at 11 am? What?”

For a short while, a year or two ago, I struggled with identifying myself as retired. I disliked the word with its implication of idleness, unimportance and daily rounds of golf. But thanks to this blog and particularly to other elderbloggers who continue to educate me, I wear it easily now as I continue trying to figure out what getting old is really like and to lobby for respect for elders.

But my personal experience doesn’t make lacochran’s quandary less consequential. I could be wrong, but I suspect there are few who have definitive plans or goals for retirement.

It is complicated by the fact that, unlike our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, we can expect another two or three decades of healthy life after the common retirement age of 65 which, if you count eligibility for full Social Security as the “official” retirement age, is gradually being moved up to 67 over the next few years.

Assuming corporate America doesn’t shove employees out the door at about that age or even younger (not a rational assumption given the continued prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace), some will continue to work for many years.

Still, the day will arrive when, by circumstance or choice, most of us are retired from full-time work – and I have a bunch of questions about that transition.

  • If you are still working, what are you thinking about retirement? Do you have a solid plan you’re happy with?
  • If you are retired, how is it going? Do you have enough to fill your time? Are you ever at a loss for something to do?
  • How do you feel about saying you’re retired when asked what you do?
  • Did or do you have trouble identifying yourself – who you are within yourself - when you can no longer say you are a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, etc.?
  • How has the transition gone for you from decades of full-time work, a place to go every morning, to not having that obligation?
  • If you’ve been retired for some years, have you made any major changes in how you spend your days? If so, why and how?
  • Retired, do you feel less involved with the world, your community, the culture at large - or moreso?
  • Are you happy in your retirement? What’s good and what’s not good about it?

Personally, I believe if a retiree wants to stay home and read mystery novels all day or watch television, that’s fine. I don’t think there should be a requirement in old age to do something other people consider productive. It’s a personal choice.

Maybe when the Elderblogger Survey is done, I’ll do another on attitudes about retirement. Meanwhile, I’m curious about people’s answers to the questions above and I’m betting lacochran is too.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bill Parker recalls his years of sports car rallying with a special friend in The Navigator Rules!]

Botox and Disrespect of Aging

[[EDITORIAL NOTE: Until 1 May, The TGB Elderblogger Survey is open for bloggers and blog readers age 50 and older. It will be good to have as many participants as possible, so if you haven't done so yet, clicking the survey badge in the right sidebar will take you directly to the survey.]

category_bug_journal2.gif The 2,775,176 Botox treatments in 2007, at a cost of more than $1 billion dollars neatly expresses the desperation some people feel about physical signs of aging.

Most of us - particularly elders, I suspect – are not likely to have themselves injected with botulinum, the key ingredient in Botox in diluted form, which is one of the deadliest poisons on earth. But thanks to popularization through repetitious media coverage, it has become a widely-accepted procedure for looking younger.

An important pre-clinical finding in studies done on lab animals before the approval of Botox by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA)

“…showed that after being injected, they [Botox and other botulinum compounds] did not travel along the body’s highways – nerve cells - to the brain and spinal cord.” (Keep that in mind as you read further.)
- Newsweek, 21 April 2008

Now comes a study reported this month in The Journal of Neuroscience [subscription required] contradicting that finding in mice:

“Within three days, the toxin had migrated from the whisker muscles to the brainstem, where it disrupted neuronal activity. ‘The discovery was quite serendipitous…and surprising,’ Matteo Caleo, who led the study, told the journal Science. ‘A significant portion of the toxin is active where it’s not supposed to be.’”
- Newsweek, 21 April 2008

Does that not scare the bejesus out of you for anyone who has been injected with Botox? Just because I think they’re stupid to do it, doesn’t mean they should be harmed.

Then, then, Allergan, Inc., which manufactures Botox Cosmetic, issued a statement, according to Newsweek, accusing the Italian scientists who conducted the new study of having

“’…injected the material directly into the brain,’ however, they injected the neurotoxin into facial muscles – and from there it found its way to the brainstem.”

Only somewhat more circumspect in defending Botox, board-certified neurosurgeon and cosmetic surgeon, William A. Brennan, M.D. of Surgical Arts in Beverly Hills, issued a press release in which he states:

"It is understood that Botox will be taken up into the nerve terminal because it resides in the same area as neurotransmitters. However there is no need for alarm because Botox is biologically metabolized and broken down in the nerve terminal."

Apparently, there were nearly 1500 “adverse events” involving Botox injections between 1989, when it was approved by the FDA, and 2003, mostly involving wrinkle-erasure procedures, and 28 deaths in people who received Botox for medical reasons, according to Newsweek. And now, federal prosecutors are investigating Allergan, Inc. for promoting a non-FDA-approved, although legal, use of Botox for headaches.

Nevertheless, The FDA’s Russell Katz says blandly

“…that people getting Botox for cosmetic reasons should ‘make their own personal best judgment about this’ and ‘be aware that there’s the potential for’ the neurotoxin to spread.”
- Newsweek, 21 April 2008

No one without a specific medical degree can intelligently make that decision and it is the FDA’s job to protect the public from dangerous drugs. It doesn’t help that Newsweek, after reporting this serious finding, blows it off with a half joke at the end of the story:

“With the new evidence that Botox can spread to the brain in ways that pre-clinical tests failed to turn up, it’s enough to bring back those Botox-erased frown lines.”

None of this would happen if the physical signs of aging were accepted as a normal part of life and if elders were respected.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior remembers what it was like Camping with Mother.]

Announcement: The TGB Elderblogger Survey

About ten days ago, we discussed the results of the Blogher survey of women bloggers. It was interesting and served the needs of Blogher, but I wanted to know more about elderbloggers in particular, including men.

So, at the urging of Marlys Styne of Never Too Late, Virginia DeBolt of First 50 Words, Steven of Projections, Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen, Georjina of The Solo Gazette, H.A. Page of MotherPie and then a phone conversation with Virginia to help get me started, The TGB Elderblogger Survey opens for business today.

The goal is to find out what elderbloggers are like, how we may be similar and how we are different, how we relate to technology, how we came to be bloggers or blog readers, how we feel about it and what our demographics are.

There are 57 questions, many of which are required so that there is the largest possible population from which to draw conclusions. They are straightforward questions, mostly multiple-choice, and it shouldn’t take longer than about 15 minutes to complete.

NOTA BENE: This survey is for elderbloggers and elder blog readers who do not keep blogs. Readers and commenters are as important as bloggers to the elderblogging community and help equally to make it as lively and compelling as it is.

TGB Elderblogger Survey You must be at least 50 years old to participate. So we can include as large a number of respondents as possible, I would be most grateful to any elderbloggers who would post a link to the survey on their blogs. I’ve even made this little badge you can use that you can link directly to the survey.

[To post the badge on your blog, right click on the image, save it to your hard drive and then follow the instructions from your blog host to post it. That's for PC users. Mac users, you're on your own - I don't know anything about them. Use the link in the last paragraph below to link directly to the survey from the badge or from a note on your blog which would help just as well.]

The survey will remain open until midnight eastern U.S. time on 1 May. Then, it may take a week or so for me to collate the results and make them attractive for presentation, so no promises of a specific date for the results.

Okay, with the explanations done, here is The TGB Elderblogger Survey. It's not the prettiest layout you ever saw, but it's what the web service supplies. Please take the survey and tell all the elderbloggers you know about it, to help make this a resounding success.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Byrne recalls a time and place from long ago in My First Job.]

This Week in Elder News: 19 April 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Last Monday, I took to task a reader named Susanne for an uncharitable comment she left about a fun conversation we were having about those unexpected moments that tell us we’re no longer part of the younger generation. Uncharacteristic of people who behave like wet blankets, Susanne returned to apologize, saying that yes, she had been a “sourpuss” and was having a bad day when she wrote that. I just want to acknowledge her today and say, hurray for Susanne. We all have bad days now and then and it's not everyone who admits it (ahem, moi?).


Do you see anything peculiar about this photograph of Beyonce? I wasted a lot of time this week and had a load of fun doing it while I checked out the so-called professionals’ photo-manipulation mistakes at It’s the same idea as discovering film errata like an airplane flying over the desert in a cowboy movie. What a hoot, and who knew there were so many.

In a week filled with bleak news about the world, governments, politics and all, I seem to have had a lot of fun online. Don’t miss The Official Village Voice Election-Season Guide to Right Wing Bloggers. Writer Roy Edroso’s sharply-worded, dead-on critiques are laugh-out-loud funny and worth every minute you’ll spend with this long survey even if you’ve never read the bloggers he speaks of. I especially like his “stupid/evil ratio” for each one.

Lots of people, elders and the young, take anti-oxidant supplements such as vitamins A, E and beta carotene. Now researchers have released a review of 47 studies that included hundreds of thousands of subjects, concluding that "antioxidant supplements significantly increased mortality". So much research is released about what foods and drugs are good or bad for us that it’s hard to know which ones to trust, but it’s probably a good idea to get essential nutrients from real food.

In Japan, auto maker Nissan is using an “elder suit” to help design cars that work better for old people. Take a look, and listen to what the young man wearing the elder suit says. (1:55 minutes)

Last month, we had a good discussion about electronic health records, their advantages and disadvantages particularly with everyone’s privacy in mind. Now comes a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine warning that companies like Google and Microsoft, both of which are launching health-records websites, are not bound by HIPAA privacy regulations and pose a risk. Read more at the NEJM or the short version at The New York Times.

Science Daily reports on a research study from the University of Chicago showing that elders are the happiest age group:

“The increase in happiness with age is consistent with the ‘age as maturity hypothesis,’ Yang said. With age comes positive psychosocial traits, such as self-integration and self-esteem; these signs of maturity could contribute to a better sense of overall well-being. Second, group differences in happiness decrease with age due to the equalization of resources that contribute to happiness, such as access to health care, Medicare and Medicaid, and the loss of social support due to the deaths of spouses and friends, Yang added.”

In case you haven't dropped by Alice's blog, My Wintersong, in the past day or so, look what I found there just in time to end this week's Elder News list with a demonstration of the kind of magic no one gets too old for. (3:00 minutes. Anyone who feels compelled to tell me how this is done, please don't.)

Items From Crabby Old Lady's Blog Notebook

Crabby Old Lady has a few things on her mind she’s been meaning to say. They each don’t warrant a complete post or, more likely, she can’t work up the steam for a full post, so here’s a list:

ITEM: One of the pleasures of writing primarily for elders is they understand historical references or know how to look them up. A young reader emailed about yesterday’s post asking who Joe McCarthy is and why Crabby hadn’t explained.

ITEM: Years ago, Crabby stopped listening to President Bush’s speeches (she reads the texts online) because his vocal sneer along with his generally scornful attitude toward the citizenry - as though he thinks we are all idiots who can’t understand all the important things he knows - enrages her. Now she is beginning to feel similarly about Hillary Clinton. The senator’s condescending tone toward Senator Obama when she speaks of him, and her schoolmarm lecture style of speechmaking are becoming as irritating as Bush’s sneer.

ITEM: Some of the elitism charges against Senator Obama from the punditry seem to be directed at the fact that he speaks in complete sentences and paragraphs, and allows his intelligence to show. Maybe the punditry believes that after eight years of Bushisms, we the public have lost our ability to think.

ITEM: The digs and “jokes” about Senator McCain’s age will only become more frequent and poisonous when the general election campaign gets underway. Although they are unfair to McCain, Crabby is thinking now that in the long run this will be good for elders’ place in the culture as it will provide a reason for a wider discussion of aging, ageism and age discrimination.

ITEM: How could our government believe democracy could be exported to other countries when they can’t even run our own elections fairly and, in the past eight years, keep ignoring or undermining the Constitution? Is Crabby the only one who, as an American citizen, finds this embarrassing?

ITEM: Food riots around the world. Unaffordable gasoline. A war that never ends. A global water shortage. Trillions owed by the U.S. to China. Arab countries buying up American businesses and real estate. Maybe Tim LaHaye is right – it’s the end times. The only good thing Crabby’s heard lately is that Alberto Gonzales can’t find a job.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains the circumstances behind Why I Can’t Go to the Library Anymore.]

Universal Healthcare and the 2008 Election

category_bug_journal2.gif Here is an example of how one area of soaring healthcare costs can be contained: The Veterans’ Administration, which is the only government agency allowed to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, pays 50 percent less than Medicare for the top-20 brand-name drugs sold to elders.

It’s not just brand-name drugs that can price non-VA patients out of treatment. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that while inflation rose 21 percent from 2000 to 2007, patient payments for generic drugs rose 38 percent in the same time period.

Medicare, by a provision of Part D, the prescription drug plan, is prevented from negotiating drug prices. How could one part of the government be disallowed from saving money while another part is allowed to do so? You might want to ask your Congressional representatives along with presidential candidates who all take big campaign bucks from the pharma lobbies of which there are more than 600 - 600-plus for one industry! - in Washington.

But it’s not just the pharmaceutical companies that are raking in profits on the backs of sick people and a sick economy. It’s every sector of the healthcare industry:

…”we must confront the fact that we pay more for virtually every pill, every artificial knee, and every screw than any other developed nation in the world - for absolutely no reason except that lobbyists have paid Congressmen to believe that if we don’t overpay, medical research will grind to a halt. The truth is that pharmaceutical companies spend much more on advertising than they do on research, and in recent years drug-makers and device-makers have been racking up double-digit profits - at the expense of the rest of the U.S. economy. Employers in Detroit simply cannot afford to keep the drug and device industry in the style to which it has become accustomed.”
- TPM Café, 11 April 2008

Another practice that inflates healthcare costs is the mostly standard fee-for-service system in which providers, physicians and institutions are paid for each procedure, test and evaluation whether the patient needs it or not. At the Mayo Clinic and a few others, however, doctors are on salary, which keeps down costs.

All the Social Security scare stories are mostly hogwash; the system can be secured for decades to come with a few tweaks that won’t cause undue financial harm to anyone. Healthcare, including Medicare, on the other hand, is in deep financial trouble as is anyone trying to buy either coverage or treatment.

The only solution anyone in the world has invented that gives everyone access to healthcare is universal coverage, sometimes called a single-payer system, national healthcare, etc. (Anyone reading this who wants to shout, “But that’s – horrors! - socialized medicine”, please do it elsewhere. You are probably still weeping at Joe McCarthy’s grave.)

To succeed, a universal healthcare plan must be truly universal – that is, everyone participates. In that way, premiums are spread equally among the healthy and the sick. It is the essence of the idea of any kind of insurance: we pay because we’re betting that we may get sick one day with astronomical costs we could not otherwise afford. Some people pay without using much of the system. Others use much more than they pay. It is fair because every one of us is only a four-leaf clover away from needing the care.

In this volatile election year when something like 75 percent of the country is angry with the general status quo and only the wealthy are unconcerned with healthcare costs, we have an opportunity to change the healthcare system for the good of everyone by whom we vote for, and here’s what you need to know about that:

The minutiae of the two Democratic presidential candidates’ healthcare proposals are unimportant. Presidents don’t create legislation, although they can advise, consult and veto. That’s one of the reasons Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan failed in the early 1990s. In operating out of the White House in secrecy, she ignored Congress, which does create legislation. (The senator may or may not have learned from that experience; it's hard to know.)

So what you want to look for as you choose your candidates for Congress, as well as president, is their commitment to true universal healthcare in general, and soon. By the time a plan works its way through Congress, the details will be chewed over, mangled, written and rewritten, and who knows? in the process, someone may come up with better ideas than Senator Clinton’s “mandates” and Senator Obama’s “children only” which still don't cover everyone and if implemented, would need to be redone in the near future with repeat cost to taxpayers in consultants, research and experts.

The bigger obstacles to a universal plan are those 600-plus pharma lobbies along with the insurance and healthcare provider lobbies.

Public momentum is with universal healthcare right now. And 59 percent of physicians nationwide support it. Medicare is a decent model; its administrative costs are about two percent compared to private coverage’s 15 to 20 percent. When I’ve written about universal coverage in the past, invariably several commenters wring their hands over all those poor employees of private insurers who will be out of work. Yes, and they’ll be immediately hired into the new system. Experience will be needed to run it.

As to Medicare and other countries' national healthcare horror stories, there are just as many, if not more, involving private coverage. No system is perfect, mistakes will be made, but you must ask yourself how well the current system is working when one-sixth of population has no coverage at all.

As we contemplate our votes this year, the Iraq war is important, the economy and housing are important along with corruption in high places, assaults on the Constitution and – well, you know the litany. But healthcare is equally, if not more, important.

When I was a kid, old people constantly repeated the phrase, “As long as you’ve got your health…” meaning that everything else is secondary. Even if your worst health problem has been only a bad flu, you know they are right. Nearly 50 million people can’t afford any kind of health coverage and have not seen a doctor in years. Due to recent increases in some co-pays from private insurers, some people are facing $4,000 and more for a month’s supply of needed drugs. No ordinary person can do that. Is the alternative to die even though a drug could save them?

The United States needs universal coverage. Keep that in mind as you choose your candidates this year and know where they stand on it before you vote.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson penetrates an electronics problem we have all faced in The Beep.]

Guest Blogger: Mimi Merrill

[EDITORIAL NOTE: It must happen to all of us now and then – something astonishingly good drops into our mailbox among all the spam. This one got my attention: the April edition of 82-year-old Mimi Merrill’s monthly column for a “throwaway paper” in Ridgecrest, California. I could condense the biography she sent later, but it is as compelling as her column, so I’m reprinting it just as she sent it to me – she’s a fascinating woman and elder.]

Born Miriam Frances Licker, a first-generation American of Jewish heritage, I am now Mimi Merrill. And who is Mimi Merrill? First of all, a writer and an artist, primarily a journal-keeper now, once a poet, a woman who fills up sketch books with designs that defy description, and a columnist.

Thrice married, mother to seven children, five of whom I carried in my womb, I have outlived all my husbands and one of my sons. My first husband was killed in World War II, my second I divorced, and my third husband was in my life for almost half a century.

I was born in 1926, an age when "lesbian" wasn't even a word in Jewish Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Yet I knew from the fifth grade on when pretty Sally came into our class that I responded to her in ways my friends did not. But Max gave me the same feelings, so I'm probably actually a bisexual.

I grew up in an age and a milieu that did not give me access to others of my kind, and by the time I had my lesbian affair, I was past fifty. But because Ralph, my third husband, and I had become comfortable housemates and good friends, I could not in good conscience simply abandon him, and as a result had the privilege of being with him in our living room when he died.

I have been "out" to my children, to my husband-friend, and to good friends forever and a day, and am comfortable with myself. When I was 51, I accepted that I was an alcoholic, found AA, and haven't had to drink since June 23, 1977. I am paradoxical and contradictory - a much-married lesbian/bisexual, a non-drinking alcoholic, a late bloomer with the attributes of a wildflower gone to seed.

I can give you my educational history - pooh to that! I was a late bloomer in that too, earning my BA when I was in my mid-50s and going on to a late career as writing skills specialist at CSUB in Bakersfield, California, for a dozen years before I retired when I was 67. Before that Ralph and I operated a rock and mineral business together (Minerals Unlimited) that my youngest daughter now owns and runs.

[With that background, here is Mimi’s April column.]

• I should write about the economy and about the absurdity of the notion that sending most of us $300 or $600 or even $1200 if we’re coupled will somehow fix the economic woes the US is facing. But I’m old and tired and painfully aware that we are still stuck with a lame duck president whose idea of a solution to our problems just after 9/11 was that we all ought to “go shopping.” We’re calling it a recession, but to this old woman it smells awfully much like a depression as well.

• Hmmm. The twig in the White House had no idea that the price of gas had gone sky-high, and I’m sure he hasn’t a clue that four-dollar-a-loaf bread is also a hardship for some of us.

• Alas, states in dollar trouble want to cut health care and safety-net programs for the elderly, disabled and the out of work. Yeah, let’s get well on the backs of our neediest citizens. But, shucks, a corn flake shaped like Illinois sold on eBay for $1,350, so things can’t be that bad.

• To hell with it. I can’t deal with the big stuff this month. McCain wants to stay in Iraq; Clinton and Obama promise withdrawal. You know where I stand. And if you want to read more about the election or the economy this month, go find the news elsewhere.

• What of the small stuff? Well, one of my pet peeves has initiated what I’ll gleefully nominate as the Bumper Sticker of the Decade: “Hang up and drive!”

• And I sent an e-mail to State Senator Roy Ashburn in response to part of his emailed bulletin: “Senator Ashburn will keep alive his efforts to create a statewide licensing mechanism for Emergency Medical Technicians to weed out criminals and other individuals with a history of questionable behavior.” My question was this: “What kind of "questionable behavior" did you have in mind as making someone unqualified for EMT work? That's so nebulous that I find it most troubling!” (And if you think I received a response, dream on.)

• I hear echoes of the “third strike” insanity that became California law - my horrified anticipation then was that someday, some poor slob would go to prison for life for stealing a candy bar - and something like that has indeed occurred.

Because he’s a proven felon, Robert Fassbender is in danger of spending the rest of his life in prison for a “third strike” ostensibly for his having taken a package of donuts (which he may or may not have actually done) but whether he did or didn’t, no violence was attached to the crime. The law as initially proposed was supposed to apply only to violent “third-strike” crimes, but it was badly miswritten so, yes, a man could indeed be spending a lifetime locked up for stealing a donut.

• Leaving blue-collar crime, kudos to Bakersfield Judge Kenneth Twisselman who at least temporarily halted that city’s proposed Wal-Mart Supercenters in their tracks. And Ridgecrest? Other cities fight tooth and nail against the inevitable environmental havoc threatened by these gigantic shopping centers, but our City Council welcomed the proposed monster with open arms.

• Moving to Washington, Congress needs to pass the Cloned Food Labeling Act that has been introduced into both the Senate and House of Representatives. The Act would require labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring, and I, for one, want the choice of whether to buy products from cloned animals to be mine.

I am concerned about the quality of my food and the way it is produced, and I'm not alone. A Consumers Union poll found that 89 percent of us want milk and meat from cloned animals at least to be so labeled.

The Food and Drug Administration knows that many cloned animals are born with deformities and birth defects and do not survive to adulthood. Worse, many suffer from illnesses and must be treated with antibiotics. Well, I don't want those antibiotics coming into my body without my knowledge! Labeling is a common sense approach. It puts control over the food on my table where it belongs: in my own hands.

• And how about some shocking percentages? An appalling amount of your 2007 federal income taxes went to the military to pay for both current and past activities. Of every dollar you pay in taxes, one cent goes to diplomacy and foreign aid; three cents go to the environment, energy, and science; 12 cents go to respond to poverty in the United States; and an appalling 43 cents go to war.

You think that’s bad? As I write my column for April, Congress is expected to approve even more money for the war and for occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The House and Senate budget committees have already begun making decisions about our spending priorities for 2009. Contact your senators now and encourage them to push for a change in how the federal government spends our tax dollars. Certainly, spending 43 percent of every dollar on war does not reflect my spending priorities for the United States.

Let’s tell our senators we want to shift funds from the military to priorities that support genuine security, such as promoting conflict resolution and international development, shifting funds to domestic human needs, and responding to the coming climate change.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you enjoyed what you’ve just read, you can subscribe to Mimi’s monthly column for free by sending an email to her at mimi AT ridgenet DOT net.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean compares ages in the workplace in Youngest/Oldest.]

Why is Noise the Default Public Behavior?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On a recent post about a blogging survey, several readers suggested a survey of elderbloggers. It's such a good idea that I am creating one as we speak that I expect to post next week. On the theory that one person can't think of everything, I welcome your suggestions for what you would like to know about the elderblogging community. Just click the "contact" link in the upper left corner of this page to send your thoughts.]

Last week, 60-year-old John Clifford appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of disorderly conduct, harassment, misdemeanor assault and petty larceny (a business card).

Among the specific acts that led to the criminal charges were cursing a train passenger, slapping the hand of another and berating many for talking loudly to one another and into their cell phones. All he wants on his commute, Mr. Clifford told Judge Larry Stephen, is to read his newspaper and get started on the day’s work.

Crabby Old Lady’s sympathy for Mr. Clifford is boundless. If Crabby could find him, she would give him a hug, a big kiss and buy him a drink because he is willing to make a jerk of himself (and he certainly has) to take a stand against NOISE – constant, daily, insistent, annoying NOISE from louts who believe their right to assault others’ ears and concentration supersedes everyone else’s right to peace and quiet, particularly in a closed environment.

Crabby has never asked a loud cell phone user to please keep it down without having been berated, scorned and blasted with the F word. When she has asked train conductors, restaurant waiters and even movie theater managers to ask others to lower their voices, she has been told there is nothing they can do.

Cell phone users reserve the right to screech, yell, shout and holler in all public places, frequently asserting that right with "It's a free country, lady." When Crabby commuted more than hour each way by train for two-and-a-half years, there was not one trip on which these boors didn’t talk loudly enough to be heard ten rows away. (And that complaint doesn’t include obnoxious iPod wearers who crank up the volume so that an irritating, buzzy noise precludes any attempt at rational thought.)

When did noise become the default public behavior, Crabby wants to know, the standard against which there is no recourse? And why are the noise makers always defended? The The New York Times, in an editorial about Mr. Clifford, accused him of “vigilantism”:

“…despite years of complaints, arrests and summonses, none of which have stuck – [Mr. Clifford] is free to keep doing what he does: abusing fellow commuters in the name of peace, quiet and civility.”

They said this with such certainty of their position, with such an utter lack of irony that one can only assume members of The New York Times editorial board are among the cell phone troglodytes.

Did you know the word “noise” is derived from the Latin word nausea and that noise has serious health consequences:

“Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today…

“Noise negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquility.

“The air into which second-hand noise is emitted and on which it travels is a “commons,” a public good. It belongs to no one person or group, but to everyone. People, businesses, and organizations, therefore, do not have unlimited rights to broadcast noise as they please, as if the effects of noise were limited only to their private property. On the contrary, they have an obligation to use the commons in ways that are compatible with or do not detract from other uses.”

- Noise Pollution Clearinghouse

Noise is a risk to everyone’s health, but you wouldn’t know it from official response. People whose ears are assaulted are routinely advised to remove themselves from the area. Judge Stephen asked Mr. Clifford, “You can move to another car, can’t you?” Crabby's personal train experience is that there is no car without cell phone yappers. The judge also asked, “But you have to realize some of your conduct is inappropriate?”

Clifford’s and not the cell phone jackasses' conduct is inappropriate? Along with the Times editorial board and the judge, Long Island Railroad officials have turned the idea of offensive behavior on its head:

"'Some of our customers feel as if they have been abused by Mr. Clifford’s behavior,' said Joe Calderone, a spokesman for the railroad.”
- The New York Times, 9 April 2008

Mr. Calderone and Judge Stephen sound like General Petraeus and President Bush: right is wrong; up is down; left is right. Crabby is reeling from cognitive dissonance.

In the end and to Judge Stephen’s credit, he acquitted Mr. Clifford of all charges, and Crabby fervently hopes he is back to "abusing" the cell phone barbarians on his commuter train.

Oh, and did you read that the European Union approved cell phone use on airplanes within the continent? Crabby wonders how long after this decision goes into effect the first cell phone homicide will take place at 30,000 feet. Listen carefully when you hear the news story; it may be Crabby Old Lady who is arrested for the crime.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peter Tibbles recalls True Loves in a Small Town.]

Intimations of Mortality II

Last week, I posted a story titled Intimations of Mortality about little moments that occur marking one’s passage through life, and I asked readers if they had experienced such moments.

The nearly 30 responses ranged from funny to wry to sweet to ironic - piquant anecdotes, mini-milestones, if you will, on our roads from youth to aged.

Then, along comes Susanne (no blog link or email address; there never are from such people) to throw cold water on our game:

“Is it just me, or is all of this whining and lamenting defeating the whole purpose of this website?

“I have had the same or similar experiences as all of the above. It goes with the territory. I have never really thought about it. Too many other, more serious things to think about or be concerned about, i.e., ageism, discrimination in the workplace, health, etc. I am not tooting my horn and am certainly not unique. There are millions of others who think the same.

“Stop being so sensitive about being addressed as "ma'am, sir, lady." In most cases, I don't think there is any bad intent. If there is, then they are the idiots. Do you remember addressing older people the same way when you were young? I do.”

This women needs to find her sense of humor. There is not a single whine or lament in the entire post and comments. We were just having a little fun, tellin’ our tales and laughing at the speed bumps life sometimes throws our way.

Not that there isn’t a serious point or two underlying these stories. In a culture that defies anyone to believe youth is not the gold standard of life, we all are brought up short when it is pointed out to us, particularly for the first time, that we have left behind one and entered a new stage of life.

There are some, perhaps Susanne is one of them, who believe outward appearance is not important, and to the degree that such an attitude allows one to be content in one’s own skin - whatever it looks like - they are to be applauded. But others’ perception of us can be valuable, even crucial .

When we are children, we chafe at the boundaries our parents set. “No, you cannot cross the street alone.” “Eat your vegetables.” “No computer games until you finish your homework.” These rules are set because we are not old enough yet to know what is good for us. Adults know to enforce these rules because they can see we are short and our bodies not fully developed - physical signals to be protective of us.

We revel in our teen and young adult bodies - strong, supple, capable of almost anything. The young and the old ask us for help then because they can see how fit we are.

More years add gravitas to our appearance and people, who can see that we have some experience now, take us more seriously. They entrust us with their money, the education of their children and with their healthcare - and we are empowered by their trust to take on responsibilities and obligations consistent with our age.

At some point after that, we are hit for the first time with one of those intimations-of-mortality moments. We know then, or should, that it is time to begin to confront our impermanence.

How others perceive us calls attention to the changing priorities of the seasons of life and prompts us to take new positions, when the time arrives, among the generations.

The boy who referred to me as "lady" meant no disrespect nor did I take it that way. But it was a wake-up call that I had passed beyond youthfulness and in the world we live in, getting older often removes options that younger people are granted without question. That is why people fight so desperately against appearing old.

In a perfect world, age would be as acceptable and respected as youth. That it is not leads to the sometimes funny incidents we shared with one another last week when someone unexpectedly reminds us that it may be time to move on to the next stage in our lives.

Susanne is right that there are serious issues of aging to be concerned with. We discuss them here a lot and at length and we will continue to do so. But there is also time for some fun and sometimes the fun, as in the case of last week’s post and comments, can illuminate our lives.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Edna Henke tells of a nightmare experience at a camp ground titled In the Still of the Night.]

This Week in Elder News: 12 April 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

I don’t think I could live anymore without Wikipedia. The web encyclopedia has yet to fail me no matter what obscure piece of information I’m looking for. Of course, anyone who uses Wikipedia without checking the facts with other sources is an idiot, but it is invaluable as a starting place and its breadth unprecedented.

Now comes a 45-minute documentary diatribe against Wikipedia assailing its “truth” which misses the point entirely. [via TechCrunch]

"Across the board, physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care,” says a researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine. A new survey reports that 59 percent of physicians now support universal healthcare.

One in three people older than 65 suffer a fall each year. It is well-known that practicing tai chi can improve balance to help prevent falls. If that’s not for you, it appears that Iyengar yoga, which is specifically designed for elders, can help too. You can find local teachers here. [Hat tip to Donna Woodka of Changing Places.]

The developers of a housing community near Boston for people 55 and older has petitioned authorities for permission to sell homes to people of any age. "A multi-generational complex is not what I bought," said one owner. "I signed a deed that said 55-plus.” I’m not sure how I feel about this. What about you?

Here’s another way corporate America is allowed to screw up government agencies along with you and me: private insurers are forcing disabled beneficiaries to file claims with Social Security even though few qualify. The practice is delaying the Social Security Administration’s ability to process legitimate claims but apparently, the practice cannot be stopped without a lawsuit.

As Jack Cafferty says, here’s the question: Is there no end to corporate greed or to the government’s ability to function?

Have you got an idea for a project about elders involved in the arts and literature? The National Endowment for the Arts is offering grants in a program titled Creativity and Aging in America. Details for application are here. [Hat tip to Jackie Jordan-Davis]

The internet and blogging software has given a whole new meaning to centuries of journals and diaries, now made of digital bits and bytes rather than paper and pen.

My friend, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley has now turned this electronic effort on its ear. She is experimenting with an online, handwritten blog which means no links, no sidebar of accoutrements and comments are handwritten too. Even Sylvia says it’s a “bizarre idea” but its simplicity has a weird attraction. She calls it Backspace – take a look.

Quote of the week:

“And maybe, just maybe, this [American dumbing-down] cycle has run its course, for the last seven years perhaps have discredited the anti-intellectualism movement. President Bush, after all, is the movement’s epitome — and its fruit.”
Nicholas Kristoff, The New York Times

The Women Behind Their Blogs

Blogher, the women’s blogging network, recently held its annual business conference in New York City where the results of their survey about How Women Use Social Media [pdf] (a misnomer since it covers only blogging) was unveiled. The ages of respondents are 18–75 (sorry, Millie, and other elderbloggers who are older). Some findings:

  • 36.2 million women participate in the blogosphere (publish, read or comment) at least once a week

  • 43 percent would give up reading newspapers or magazines to “keep the blogs they read or write”

  • 21.1 million read or post comments at least weekly

  • 15.1 million post to their blogs at least weekly

  • 67 percent have completed college

  • 46 percent have incomes higher than $75,000

  • GenXers are the largest age group in the blogosphere

  • What the survey calls “matures” (ick!), age 61-75, are the smallest age group

Almost as many elder women (78 percent) are getting news and information from blogs as younger women (80-83 percent), and 60 percent of elder women are shopping online.

This is the Blogher report header for the page on women's media habits, but the subhead, “Online participation rates decline with increasing age.” erroneously suggests that elders drop out of online usage as they get older.


No evidence exists that women (or men) stop using the internet or blogging because they get older. In fact, the opposite is so – increasing numbers of elders are learning to go online and some are creating blogs. The surveyors probably mean that fewer old people online than young, but that's not what the page says.

By far, the largest age group of women bloggers are GenXers (age 25-41 according to this survey) following by Boomers (42-60 in this survey, but who are more commonly identified as 44-62 this year), Millennials and pulling up the rear with the fewest bloggers or blog readers are “Matures.”

Not to beat to death my frequently-made point about language, but I don’t like answering to Senior and I damned sure won’t be called a Mature. It surprises me that Blogher would use this clumsy euphemism to describe old people in a major survey (or anywhere) since it was one of their founders, Elisa Camahort, who coined the term "elderblogger."

In Blogher’s survey, 24 percent said they blog to earn money. There is no mention of how much they earn, but a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project about bloggers [pdf] in 2006, had this to say about blog income [emphasis added]:

“Even as a subset of bloggers gain (sic) prominence in the media and as traffic to blogs grows, blogging is not exactly the most lucrative of hobbies, let alone professions. Only 15% say earning money is a reason they blog and only 8% of bloggers report actual income. These bloggers are mostly older than age 50.

Since the Blogher bloggers are mostly younger than 50, I don’t know if or what inference can be drawn from these two surveys. What hasn’t been done in several years that I’d like to see is a survey of elderbloggers and other online users – women and men 50 and older. Our age group is growing faster than any other and is an economic force to be reckoned with.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Tamar Orvell tells Sherry's family story of growing up black in Atlanta in the 1960s and Sherry's remarkable mother in Baby Pictures.]

Intimations of Mortality

category_bug_journal2.gif It is hard to fathom now when I see myself in photographs or on television, but it took me what felt like forever to look like the grownup I eagerly wanted to be.

When I read blogs by young women lamenting that they are getting old at 27 or 28, I realize how much times must have changed. I looked about 15 for a frustrating decade; no one took me seriously. They ignored me, dismissed my opinions and carded me in bars. I longed to see some years accumulate on my face.

At around age 30, I finally looked old enough to be treated as an adult. I still thought of myself as young and being old was far enough in my future that I didn’t much think about continued aging at the time. I’d been young for so long, I thought it would go on indefinitely - which is probably as it should be at age 30.

Not too long after I had achieved the appearance of adulthood in the eyes of others, walking home from the subway one evening – I was 35 or so - I turned the corner into my block where two boys about 11 or 12 were playing ball in the street. As the boy nearest me ran backwards to make the catch, the boy facing me yelled, “Look out for the lady behind you.”

Lady? No one had ever called me lady or woman. In those days before the women’s movement forced a widespread change in language, all but the oldest women were commonly referred to as girls except, perhaps, by children to whom everyone over the age of 20 seems old.

It was a shocking moment with intimations of mortality which I still didn’t believe in then, at least for me. It was one thing to have happily settled into adulthood; quite another to be perceived as – well, not young, to which I was still accustomed.

I brooded on it for a day or two - what the boy's perception of me as an adult might mean in the greater scheme of my life - and then let it go for the next 20 years as my life was consumed with career, lots of travel and the usual ups and downs of midlife we all experience. Until…

You’ve read it here before: the day I looked around the room at my coworkers at and realized I was the oldest kid there - by decades, at age 55. And thus began my quest to discover what getting old is really like.

In the years since my youth, age has become more culturally fraught. I make a puny attempt at Time Goes By for acceptance of the natural aging, but most of the country goes blithely forward spending annual billions of dollars on anti-aging potions, Botox and cosmetic surgery.

No matter how much “work” a person has done, there must come a time when the futility of it is obvious and acceptance settles in. But what I’m interested in today, is who among us may have had similar intimation-of-mortality moments as the two I experienced.

[See the follow-up to this post here.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains a military man's clever move to foster understanding in The Silver Dollar Scheme.]

The TGB Interview: Dr. Robert N. Butler

RobertbutlersmCategory_bug_interview I discovered Robert N. Butler, M.D. when I first started researching aging a dozen years ago through his Pulitzer Prize-winning book,Why Survive? Being Old in America. My copy, even in hardback, is tattered and worn now, Post-It noted and marked up to within an inch of its life, as it is one of the “bibles” I regularly use to think about aging and as a reference for this blog.

Dr. Butler, a gerontologist, researcher, psychiatrist and public servant, coined the term “ageism” in 1968, founded the first department of geriatrics at a U.S. medical school at The Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City in 1982, and is president and CEO of the International Longevity Center – USA. Throughout his career, he has been an eloquent advocate for the rights of elders.

Butlerbookam2 In his new book, The Longevity Revolution – The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life, Dr. Butler brings his vast knowledge and experience to bear on the wide-ranging and dramatic changes that must be made in politics and society – and the reasons for them - to accommodate humankind’s increased longevity. It is a brilliant, intelligent book that, if I had the funds, I would send to every politician in Washington, D.C. and every reader of this blog.

Dr. Butler made time his schedule to answer my questions for this TGB Interview, and I am most grateful to him.

RONNI BENNETT: What do you mean by the title of your new book, The Longevity Revolution?
The longevity revolution refers to the fact that we gained 30 additional years of life in the 20th century, greater than had been achieved during the preceding 5000 years of human history. This is revolutionary in character and unprecedented. Just to give one example, in 1776 the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 35. In the year 1900 it was 47 and today 77.

RB: What are a few of the ways global aging will affect the world in the coming decades?
If we think we have serious issues with Social Security and healthcare, imagine aging of the developing world. Global aging will affect the global economy, character of disease, socioeconomic circumstances, politics and culture.

RB: You suggest in your book that we could lose those gains in longevity you mentioned. How would that happen?
Were we to have a human-to-human mutation of the bird virus we could lose the longevity we have gained. Furthermore, we predicted in an article in The New England Journal several years ago that because of the rising obesity epidemic in young people, we could reach a point where the younger generation lives fewer years than the older generation.

RB: You state unequivocally that an aging population does NOT account for rising health costs and that excessive medical costs are NOT associated with the end of life. A lot of people don’t believe that…
It is technology, drugs, so far, that account for the rising health costs not the aging of the population. This could change, of course, with increasing aging. End-of-life care can be expensive whenever end of life occurs. For example, a young person in an automobile accident, a young woman with breast cancer, but in old age per se, the per capita expenditure at the end of life actually declines and the proportion of Medicare that goes to end-of-life care has remained stable for more than the last 20 years.

RB: The federal government has just released some scary statistics on Medicare – that at its current level of payout, spending will exceed revenue by 2019. Do you have a solution?
The solution to the issue of Medicare is to change the reimbursement system which favors the procedural and technological specialties rather than primary care. It does not adequately support prevention.

The solution to Medicare ultimately has to be reforms in the healthcare system in general. We need new systems of healthcare delivery, more primary care, more prevention, more investments in research and a better trained healthcare workforce to take care of old people.

RB: How can Medicare be improved? Is it a good model for universal coverage?
Medicare could be a very good model for universal coverage. Administrative costs approximate two percent. The private health insurance industry costs up to 20 percent. This is because of advertising, marketing, claims adjustment and profits.

RB: You advocate development of “a vigorous politics of aging and longevity.” How confident are you that it can happen? What will happen if it does not develop?
While I favor a vigorous politics of aging and longevity, at the moment we do not have a great exponent comparable to the leadership of the late Claude Pepper. The reason, I think, it may happen is the baby boomers will grow old and then the 65+ population will be 20 percent of the entire population, 25 percent of the adult population and probably some 30 percent of the vote.

RB: With 70-year-old Senator John McCain the presumptive Republican candidate for president, what would you advise voters about considering his age when deciding to vote for him or not?
I am concerned that there is a storm of ageism being projected against Senator John McCain. Yet there have been great leaders of great age such as Charles DeGaulle in post-war France, Konrad Adenauer in post-war Germany. The issue is not age, the issue is function, that is, intellectual and physical capabilities to carry out the job.

RB: It is obvious that with our longer lives, elders are capable of working beyond the standard age-65 retirement and many want to. Even so, they are shoved out of the workplace and corporate America keeps insisting it needs to outsource jobs to other countries because they cannot find enough qualified workers here. How can those attitudes be changed?
Some corporations are actually concerned about the impending retirement of the baby boomers. They fear the loss of executive and managerial talent. There is also a concern over the fact that within 15 years, 50 percent of all nurses will have retired. There will also be shortages of air controllers and atomic energy personnel. The opportunities to work longer may be upon us.

RB: We all know that sometimes an idea hardly exists until it is given a name. How did you come to coin the term “ageism”?
In my own neighborhood, housing for older people was acquired and my neighbors were up in arms: “We don’t want all those older people around.” There was no term to explain this prejudice and so I decided, analogous to the terms sexism and racism, we could use a new useful term which I called “ageism”.

RB: In the 40 years or so since you coined the term ageism, have you seen improvements in prejudice against elders?
There may have been some improvements in age discrimination. For example, there is an Age Discrimination in Employment Act which has virtually ended mandatory retirement. There have been some improvements in nursing homes and I think some greater sensitivity about age. But we are a long way from having conquered the prejudices regarding aging.

RB: How have myths and prejudices regarding the nature of aging affected our culture generally?
Life has to be based on hope and expectation of a positive future. When that future is removed as in the case of old age it builds dissatisfaction, disappointment and depression. This obviously affects our culture.

RB: For most of the history of mankind, in most cultures, elders were revered for their knowledge and experience. How did that change?
When older people were relatively rare, adoration was easy. As they became more common, especially when impaired, they were experienced as a burden.

RB: As you point out, only 11 U.S. medical schools have departments of geriatrics and schools cannot fill the first-year geriatric residencies that are available. What does this mean to an aging population? Will the quality of healthcare for elders decline? Has it already? What is the solution?
The care of older people is not what it should be and it could get worse. We have to build new ways of providing care not only including the development of trained geriatric physicians but also geriatric nurse practitioners, home health aides, social workers and others.

RB: Is there any way to change young physicians’ preference for specialties in dermatology and cosmetic surgery over geriatrics? Why do so many more young physicians go into geriatrics in Britain than in the U.S.?
The reason young physicians go into dermatology, cosmetic surgery and other procedural specialties is, in part, economic. On average, a medical student graduates with $150,000 in debt. We have to change the financial incentives to encourage people to go into geriatrics. South Carolina has created a debt relief programs for those who go into geriatrics. Senator Barbara Boxer of California has introduced legislation to do so on a national level. Payment structures in Great Britain are much better.

RB: What can elders do personally to help ensure their health and that they get the best medical care possible day to day?
It is never too late to develop good health habits and it is always too soon to stop. Older people can engage in important physical fitness program not only aerobic in character, but particular muscle-building. For example, the status of the quadriceps or the thigh muscle is one of the best predictors of frailty.

RB: In the past, I’ve written about “responsible aging” on my blog and was pleased to see your reference to it in your book. Would you explain your sense of the phrase?
The last data I have seen is that older people contribute about 33 hours a year, a little more than an hour a week in voluntary service. Older people, of course, have many burdens to deal with, particularly taking care of a spouse or a grandchild. Even so, I would like to encourage older people to play a greater social role, contributing to society in general.

RB: What is your view of Aubrey deGray and others who believe human life can be extended for up to 200 years. Is this a worthwhile goal?
I think the extravagant claims for longer life by people like deGray are questionable, indeed. We do know that it is increasingly likely that we will be able to slow aging while at the same time delay the onset of diseases. This means that we should devote new financial resources to understanding the basic biology of aging, but we should not get carried away.

RB: Would you explain why good neonatal and pediatric care are important to aging societies?
Many of the diseases of old age really had their origins early in life due to genes, the environment and behavior. Therefore, we need a lifespan perspective with regard to health promotion and disease prevention and the way in which we provide medical care including the importance of neonatal and pediatric care.

RB: One of your most radical proposals is for family planning along with population reduction and stabilization to meet the challenges of aging societies. Many people will recoil. How can you convince them otherwise?
It was not long ago that people were concerned about the “population crisis”. There has been considerable success, particularly in Europe and Japan. Indeed, more than desirable.

I do not favor the situation in Japan and Europe where birth rates are below the replacement level. I do favor stabilization of population. It gives us greater control over the financing of health and pension benefits and provides for better quality of life rather than overburdening facilities with huge population growth. Furthermore, we know that population size is not directly related to economic prosperity. Think of prosperous, small countries like Switzerland, Singapore and Norway.

RB: What needs to change for your proposals to deal with an aging society to succeed?
I think we need a transformation of both the culture and personal experience of growing older for proposals to deal with an aging society to succeed. We need to overcome denial and take a good direct look at what we need to change.

RB: Are you optimistic that governments will make the changes necessary to deal with global aging?
I am always a guarded optimist and I do think the baby boomers, a very large generation, may be transformative. I am not sure they will be able to benefit as much themselves but that they will contribute to improved quality of life for the generations that follow.

RB: What can individuals, especially those who are elders now, do to contribute to the needs of an aging society?
Older individuals themselves can contribute directly through civic engagement through the kinds of work that is being undertaken by Marc Freedman of Civic Ventures and by Jack Rosenthal at ReServe. In other words, older people should continue to contribute to society.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey celebrates the arrival of spring in Play Ball.]