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Getting Old Might Soon Get Easier

category_bug_ageism.gif Last week, one of the fluorescent tubes, hidden behind a decorative panel at the top of my kitchen cupboards, burned out for the first time since I moved here last May. To remove it and see what I needed to buy as a replacement involved climbing up a too-short ladder onto the kitchen counter and, hanging on to that decorative panel – lightly in case it is not well-attached - peering over the top.

I cannot say I was frightened. At nearly 70, I have not noticed any balance difficulties. But I am aware that my legs, nowadays, don't have the springiness of youth and I didn't want to risk what might happen if, due to a mis-step in the awkward standing space, I needed to jump to the floor to keep from falling.

So I moved up, then down carefully and slowly.

I recall being furious when I first heard the baby boomer anthem “50 is the new 30” which, some say, was coined by AARP – blast them! Nothing could be further from the truth.

You can eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep and still, in time, joints will stiffen, muscles will tighten, eyesight and hearing will fade to varying degrees and short-term memory lapses will give you fits. (Why am I standing here on the kitchen counter?) If you live long enough, it will all get worse. That is the nature of aging and it doesn't help any of us to deny it.

It is no secret that age demographics have been shifting upward for years. By 2050, the 60 and older population will grow from about 12 percent today to about 20 percent. Yet age is so abhorrent to the culture in general that business, manufacturers, retailers and advertisers have ignored the life realities of this growing market.

That may be about to change.

On Saturday, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times published stories indicating that business is beginning to see the light – that is, realizing there is money to made from elders.

At my age and sensibility, I find it irritating that both articles make a big deal about how important it is, in targeting an older market, to camouflage the accommodation being made to old people's needs so not to insult baby boomers by indicating they are old now. But I'll take the improvements any way I can get them.

First, some out-takes from the Journal:

• “Surreptitiously, companies are making typefaces larger, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding yellows and blues in packaging - two colors that don't appear as sharply distinct to older eyes.”

• “Depend has introduced gender-specific versions and briefs with fashionable prints that imitate regular underwear. Some Depend packaging is labeled "underwear" and disguised to look like packs of cloth underwear.”

• “Sherwin-Williams...has subtly redesigned its 3,400 stores to make them more comfortable to older browsers. They now have more lighting and seating and serve coffee in most locations. Product displays feature less fine print, hence fewer squinting shoppers.”

• “After noticing older shoppers struggling to read its cat-litter packaging, Arm & Hammer began sharpening the color contrast for the text and gradually increasing the font size, which is now about 20% bigger than it was five years ago.”

• “Diamond Foods Inc. carefully engineered the packaging of its Emerald snack nut line to accommodate the declining agility of baby boomers' hands.”

• “Walgreen has introduced easier-to-open packages on its private-label painkillers and incontinence products, and expanded its vitamin aisles.”

The Times' story takes a more empathetic and long-term view of the business opportunities presented by elders starting with the MIT Age Lab aging suit officially known as AGNES or Age Gain Now Empathy System that helps designers create or modify products to the benefit of elders.

The newspaper produced this little video of the reporter, 45-year-old Natasha Singer, trying it out.

It is not just everyday products that are being designed with elders in mind, but overall, daily livability. There is a project here in Portland, Oregon, reported on in the Times story, that is testing home health technology and concepts that will help elders live longer independently than in the past.

Volunteers are testing these concepts at Mirabella, a high-rise, luxury building outfitted with new aging technology that,

“...conveniently located next to Oregon Health and Science University, enables residents to stay as healthy, engaged and socially connected as possible...

“...wireless motion sensors, installed in their apartments, track their mobility and, by extension, their health status in real time.”

Some other technologies include a wireless pillbox that reminds residents to take their medication, fall prevention sensors and an experimental robot that provides a variety of services.

This is an expensive proposition, although as the idea grows, costs should come down. But according to Eric Dishman, the global director of health innovation at Intel, there is a snag:

“Because of ageism, Mr. Dishman says, many retailers aren’t ready to make space for such products and many companies don’t even want to develop them.

“'Life enhancement technology for boomers is a chicken-and-egg problem,' he says. Is 'the market going to take the first plunge, or are companies going to create technologies without knowing whether we can sell it?'”

Meanwhile, lacking a robot to help, I am now going to climb up on the kitchen counter again – slowly and carefully - to install the new tube.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: Discrimination


When the ADA began demanding changes in physical and online spaces to accommodate people with disabilities, they soon discovered that the changes benefitted everyone. These changes aimed at elders will have the same results. What's good for one segment of the population is good for everyone.

I know of one thing that has helped me as I age. My eyesight is still good but I found myself squinting at some on the small print on blog and web pages. Then my son pointed out that if I hit the Control key (CTRL) along with the plus (+/=) key it will enlarge the print. What a find for me! Perhaps others know about this little trick but I bet there are some that will be as delighted as I was to know about it. One thing, on a few sites this trick doesn't work. --- barbara

I guess getting up on the porch roof by climbing out our bedroom window into deep snow in order to get at the monstrous icicles forming (didn't want them to pull the gutter down) would be frowned upon. Oh, I'm 68.
Sigh. I suppose I wont do what I'm used to (so many other things too) and bite the bullet. I'll stay off the roof.

Please consider instead going to Home Depot or Lowes and getting a taller aluminum ladder that folds. You can climb it safely, and we won't worry. My friend Harriette had years of Graduate students to call on to do tasks like this. You might also consider finding a "Graduate Student" of your own willing to climb ladders for you.

I'm happy to hear about the larger typeface, because as a writer who is also a reader, I now find myself simply rejecting books at the library or Barnes and Noble that are published in ultra-small print simply, I guess, to lower the printing costs.

Makes me mad.

I would really welcome those fall prevention sensors. Falling again is a major fear of mine. I won't get up on a step stool any more.

I have a friend, a retired architect, who volunteered on a city commission that was trying to pass a law that all new houses had to have doors wide enough for a wheelchair, a ramp for same, and grab bars in the toilets. We wrote letters to the editors, contacted everyone we knew to back this legislation and the Home Builders fought it tooth and nail so nothing ever came of it. I believe they were being very short sighted. It would only have added a few hundred dollars to the price of the house; not enough to kill a sale.

The Disability Act apparently does not apply to private homes.

I am so cynical about all business - large and small - these days that I think the reason home builders fought the legislation is to ensure additional income when elders need to retrofit those homes.

It's always more expensive to retrofit than do it right in the first place.

And as Virginia points out above, it is well known that all improvements for old people benefit everyone of all ages.

Be careful, Ronni!!! I am fortunate to have teenagers who like to help. There are kids who like old folks and parents who think they should help. Bryce and Joey keep my walks cleared of snow and change ceiling light bulbs. They also make me laugh and I need that, too.

Senior centers in my area offer handyman, snow removal, lawn care and bus services for seniors at low rates.
It's worth a call to see if those type of services are available in your area.

Firefox has many add on features for easier reading.

There are some light weight medium size ladders with extension handles that fold and store neatly in a closet.
I got mine at Costco.

Be careful. At 60 I climbed the ladder and stepped onto the kitchen countertop to dust the shelf over the cabinets.
Ready to come down I missed the stepladder. Fell and fractured some ribs and it really frightened me. Have had a number of falls but lucky to have never broken anything. Now past 70 - I surely do not need to break something. Sooo
since then I am not comfortable on a ladder.

Yes, those changes are occurring here, too at almost 64. I now take extra care as my balance is not what it was five years ago. I have exercised regularly, but now I think I need to add routines that rewire my brain and improve balance. About the new products, maybe we elders ought to pool some pennies and provide venture capital for a new company to develop products, maybe AID, Age's Independent Design, Inc. ( I already ruled out Aging Sustainability Systems!).

Now let's ask restaurants do stop dimming the lights. I went into a restaurant that I had been to two years ago and couldn't read the menu because the light was so dim. They brought me a flashlight but why should I have to have a flashlight to read a menu.

Well, Hallelujah, at least there is some attention being paid! I swear at toilet paper dispensers IN HANDICAPPED STALLS, no less, that are wrongly placed for handicapped access, have been locked into those same stalls twice, and had to knock to be admitted to the hand clinic, for God's sake, that had a slippery round door knob! Even the accessible housing where I live requires 2 hands to open the locked inner door. Where am I supposed to put my cane and packages while I do that. AARGH!

I really need to do a post about this, with pictures. I've just bought a very unelder-like and unlady-like new Ford vehicle. I quickly discovered they've put in a little extra segment in the side mirrors that enables the driver to see what is next to her. No more blind spot. Having spent over 40 years turning my head to see what there, I still do it. But I am not as agile as once was and this is a tremendously useful aid.

My pet peeve is the teeny writing on my favorite large bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The bottles look identical and - duh!- I don't wear my glasses in the shower! So I slipped one of those rubber bracelets sold as fundraisers on my shampoo bottle - no more problem! BUT... why can't they just print SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in big print on the bottles?

I second Madge's suggestion--Get a good safe ladder that let's you reach what you need without danger. A couple of years ago I got a very good ladder--non-skid feet and steps, an extension to hold on to and a little table near the top to place whatever tools you need. It is very light and folds and unfolds easily. Wasn't at all expensive and now I can change a ceiling light bulb without feeling that I'm endangering myself. I got it from Amazon and it is made by Cosco (Cosco, not Costco) although there are probably other good ones--read the reviews.

I'm also glad to see that companies are trying to make things easier for us.

As someone who hopes never to leave his 23 acres in the country, being able to read, read, lift, carry etc. without help is increasingly on my mind. Glad to hear that there may be some help on the horizon.

Danged spell-check....

Make that: "read, reach"

I turn sixty this summer. I have always done heavy physical labor, but about four years ago I knew that I had to go more slowly when I did it.

I have also spent the past several years getting rid of lots of things in my house because I noticed I was bumping into stuff more regularly.

It took awhile before I was able to attribute these changes to my aging, but aging it is indeed.

I am a baby boomer, and I have lots of anger about how ridiculous so many of my generation is about refusing to admit they are old.

I have experienced much freedom in my attitude by "getting" it. The realization that I am old happened within the past year.

I love your blog, Ronnie.



I hope by now your are off the counter, Ronni.

I meant you, dammit. It's the font's fault.

Wow - now I can read your blog better, Ronni; kudos to all for the suggestion of enlargment....IF IN DOUBT HIRE - that is my philosophy - but you should have maintainence at your homne - when my parents lived in a condo - they had that...(and it was for low income folks)


All I can say is this


And don't do it again.

Old people have "problems" which can be solved by "products."
Why does this not gladden my heart?

I'm 62 - one of the older boomers - and glad to be part of a driving market force that will allow older people's lives to be enriched. Although in good health, active and involved in life around me, I am continually amazed at the challenges and changes my body is now presenting to me!

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