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One Old Woman's Solitude

Breeding Fear of Growing Old

As far as I can see there is a concerted effort, perhaps even a cabal when I am feeling fanciful, to scare the bejesus out of old people and keep it that way unto our graves.

There is no escaping it – it's everywhere you look: television, movies, books, magazines, internet, billboards and definitely the popular medical literature.

On the one hand, they remind us how wonderful it is that we are living decades longer than at any previous time in history. But that is exactly as far as the good news goes. After that, it is all about inducing terror, anxiety, distress, fear and dread.

You may think they are benign, those advertisements for things that some old people need – walk-in bathtubs, chair lifts for stairs, electric scooters and medical alert devices.

There would be nothing wrong with those adverts except that if you don't count dubious life insurance, they are all that is advertised in the AARP magazine and its ilk which is otherwise filled with stories about toe fungus, incontinence and smelly feet.

With such icky disorders as those, how are elders to go about all that online dating the same media tells us is all the fashion these days.

And it doesn't stop there. Everywhere you turn there are medications for yucky problems connected to every known body part: constipation, hair loss, low testosterone, insomnia, erectile dysfunction along with dry mouth and dry vaginas.

But these are the least of it. In recent years, Alzheimer's and the other dementias are the most popular scare stories. Something like 50 percent of elders, they daily surmise, will wind up in the back room of a care home staring vacantly into space as each body function slowly disintegrates.

Other reports warn that even that minor dignity, someone to change our diapers, may soon not be available for everyone who needs it. (I'm not so sure. Not so sure there will be that many of us in the dementia wards and not so sure there won't be enough caregivers. But we'll tackle that another day.)

Following dementia in the big-deal, diseases-of-age category are, of course, the old favorites that refuse to be cured or even treated with much success: cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's, etc.

Old people have seen enough of these in family, friends and others to worry about them all by ourselves without the all-too-frequent reminders in the media.

And it doesn't stop with recitations of the diseases and decline. According to stand-up comics and the daily stream of ad hominem jokes in all media, old people are guilty of a range of sins from being ugly to walking or driving too slowly, eating dinner at 4PM, being tech ignorant and, of course, for having all those icky conditions mentioned above.

But humor is an age-old method of facing our fears and Crabby Old Lady* has trouble blaming those comedians and the audiences who laugh at their jokes when they hardly ever see anything except the most distressing portrayals of growing old.

The fact is that the majority of old people make it to their deaths living independently with (and without) afflictions they adapt to and manage while enjoying as great a variety of interests as young people have. Different, maybe. Less athletic in many cases. But just an individual.

The reason hardly anyone knows this is that the cultural fear mongers drown out the real story of growing old, breeding fear and making it harder for everyone, young and old alike, to know what a valuable and worthwhile time of life elderhood is.

* UPDATE: Ha! I originally wrote this in my Crabby Old Lady guise, then changed my mind but obviously missed removing this one Crabby reference. Oh well.


Thanks for those last 2 paragraphs. I feel much the same. Going on 72, I enjoy my life and hope to continue enjoying it until I leave the planet.

I'm going to keep dancing, writing, cycling, thinking, planning, laughing, learning, exploring, being myself, swearing when shite happens, giving back, right to the finish line.

Scaring seniors.

Profit driven media bull crap.

We weren't born yesterday.


They may try to scare us in order to sell their gadgets and gimmicks, but they rarely succeed. We who are already there know what to fear and what to ignore. Or at least those of us with any sense do.

That's the spirit, ladies. Profit-driven media indeed! But while we weren't born yesterday and most of us will think for ourselves, the overwhelming weight of the negative images takes energy to fight and is insidious if we are not aware of what is going on. I am all for publishing as much anti anti-aging propaganda as possible and encourage everyone to post and repost the positive everywhere you can.

It's obvious that there are a lot of people making money off us (old folks). As an old advertising guy, I know that there are two things that help sell products, fear and sex. Since the latter ain't working out for many of us (or at least that's what those young whippersnapper ad men think) then the only thing left is the fear factor. Fortunately, most of us see through the ruse and pay no attention to the hype. Chances are we will do what we have always done. Buy products that are truly useful, are well made and priced right.

It is crucially important to remember that it is not just old people who are affected by this constant barrage of fear mongering about elders. Younger people - children and adults - see little else and it affects public policy, erroneous beliefs about old age, legislation, Social Security, Medicare and other so-called "entitlements," funds for caregiving, attitudes toward elders in general and more.

Fear mongering, bad jokes and the rest have real-world, negative consequences and even if you don't believe them, millions of other people do and it does/will affect not just you but your children, grandchildren and beyond.

I just don't read the "old folks' magazines.

It's just media doing their thing: "If it bleeds, it leads." Old people going about their normal everyday lives are boring. But those with frightening diseases or infirmities, those make for exciting copy. And they are the obvious targets for advertisers who can "fix" their problems. At 72, I trust my doctors and my own experience to tell me what to do and what, if anything, to fear. The media and the advertisers don't know me or my situation, and as far as I'm concerned, they can take a long walk off a short pier.

I'm going to try and not sound too sexist here, but I have noted from observing my friends who are growing older, that women find this kind of stuff more scary than men. Among my male friends, we laugh at these ads. This has led me to believe that women hate getting older more than men, even though they prove sturdier at going the distance. I understand if this is a delusion on my part from theorizing from a small sample population. But another bit of evidence that backs my feelings on this, is many of my lady friends tell me movies about old people depress them. I love films about older people because movies about young people are starting to depress me.

News Clip: I asked a senior living magazine, which has been very successful in my city, to include a little clip about my blog. "I can't do that," said the editor, "since we are no longer focusing on seniors over the age of 60. We prefer to reach the demographic beginning at age 50. " This magazine has built a solid readership serving elderly seniors, who have no other publication dedicated to them. So the anti-age fear mongering has scored another victim. Let them live and learn, I say. No one of age 50, in my experience, wants to read a "senior" magazine!

I am going to go on doing what I enjoy doing for as long as I can physically and mentally do them. I plan to travel; I plan to spend a LOT of time at a bridge table; I plan to see my great-grandsons marry (they are all three under 3 years); I plan to celebrate by 50th wedding anniversary (I'm 70 - have 17-1/2 years go to). The only thing that will stop me is a terminal illness, in which case I will get all of my affairs in order and make sure my will and distribution of assets is as I like them; I will take one last "dream trip"; and I will come home and suck a tailpipe!!! I will NOT---I absolutely refuse---to put my family through the financial and emotional toll of seeing me through a final illness to a death. I despise the idea of taking all steps to stay alive, while watching my family fall apart emotionally and financially.

For the record, I have determined long ago that I am NOT old, and I don't think I will ever get old. "OLD" is always 10 years older than I am!!! I pay little attention to all of the hype in the media about getting old and the pitfalls that can come my way. I'll make my way, and when I'm gone, I hope my family can say that I left with dignity and love.

In my opinion, most of the fear mongering ones are the ones that have the most fear of growing old and are just spreading their own fears far and wide!

The rest of them are the ones trying to sell products -- it's called marketing strategy and is based on the old carrot and the stick method that says people want to run away from pain or head toward pleasure.

In 2001 or so I saw a full-page ad in Utne Reader of all places selling some quack nostrum with the headline "Aging is a Disease." I went ballistic and fired off a nastygram to Utne and got a (I think) sincere apology for letting that ad run with that headline.

But the bottom line, as always, is the bottom line. And the bottom line is that if you can't use sex to sell something, use fear. (Fear of no sex is even better!)

Advertising is the art of appealing to human intelligence in order to overcome it. (Sinclair Lewis I think).

By hooking in the lizard brain with promises of sex/status (status = sex access) or fear of harm, you bypass the critical thinking filters and grab people by the brainstem.

The brilliant Marian Nestle ("Food Politics" and other great books) says that advertising is a reliable guide to products of no value or value far below the price --- because that's why they have to be advertised to sell. It's a great rule -- don't eat anything you see advertised, don't buy any nostrums or products you weren't already seeking out before you saw the ad.

JIm, women fear aging more than men because we have created a society in which men die much sooner and women live longer, but much more often in poverty.

Ask all your women friends if they fear being a bag lady. You'll be shocked at how pervasive this fear is. It's a pretty accurate measure -- women know that, in America, your value to society is pretty much determined by how much you consume. Once you are not a voracious consumer, you are not of interest to anyone buy yourself and your friends.

Nancy L, we're very much on the same page re "exit strategy" at the end of life. My husband and I had to have our 13+ Y/O cat put down three weeks ago, and I couldn't help but think "what a peaceful, pain-free way to go". Yet, the religious fundamentalist nuts think they have the right to determine how I spend my last days and how I leave this earth. They have a perfect right to determine this for themselves, but how dare they presume to choose for me.

At almost 79 (in January), I'm 8 years older than you are. I didn't begin to notice age until about a year ago when I was involuntarily retired from my job. I'm still basically healthy but "nuisance" ailments like tendonitis have begun to limit my activities somewhat and sap my usually high energy. Nuisance ailments can definitely have a negative impact on one's joie d'vivre. Even so, I don't buy all the negative stuff I read/hear about getting old. Most media are supported by selling advertising and, as many have pointed out, fear (especially of old age) sells. The marketing folks will keep at it, so it's up to us not to buy through fear. And, yes, I do think that getting older is harder on women for lots of reasons, mainly economic, cultural and social.

Wow-what a great subject today! I really feel better having read it and the comments. I know that marketing is based on fear in many cases. I try to ignore it but it does seem to pop up everywhere. I wish it did not. I really live each day by how I feel and not a number. I have always done that. This is not to say that I am ignoring the fact that I have more days behind than ahead. I can't change that or anything about the past but I can live in the present and enjoy. I do find that as I become less able, I am more vulnerable to the ads. Still I have always worked things out in my way and not been bullied into buying things for old people or disabled people. I buy things based on my needs and wants. I do know the power of suggestion that advertising can have, so I mute commercials and stay away from certain publications.

AARP should rename itself AASRP, Someday Retired Persons, they have lost interest in anyone much over 50 as well. I won't renew the next time around.

John Gear is right to a degree, I do worry about the "bag lady" possibility. But while aging and health do matter for me and my friends, it's more about money. Will it last? Will I outlive it? Forty years of professional work at 70% percent of my male colleagues reduced my retirement nest egg to begin with and this recent slump in the market just ate another big chunk. I'm not needing to apply as a Greeter at Walmart yet but...

As a retired New Yorker who always enjoyed reading the New York Times it has over the last few years changed radically. It now depresses me with a constant flow of articles on dying and illness.

Thanks so much for this post and all the comments. So often, Ronni, you come up with some concern that has been shadowing me, indeed undermining me without my recognizing it.

I truly enjoy my life these days and berate myself for not "doing more, "while at the same time lamenting the narrowing margin of my life, feeling as if the next shoe is overdue to drop --both a waste of precious time, of course. Then along comes one of your spot on posts.

Diane, you are absolutely right. I have 3 children in their 50's. They would never consider reading a publication for seniors. They look at me like I have lost my mind when I encourage them to go for the senior discount. Oh the ignorance of some of the young. They will be here some day.

Loved your post! You made us laugh which is good for our health!
You couldn't be more right. I say to my husband that I feel besieged by that stuff in magazines and the papers. If I turn on the radio to hear the weather, I have to get it just right, or we are treated to info concerning some awful thing we must look "forward" to that will most likely happen to us - if we live that long! Then I quickly turn it off. My husband just pays no attention.
If only I could be like that!

Agree, good post, esp. the last two paragraphs. Reminds me of the quote I found on Kathy Gottberg's blog, from Carl Jung, on what he discovered about happiness and the aging process. “A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs,” wrote Jung. “The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Note to advertising geniuses who think seniors don't matter:

Drop everything right now and go see the movie "Grandma," starring Lily Tomlin.

Seniors don't matter?

Come over here and say that.

John - thanks for the reminder of Marian Nestle and her books on food and how to feed one's pets. I'd followed Adele Davis back in the 70s, then found MN when I became a vegetarian and passionate about healthy foods and nutrition.

No longer do anti-aging ads, etc., get my goat (what does that mean??) like they once did. I do as I please, mostly, and feel satisfied in finding comfort and self- worth by focusing on living in the present - sounds new age-y perhaps, but it works to keep the negatives and those who profit from the meanness of using fear -- a good distance away. They want to instruct us on how to think and feel.' You'd think they were experts in the field of aging - nooo, they want to manipulate your mind, for their often financial benefit. They are the modern snake oil salesmen-women.

Good to hear from Crabby Old Lady, Ronni...we can never have too many reminders to be vigilant about where we place our trust.and everyone's comments, as always. are much appreciated.
Doctafill, I love your "dukes-up" attitude!


Senior cat tiptoes into a bar, sits down, orders a beer.

Sees a ripped senior bobcat sitting to his right.

Bobcat is thumbing through a magazine.

Bobcat flings the magazine over his shoulder.

"Who names a magazine AARP?"

"Say, what?"

Says cat.



Bobcat leans toward cat..


Bartender rushes over.

"If I told you once, I told you fifty times. No belching in my bar. You cats know what happens to belchers.

Antonio comes outta the back room and plays tic tac toe on your sorry asses."

Now, shut your hairy pie holes."

John Gear I recently read a book called Spinster by Kate Bolick and she discussed studies on how many women fear becoming a bag lady. It's very common for women who never married, or who married but didn't have children. Many of my lady friends have expressed fears of becoming a bag lady. Spinster is one of the best books I've read this year. It came out this summer, and I've already read it twice.

On the other hand, most of the ads we see on TV that scare people about getting older deal with the body failing in various ways. And I wonder if the issues they sell too are the very ones that make us feel old. We won't feel old until we have to use those products. So as long as we don't use their products we can still think of ourselves as young.

But I don't define getting old by my body, but my mind. Even when I was young, I figured I could handle wrinkles, going bald and ED. What scares me is dementia. Adult diapers, hearing aids and dentures sound unpleasant, but not scary like forgetting who I am.

If somebody wants to make a mint off people growing older, then instead of focusing on what's frightening and hopeless, why not a larger, reasonably priced, widespread and varied system of services helpful to older people, buildings and streets and transportation friendly to older people, restaurants and coffeehouses and gathering places that welcome older people?

Super post and comments! I am happy to find Crabby back in her bully pulpit.. Keep telling it like it is, Crabby.

Attitude matters to me more than physical decline. Illegitimi non carbarundum!

Like Diane who asked about putting her blog in a "senior" local publication, we have such a monthly called Prime Time, They are happy to advertise local restaurants' early bird offerings but never print articles about people over 60 -- maybe it's the Boomer generation, mostly in their 50s, these publications think they must appeal to. Our (Cape Cod) population is over 13% year round residents who are retired but this magazine doesn't recognize them.

To touch on another angle of the same theme: the current movie with Lily Tomlin called Grandma, written by a man, is billed as a comedy. The only funny line came early in the movie when Tomlin's character says something like "you forget, I'm almost 60" (She hasn't seen 60 for many years). The movie is not a comedy, unless you think watching a woman play one emotion -- anger -- for well over an hour is funny. This is not a "crabby old lady" this is a parody of a woman who hates her life and just about everything and everyone except her granddaughter. I've met two people in the last week (women in their early 60s) who walked out of the movie. I stayed to the end thinking it had to get better -- it did, marginally.

Loved this article Ronni, it's all too true….and agree with Emily, as a New Yorker I skip many NY Times features which increasingly focus on diseases and dying, several times a week. I have to censor my reading for my own mental health (I'm 80)..

Any one who doesn't think aging is scary isn't living with an Alzheimer's spouse. Alzheimer's victims don't even get the chance to "suck on a tail pipe" as someone above put it, unless they aggressively plan ahead as soon as their get their diagnosis. When you can't even remember you have Alzheimer's there's not much planning you can do, and any assistance would leave the assisting person open to danger. The exclusion of the non compos mentis from aid in dying has to be changed via earlier approved paperwork requesting assistance after x, y or z stage of the disease. But the Compassion and Choices people won't touch it for fear of triggering "slippery slope" opposition.

Feb 6 2016 in Canada we can choose assisted suicide in the early stages of Alzheimer's while still legally competent. The problem is that seniors avoid cognitive testing like the plague, doctor's don't do it routinely and they miss the window. You need to do something like the SAGE test from the University of Ohio every 6 months or so. Our Supreme Court has given us one of the broadest rulings in the world, you do not need to be terminal.
The appropriate remedy is therefore a declaration that s. 241 (b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code are void insofar as they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition. “Irremediable”, it should be added, does not require the patient to undertake treatments that are not acceptable to the individual.

I'll be seventy next May, and started this month to learn to play guitar. And joined a book club. I couldn't afford to do it when younger and raising a family because I didn't have either the time or the finantial means I enjoy presently. I finished my master's in Gerontology this year and I'll start teaching (free) in a Senior university next semester. I had to grow older to be able to do so much. Enjoy the senior years, they bring opportunities you may have missed when younger.

I can't tell you how much reading all these comments today has helped me. Although I suspected much of what has been mentioned is true, marketing to fear, bias against elders and not basing your identity on other's opinions, I have come to a tough spot. Coming from a situation of being a 4 year 24 hr.7day caregiver for my late husband has left me with much residual depression and PTSD. Moving on , although I have engaged in many new activities, is proving harder than I realized. I do not believe in anti depressants and other repressive forms of mind control, hoping to find a more holistic method of coping, I am at the end of my rope..The major culprit is lack of sleep, it has taken over how I spend my time. My next stop is applying for a mj medical card as a friend has had much luck with improved sleep using a small amount of this product. Anyone else with experience with this? I will start with a physical today, as much as I do not like going to Doc, I hope to rule out somethings and find a starting point. I thought of going back to school for Masters but am 78, should that matter? I have a lot of interests and I am a retired nurse.


Go for it. Begin that Masters program. Do whatever you want, with abandon of any regret or others' opinions.

I also have sleep problems - try the mj. I've worked with acupuncture and herbs, neither really working consistently. I have used TCM(traditional Chinese Medicine) successfully for mood assist. Do whatever you need to do to live your life as you choose.

Best of luck and fortune and magic. Be attentive. There are many of us out here.

No worries for me. I consider those icky things concerning the elderly, people like us, as the yellow line on the road. As long as you don't drive on the other side, you can go as slow or as fast as you can.

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