ELDER MUSIC: Greg Brown and Family
Old/Young Friendship

The Shifting Sands of (My) Ageing

Over the weekend a friend who has been active in elder issues for many years said to me that he had mostly stopped reading about ageing, that everything important has been said.

We had other things to talk about and didn't pursue that line of thought for any distance but I recognized that without having made a deliberate decision, I too have been reading less about growing old for at least a year.

Although I still follow two or three dozen elder issues and topics in the news most days I am, after these 21 or 22 years at age research, a master at knowing from headlines and first sentences if I need to read further.

Books too have become easier to choose. With the exception of a handful of remarkable writers and thinkers, most often the answer is don't bother. There is a lot of repetition going on.

When I started studying growing old in 1995 – in my mid-fifties - there was hardly any popular or even academic writing about it and certainly not in any positive sense. Mostly it was about how awful ageing is and everyone should do anything possible, spend any amount of time and money to avoid it.

It was so widespread, I thought, “Geez, if it's going to be this bad, I may as well shoot myself now,” but I was too curious about how the future would play out for me to take myself seriously. (And I secretly never believed it is so awful.)

In books and magazines and videos and such, during the intervening years, a growing number of people have recognized that growing old has been unnecessarily maligned but nothing has changed in the overall culture:

After age 50, hardly anyone, no matter how qualified, can find a good job. Comedians still build careers with grandpa incontinence jokes. And the soft tyranny of ageist stereotypes in all corners of society continues without letup.

We are so accustomed to ageist representations of old people that even elders themselves don't notice. Here is an example from four or five years ago but if you pay attention, you'll see them every day.


This one which is widely used in many north American and European cities helps sustain the belief that old age is synonymous with sick and unhealthy. For the record, it is not.


Without having as much external input from others about growing old now that I'm reading less, here are some of the items that have been rattling around in my own head recently; obviously not fully developed (each one could be a blog post) but I think you'll get the point.

My age is only part of who I am but because all people are trained from the cradle to reject old age, it is the first and, most of the time, the only thing others think is important to know about me.

Of course, my age has a influence on how I see the world. At minimum that difference, after living all this time and always being a curious sort, is that I have a lot more knowledge and information to call on in making decisions and forming opinions.

Just because sometimes mine is not the “cool” point of view doesn't make me wrong nor invalidate my ideas. But too often old people are dismissed in what they say merely because they are old. And it is okay, in our culture, to do so with condescending amusement: “Isn't she cute, that old woman.”

Too many old people are in the closet about their age - from extreme cosmetic surgery that is always apparent to being coy about the actual number of their years.

What the deniers need to understand is that every time they pretend to be younger than they are or lie about their age or present themselves as “not like those other old people,” they reinforce tolerance of ageist behavior. They are part of the problem.

Those “get-off-my-lawn” old guys. (I suppose there are also women of this type.) Too often old people are their own worst enemies.

Way too many younger adults are talking about what it's like to be old and how old people should live and arrange their lives. You are free to call me a slow learner but all on my own without help from anyone else, I have learned two – and ONLY two – truths I believe in, in my seven-and-half decades:

  1. With the possible exception of trained medical personnel, no one knows anything about what it's really like to be old until they get there.

  2. The second one doesn't apply today but if you're curious: If it is happening to me, it is happening to millions of other people

It is long past time when people who make decisions about old people, individually and collectively - whether they are scientists, social workers, caregivers or government policy makers – must include one and preferably more old people in forming conclusions and making choices that will affect elders.

On a personal level, I am surprised that I haven't changed as much as I thought I would by now when I was younger.

For all the years I've packed on, I'm still carrying the same baggage from my upbringing as I did when I was 20 or 30 (I just see it more clearly now). The major emotional experiences of my adult years get in the way of my behavior pretty much as they did back then which is to say, not attractively.

But as I wrote a few posts ago, I'm done with self-improvement. Little, if anything, will change about me now. Maybe old people are all like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”

* * *

There's a lot going on in Washington about meetings between Russian representatives and Trump associates during the election campaign and now in the White House.

Many citizens – even a large number of Republicans – are calling for a special prosecutor (or someone similar) to investigate these issues. The White House and many Congressional Republicans, especially those who head up intelligence committees, are trying to avoid doing this with the usual, "Move along, nothing to see here, folks."

This is just a reminder to keep up your calls to your representatives in Congress. I assume you have your telephone numbers. If not and you have a smartphone, you can download 5 Calls that makes it easy for you. It's available for iPhones and Android phones.

Last week, TGB reader janinsanfran who blogs at Since It Has Happened Here told us about another service she uses called Daily Action. Give them your phone number and Zip Code and they will text you a daily action alert. Obviously, you need a text-messaging phone for this to work but most so-called "dumb phones" can do that.


Not your business! I consider personal information like my weight, my height (I'm a six-sigma height), the size of my bank balance and, yes, my age to be nobody's business except my own. Obviously my physician needs to know age, height and weight... and my financial guy needs the bank balance but random strangers and friends sometimes ask... and I try to appeared shocked (or deaf) when they do. Say what?!

For several years, I participated in a performance group composed of women over age 55. The youngest was 55. The oldest in her late 70's. Once in a while members of our audience would ask for a run down of ages... and most of our performers would fess up which was their privilege. I always gave a totally absurd number... like 22 or occasionally 103! Big laugh... and they moved on. Not relevant... have we entertained you... or not?

I understand that all this information (well not my weight... I hope) is easily available on the internet these days. Some of it is correct.

I get irritated when people find out my age when I mention it in a conversation or anywhere, and comment: "oh, you don't LOOK 70!" I reply, " This is what 70 LOOKS like."

Why do people think I would be flattered to be told I look younger than my actual age?

I like "I am done with self improvement". Pretty much my philosophy these days!

Thanks for this, Ronni. As you know, because you've been my mentor in learning, I was much more engaged with learning about aging five years ago than I am today. Now, at nearly 70, very fortunate in many respects, I'm just aging because that is what we do. I am lucky enough to have quite a few friends who are a couple of decades older, so I am learning from them too. But, mostly, I am just living aging, not thinking about it or fearing what cannot be prevented. Living remains interesting, sometimes surprising, occasionally delightful. So there it is.

Old people are stereotyped because, let's face it, many of us are stereotypes.
Visit any senior community and you will find cranky, crooked, cantankerous, cane wielding curmudgeons wandering aimlessly around the premises who dress funny, talk funny and, I am sorry to say, smell funny.
This is due mostly to the fact that people are too afraid to tell us the truth for fear that they may offend somebody. And perish forbid we should offend an old person. Therefore they permit us to wallow in our ageist behavior pattern as if it was something we enjoyed.
Personally, I want somebody to tell me I'm acting like an old fool.
Sometimes a good (metaphoric) slap in the face is what we need to bring us back to reality.

Great post Ronni, and I recognize that friend you were talking to in there. I would add a third truth to your well thought out two however. I have come to believe approaching my 80th year beginning in a few months that we really do age differently, and that for some we still can grow significantly by pursuing areas of study that add a level of understanding ourselves and others that make life at least more interesting if not enlightened. To put a blanket over all of us ageing in the same way allows as ageing as some do is both dangerous and limiting, as so many still do in their writing. We are different in more ways than when we were younger, thank goodness, AND we can still grow in unique and exciting ways.

I don't read about ageing much any more but do read about the Enneagram, death and dying and the history of humanity from the developmental point of view, both spiritual and sociological.

End of the Line by the Traveling Wilburys is a lighthearted and uplifting song, especially this verse ...
Well it's all right, even if you're old and grey
Well it's all right, you still got something to say
Well it's all right, remember to live and let live
Well it's all right, the best you can do is forgive

True enough, we are old and grey, and we still have something to say, especially about politics!

I've reached saturation point as well, more so since I started my blog two years ago, and began to do research into (now familiar) ageist issues. I know very little has changed, but the sheer volume of online and printed media output means that at least our issues are being 'aired'! There is still one aspect that infuriates me though—the insistence of sales and service people calling old people "Dear". (and that goes for older women AND men). I know there are more important issues, but this one gets me every time!

I have stopped reading TGB on a regular basis, except for Saturdays, for at least 6 months, because I got fed up with reading about aging. I'm pretty well informed about the subjects you write about. I'm almost 84 and though the number shocks me it does not bother me when I'm told "you look much younger". So I'm old. So what!

I always find your blogs so right on. I have found that aging and retirement are best described by people doing it rather than watchers.

Well, Ronnie, don’t get discouraged. There are still lots of issues. I’ve been helped and encouraged by your writing and your readers’ comments over many topics. Many bear repeating from time to time and will also be helpful for new readers as they begin to face the changes that come with aging.

One I’ve become sensitized to lately is maintaining autonomy. From adult children to helpers and certainly to television ads — even to gerontologists — I’ve noticed how younger people have a tendency to assume they know what is “best” for an elderly person.

So many “shoulds" and “should nots.” Very little about the importance to each person’s well being to be able to choose for oneself.

This is such a soap box issue for me that I don’t know if I can contain myself long enough to remain civil. My husband was in a nursing home for four years, I worked in two different nursing homes doing Quality Control and troubleshooting for 8 years. In addition to my Mortuary Science degree I also have a degree in Gerontology. In the beginning the Gerontology classes tried to dispel the myths of aging and then the rest of the classes fortified the myths…It was very frustrating. I found the personnel in the nursing homes from the Director on down to the Activities personnel to have a rather childish attitude about what activities would entertain the residents. There is a general inability to think critically in these facilities. Granted there are some excellent people working in our nursing homes, but they are few and overworked. The remainder are there to pick up their check and generally pull down the morale of the rest. It takes an act of God to get any improvements accomplished and things move very slowly up the chain of command while the residents wait and wait and wait for things to change (this includes health issues). Most activities are not very stimulating and are geared to the level of third graders and I doubt that will ever change. There is a general assumption that the residents are not capable of very much mental stimulation or intellectualizing. Bingo is an ongoing offering and Friday Happy Hour usually includes a novice guitar player playing you done me wrong songs (because they are volunteer and are free)…(and overlooking the fact that many residents are widowed or alone and these songs are sad) .I wondered if they handed out the anti-depressants before or after Happy Hour…..A favorite game was Simon Says……..Need I say more. Many nursing homes are closing or are being bought out by investment groups that step in and cut staffing and other activities. The home that my husband was in was given a five-star rating on Nursing Home Compare and he waited 19 months for a room to become available. After he got in we found out that it had been sold three times and the last group to buy it was an investment group that cut staffing and things generally went to Hell…( So much for my ability to do due diligence). My last memory of working in the nursing home was on Halloween when the help dressed up for Halloween. The Director of Nursing dressed up like an old man with a walker and walked around making loud sounds….God help us….The best motivator for our Gerontology professionals would be a lot of critical thinking education!!!! So, if we think it is ageist in the outside world....there is another whole frightening side to it inside the walls of our care centers, dearie!!

One angle about ageing that I've never seen anything about is the way that most services geared toward seniors assume we're not working. I'm 65 and working full-time. Our local senior center closes by 5:00, so there's no programming for people like me. I've looked for exercise classes at the local Y, but all the exercises geared for the 60+ crowd take place during the day. A friend pointed out that people over 60 are in some of the evening classes, and the instructor makes any necessary adjustments for them, but I'd prefer to be with my peers. More than that, though, I mind the assumption that everybody over 60-something is no longer working.

What really rankles is when you see ageism in yourself - and I do, all the time. It's part of the culture, just like racism and sexism. But if we keep on talking about it, maybe we'll eventually grow out of it.

Perish forbid, Diane. . .all the more reason to do all we can to stay healthy for as long as we can and to be in a position to have some control over how, when and where we end our lives!! IMO end-of-life laws need to be less restrictive, not more. I'm aware that the Far Right and some others hold different views (perhaps until they find themselves or a relative in that situation).

In the meanwhile I think it's TOTALLY wrong that nursing homes and other residences for elders can be operated as for-profit enterprises and that wealthy investors can reap ill-gotten gains at the expense of other human beings. Whenever profit comes into conflict with human service, it's usually a no-brainer to guess which one wins. Under The Orange Apparition's anti-regulatory regime, the situation is unlikely to improve and could get worse. This isn't good news for elders (or any other vulnerable populations) who cannot live independently for whatever reason.

The next stranger or salesperson who calls me "dear" or--even worse--"dearie" may get a piece of my mind AND a spritz of water in the face. I LOVE a current ad that shows a young man condescendingly "offering" to help an old woman cross the street. She turns and gives him a good dose of what appears to be pepper spray. Although I don't condone violence or causing pain to someone else on purpose, I sure do like the idea.

I'm pretty much done with self-improvement, too. Not that I can't improve--I just don't want to work at it as hard as I once did.

As someone who taught and wrote about old age long before I reached that state myself, I share many of the views expressed, especially a lack of desire to read another word about aging. Except for a wonderful book "The Long Life " by Helen Small. It is a scholarly yet highly readable tour of philosophical and literary musings. Check it out!

You rattled my cage again, Ronni! A while back, when visiting a new dental specialist, he entered the room and said, "Hello, Alice, how are we today?" I came back (perhaps unwisely, as he was a dentist with a working drill) with "I'm fine, Don, and how are you?" Throughout the entire course of treatment, I addressed him by his first name, sans title. He was not amused.

Essentially, I address people as they address me. It seems to work well and is one slight blow for dignity and civilized behavior. Although there may be something about me that seems to inhibit folks from calling me "dearie!" :)

As others have mentioned, nursing homes are scary! I have personally made every arrangement I can think of to stay out of them. when/if my health fails to a serious extent.

Finally, keep those helpful articles coming, Ronni. There are those of us who are just now approaching the threshold of 'old age' for whom this information is new and helpful and others of us who have been here a while, and could use a refresher course.

The opportunity to commiserate with our peers is a pretty good incentive too.

I was just thinking that how wonderful it would be to have a blog about aging that was written for the non-aged to read. Something like "Lessons learned from living this long" where could share positives about aging and carefully provide some sort of helpful life lessons that might appeal to a greater age range.

It is great to have this and other blogs to help us on this part of life's path. Ronni actually does make this interesting beyond just aging stuff which helps keeps it appealing to me.

Anyway just wondering about a different type of "aging blog" that might help deflate ageism. Is there anything like this out there?

I've reading your blog for a long time, seeing myself as aging along side of you and your other posters. I enjoy it and I'm glad to accept who I am in real time with some exceptions.

I try to share with my grandkids that I am much like them just wrinklier (and slower but they know that) in hopes of creating a knot of non-ageist future adults. And then some person looking much my age bombs through a red light or can't park their Gigantor Automobile and out of my mouth it comes, "old fill-in-the-blank." No one but the future pool of non-ageist kids hears me. Sigh. I have other special epitaphs for younger drivers.

I think we also need to be careful of ageism within our older age ranks. I'll be 70 next birthday and I have no idea what it's like to be 90 or 85 or 80 any age older than me. I need to be careful making assumptions about "old people" myself. (To be fair I have no idea what it's like to be 18 or 25 or 30 anymore. The world has changed so much since I was these ages that much of my idea of what it's like to be these ages does not even apply anymore -plus I'm not sure I accurately remember anymore - not an ageist comment just reality).

The stories shared by some here about nursing home conditions are awful and my experience with assisted living with my in-laws a few years ago only corroborate them. You might think in a privately owned facility for which people are paying ridiculous prices that things might be better. Maybe somewhere they are, but not any I could find around our area. Our governor of Illinois made his fortune, and it's a big one, from nursing homes. This is the governor who hasn't been able to craft and pass a budget since his election two years ago. Sheesh!

I took early retirement at age 56. I worked PT for a year after and tutored ESL to refugees. When ESL tutoring ended, I began to take more senior classes. These are exercise and arts & crafts classes. I often heard, in response to my age, "you're young". I may be young to you but I am not young to others and I don't feel young. I feel like I'm being dismissed when I am told "you're young". No, I'm not. I'm not young.

Your statement - I thought, “Geez, if it's going to be this bad, I may as well shoot myself now, - reminded me of something my daughter said when she was in high school. She said that she thought it was awful when people would say to teenagers - Enjoy yourself! These are the best years of your life. - She said if this was as good as it got, the future didn't look too good.

I've read all of your posts, Ronni, from the begining and far more enjoyed the ones on concerns of aging than the late political ones. I especially like all the comments. I'm not bothered in the least about aging except for two things. One is the health issues that can greatly change our lives and the absolute dread of ever having to go into a nursing home. I'd rather die right now than that. I saw my husband's end of life in one and the conditions and
and some of the care were deplorable. And it was a "good" one.

It doesn't bother me in the least to be called "dear" , "hon" or any of those things. I'm in the South and it is far better than "hey you."

I so wish we had liberal end of life laws like the Netherlands and had total control of when and where we chose to die, but it'll never happen here with the control the far right has. How did we become a country that religion of the far right has such control of the rest of us? How did this happen?

I love your blog and hope you keep it up until your last breath!

What Bruce said reminded me of a scene last week at the ILR where I volunteer busing tables once a week.

Me greeting resident Bella as she enters the dining room:

"Hi Bella, how are you doing?


"I hate it here. That new woman who moved In last week, you know the short one with frizzy hair? She keeps knocking on my door at night, and I told her to stop and she keeps knocking. I have to get up to see who it is, and you know what she does? She covers the peephole with her hand so I can't see who it is, and I open the door thinking it's my other friend, but it's Bella."


"You will have to talk to her, and kindly make it plain that you like your privacy."

"I hear you knocking, but you can't come in."

Ads touting life in ILR's tout togetherness, friendship, but it's not all strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.

You bring yourself wherever you go.

I always enjoy reading the comments and sometimes add my own. I would not want to read a Self Improvement book now but have in the past.

I started taking a Collage/Mixed Media art class about 2 years ago and except for having to drop out due to a knee injury for 6 months I wouldn't miss it for anything. It has made me a much happier person and easier (for my husband especially) to be around....I call it my "day off" when I take my weekly art project to class and pick up soup and muffin to eat during the critique. There have been a few women under 50 in the classes so far but many of the most unique, thought provoking works are completed by women (and 2 men) who are close to my age, now 77. I have shown my work in 3 gallery exhibitions since starting the class and fully intend to continue...what a rush.

Creativity is healing so let's all rejoice in whatever it is we love to do. And find something if we don't know what it is. Working with my hands helps my arthritis too.

That's enough for now although I could add more I will shut up shop.

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