A TGB READER STORY: What's the State of Your Mind?

Two Excellent Stories of Youth and Elders Together

In a world that has devolved into 24/7 bad news, it is a treat to run across two stories in one day that are all about making the world a better place and, in these two cases, show how elders are indispensable to the ideas.

Although too many people and institutions deny that ageism exists (or when they concede that it does, insist that it is without consequence), there are others who get it and who are finding ways to help old and young find common ground.

This is important because we live in an age-segregated society where weight is generally given to the interests of youth over those of elders, so finding mutual points of engagement can only lead to more understanding and then more respect among generations, improving outcomes for all ages and, perhaps, the culture at large.

What both of these innovations tell us is that it's all about spending time together and listening.

Having studied ageing for the past 25 years, I thought I knew a lot and I suppose that's true in some areas. But this statement from Dr. Ronald Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell, who developed an annual program to correct medical students' ageist beliefs about elders, was an aha! moment for me:

“'Unfortunately, most education takes place within the hospital,' he told Paula Span of [The New York Times].

“'If you’re only seeing the hospitalized elderly, you’re seeing the debilitated, the physically deteriorating, the demented. It’s easy to pick up ageist stereotypes.'”

Well, duh.

Obvious, isn't it. But in all my reading about medical care and treatment – or lack thereof for old people – it had not occurred to me or, apparently, to anyone who was writing those articles, reports and studies I read.


”These misperceptions can influence people’s care. In another classroom down the hall, 88-year-old Marcia Levine, a retired family therapist, was telling students about a gastroenterologist who once dismissed her complaints of fatigue by saying, 'At your age, you can’t expect to have much energy.'

“Then, in her 70s, she switched doctors and learned she had a low-grade infection.”

I've heard this story again and again from friends and acquaintances and I found myself in a similar situation some years ago. I fired the doctor too.

Marcia Levine was among the elders who were speaking with second-year medical students about their lives.

The Times tells us that at least 20 medical schools around the U.S. have some form of required study about (excuse me for quoting myself) what it's really like to get old that involves old people themselves.

”Some schools, like the Medical University of South Carolina and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, match students with older patients they follow throughout their four-year educations, making home visits, accompanying their 'senior mentors' to doctors’ appointments, and visiting them if they’re hospitalized.”

According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in the 10 programs of this type they reviewed, “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved.”

There are 141 accredited medical schools in the United States. They should all be using programs like these. You can read more at The New York Times.

The Boston Globe reports on a new program matching college students in need of cheap digs with old people who could use a little extra cash:

”...according to one 2017 survey, some 90,000 spare bedrooms [in the Boston area] are going unused in the homes of aging empty-nesters.

“That got a pair of MIT urban-planning graduate students thinking: Those rooms might be valuable to young people, especially students. And they might also provide a way for older people, who increasingly are living alone, to stay in their homes as they age.”

This isn't the first of such programs. Another I've read about allows music students from a nearby school free or low-cost rent in their own rooms at a retirement community in exchange for regular concerts for the elder residents.

Given today's high rental prices and the terribly debt students incur, this seems to me to be, as they say, a win-win.

Although both were wary at first, 77-year-old Sarah Heintz and 25-year-old Dean Kaplan hit it off:

”They bonded over a shared love of politics — both volunteered for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — and an affinity for cooking.

“Under the terms of their lease agreement, rent is $800 a month (about half the cost of apartments Kaplan had been looking at before the arrangement with Heintz), knocked down to $700 if he devotes eight hours each month to helping Heintz with a range of chores.

“But even without that incentive, they said, they’ve discovered they like doing favors for one another. He helps in the garden and gives her a hand logging into her e-mail account; she offers him rides to Market Basket and recently taught him the proper way to gut a fish.”

Besides helping each other with the practicalities of life, living as full time as roommates can't help but foster understanding between youth and age for which there are few enough places to do that:

”Each weekend, Heintz and Kaplan plan some kind of event — dinner with neighbors, afternoons in the garden — and he has taken to picking her brain on a variety of topics, from botany to the year she spent at a French cooking school in the ’70s.

“'It’s the type of repository of knowledge that you can’t Google,' Kaplan said.”

No kidding. Read more at The Boston Globe.

These are both excellent and important programs that should be encouraged in every way.


Also...how about some more fiction with collaboration between grandparent and grandchild to solve problems and deal with life. Like "Goldmine House."

Ronni Bennett here. Normally, I would delete that first comment above as soon as I saw it. Reason? The commenter is the author of the book she is touting. That's called stealing free advertising for personal gain and no one is allowed to do that on my blog.

Way too much of that happens here - most frequently from book authors of whom I expect better - and I'm tired to death of dealing with cleaning up after people who cheat in this manner. I have no time for it anymore so, Patricia Beynem, you are publicly called out as a jerk today and you are permanently banned from commenting here again.

And don't think I didn't notice the fake email address on your comment.

Re the woman who was brushed off after she complained of fatigue and was found to have a low-grade infection, I think the same might be happening with me. And now I will go and have it checked out! Thanks again so much for your column!

Love these stories, Ronni! Thanks.

Both of the stories today were excellent, and happily positive.
I especially enjoyed the second one; that may become an option for me in the future. There are many children/young adults who have grown up without exposure to older people on a regular basis. We often live an inconvenient distance from our other generation relatives, consequently we lack the opportunity to connect with and learn about the ups and downs, goals, passions, yes, and even limitations of those from of other age groups.
Well done.

I'm happy to say when my cancer was diagnosed, I was treated with total respect and as aggressively as anyone half my age. I'm lucky to have a primary care physician who, when a mammongram did not show any abnormality, ordered an ultrasound to figure out why I was reporting occasional sharp twinges. A lot of doctors might not have paid much attention to an old woman whose only complaint was negated by a mammogram

Those are great viable options to living alone and wanting to stay in your house. I tried to have live-in young people twice. I did not seek them, but was asked by friends if I would rent my spare bedroom to a student at the University. I agreed without the opportunity to talk to them first. The first one was a transfer student from Mexico who was just learning English. He was wonderful, funny and very friendly and it worked out beautifully.

The second was a young and very handsome doctor from Egypt who was taking courses to be able to practice here. Total disaster. He took over my office, stayed up half the night getting calls on my phone that woke me, and was a religious fanatic. I was foolish at first and wanted to make him welcome so started doing his laundry and letting him use my kitchen. Long story - but he caused me so much stress that eventually I had to kick him out .

It's great when you are compatible, but do interview the person who will be living with you before agreeing sight unseen to letting them share your house (good idea to get references, too).

Good to hear ANYTHING positive about how we view ageing. I'm currently upset by two things I keep seeing on TV - one is a teaser for a new show whose whole conceit is that a 40 year old just joining the police force is a joke. I assume the show will disprove this, but the entire trailer makes fun of him. The other is the constant repetition of an ad for some sort of pseudo-testosterone which promises to solve the "ageing problems" of, get this, 40 year olds! Now I admit that 40 looks very young from 75, but really?

that's interesting about the woman with "fatigue" which turned out to be something quite different. I had already fired my previous doctor over something else - but a new problem has surfaced recently (not resolved yet) but I think that it is related to previous doctor telling me "that's part of xyz disease, and you will just have to wear it" - no tests or investigations were made, just a statement of his fact! I had just decided over the w/end to make an appt with current primary care doctor to discuss this matter....

I am fortunate to have moved to an area wherein a local Middle School, once every month, invites seniors to enjoy a lunch in its cafeteria. The smiling students assist us, if needed, in walking through the cafeteria line as we choose foods , and they will cheerfully carry trays back to our seats, staying to chat most likely.

Often, entertainment by the students is offered, e.g., stage performances. One month we were invited to tour the entire school, with escorts if needed ..... I was amazed to see what exciting studies are offered young folks these days.

Also, a local Senior Center occasionally invites students (perhaps ages 11 - 14) to prepare a lunch at the center with we seniors, and join us in eating and chatting afterward.

I have often wondered about enrolling with Home Sharing if I found myself living alone one day, but I know of women who have had regrets (the "match" did not work out) so I am not sure I could be relaxed about trying the program.

Meg, I’m with you on that! I don’t recall any men in our age group having “those” issues back in the days when we were all around 40. I watch these TV ads with wonder (and thankfulness)😂

I sent the med school article to my granddaughter who is in college and interested in a medical career. Good info and ideas for a potential research paper. I love that med schools are now beginning to recognize the importance of this kind of exposure to older people in a context other than the hospital setting.

If I may, I'll add a postscript to my description of young school aged youngsters sharing time with us. I recall several times where young boys or girls would smile as they told me about a loving grandparent living out of state, one they regretfully cannot see very often. In turn, I could relate to them stories of our grandchildren, also out of state, whom we see only about once a year.
On each occasion I've come home with such a warm feeling and trusted that we oldsters made some youngsters' school day a bit happier.

Loved these stories, Ronni!

Great ideas!

My city suits have invited anyone over 55 years old to an information meeting tomorrow morning.

With coffee.

They want to hear suggestions from seniors about what we would like in terms of activities, services, etc.

I did some research on the Internet, asked my mom and seniors at the ILR what they would suggest. I

I will bring my list to the meeting.

I have never been to an event like this.

Wish me luck.

Will report back to you.

Ha! Ronnie, I loved the whole shebang, not least the way you womaned up and told the author who attempted advertising theft to bug off. Way to go.

I hope this works just as well with many others. What a great solution.

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