While I was actually cooking instead of just microwaving a couple of weeks ago, two of the three sets of fluorescent tube lights that nestle on top of the kitchen cupboards flickered and died at the same moment.
Later that day, having bought two new sets, I looked at my big ladder – the tall one I use for jobs near the ceiling - and had a second thought: Sometimes, these days, with chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer, I am a little wobbly in the knees.
“Perhaps,” I said to myself, “the last time I changed these lights should be the last time I used this ladder.”
Having taken my own advice, I'm waiting now for someone younger and more sure-footed to change them for me.
Sooner or later, if we live long enough, it comes to almost all of us: the day we must give up something we have easily done all our lives. Maybe the first time it happens, we dismiss it as we have have ignored most other signs of ageing through our mid-years. But that's not so easy the next time.
In an excerpt fromDisrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift, a new book to be published in August, president and CEO of The Eden Alternative, Jill Vitale-Aussem, writes,
”It makes sense that we would avoid thinking about old age. We know that, unless things shift drastically in our society, getting old means we’ll likely be looked down upon, pushed aside, pitied, and perhaps even laughed at. That’s certainly not something to look forward to.
“So instead of facing reality, we spend exorbitant amounts of money, time, and energy in a desperate, and always unsuccessful, attempt to hold onto youth.”
It is, of course, called ageism and if you've been at this blog for awhile, you heard from me on this topic many times. Ms. Vitale-Aussem and I aren't far apart in our beliefs about and we've clearly studied the same research.
She continues on a related topic that drives me crazy – the media's total attention only to outlier elders:
”When we do honor aging, it’s generally in the form of celebration of older folks who don’t act their age and are able to keep up with the youngsters. We call them ‘rock stars’ and ‘successful agers,’ implying that the majority of older people, who aren’t running marathons or climbing mountains, are somehow deficient.”
Here is a recent example of how the media exhalts those elders:
Good for Gloria Struck that she is still riding. But stop holding up elders who are lucky enough to be free of debility as the gold standard of old people that proves, supposedly, the rest of us are doing it wrong - that it is, somehow, our own faults that we're not skydiving.
”Beneath these pseudo-celebrations of age, at the core, is the message that value lies only in youthfulness. As my twenty-something trainer at the gym once said to me, 'It’s not bad to be old as long as you seem like you’re young.'”
What a shameful thing to say. I hope she fired that trainer.
It's not just young people who hold ageist views of elders. Old people themselves are, not infrequently, their own worst enemies. As Vitale-Aussem notes,
”As a nation, we spend billions of dollars on anti-aging treatments. In 2012, pharmacy benefit management service Express Scripts reported that Americans with private insurance spent more on prescriptions to fight aging than they did on medication to treat diseases.”
It pleased me to see that Ms. Vitale-Aussem highlights one of the most important research findings about the effects of ageism on old people that does not get mentioned enough.
Back in 2002, leading researcher in the fields of social gerontology and psychology of aging, Becca R. Levy, also Professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health and Professor of Psychology at Yale University issued the results of her findings about how what we believe about ageing affects how long we live:
”Those who hold negative self-perceptions of aging are likely to die a whopping 7.5 years earlier than those who have positive views.”
It's worth the effort to check yourself for ageist beliefs. Ageism is so deeply ingrained in American culture that it's hard to see sometimes – even our own prejudices. There are some tips for doing it in Ms. Vitale-Aussem's book excerpt.