ELDER MUSIC: 1923
A TGB READER STORY: Hot in Houston

Accepting the Fact of Growing Old

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.

Vitale-Aussem continues:

”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.



Comments

Whose images can we substitute for the extraordinary elder whose exploits merely make us tired? People whose aging we can look at and admire for their embodiment of what? Acceptance accompanied by broad curiosity? Compassion toward self and others? Retention of hope for some future that will not be their own?

We need examples, even if they are somewhat projections of our imaginings, of admirable elders.

I think the desire for such elders is why people go gaga over dead presidents -- quite mundane figures with good medical care as far as I can tell. Though Jimmy Carter might be such a figure.

Who else? It's hard to overcome ageism without better models for us ordinary folks to aspire to.

I was pleased to receive a button pin (made like a pinwheel) to wear for Elder Abuse Awareness day June 15. I also received a great handout about how to tell when elder abuse might be happening (geared more towards family or caregivers). It's a great thing to keep our eyes open for each other as well! The "Me Too" movement reminds us all to be observant of any psychological as well as physical abuses that not only women, but elders, might be dealing with.

If we who are old can't respect ourselves usually by insisting that we are ageless or only as old as we feel, we give others permission to disrespect us. Number of years we have lived matters as we think about how we want to live the years left to us. Be proud to be old women.

Martha Holstein, author of Women in Late Life: critical perspectives on gender and age

Sometime around 2002 or 2003, I was reading an Utne Reader (a sort of Reader's Digest for lefties) when I came upon an ad for some crank nostrum that was headlined "Aging is a Disease."

I stopped what I was doing and wrote them a letter to the effect that they had won the prize for the evilest statement in the fewest words.

I got an apology back from the publisher and a promise to screen the ads more carefully.

That ad certainly suggests just one reason that agism is so virulent in the USA -- it's a perfect way to pitch products. At some level, almost all advertising is about telling the audience that there is something wrong with them, something that they need the pitched product to prevent/address.

(I think another important reason is that, culturally, the US has appropriated for itself the idea of the Western Hemisphere as "The New World" -- always thinking of itself as the young upstarts as opposed to the ossified elders of the Old World. If America is young, then the most American of us are the young.)

Thank you. Most of the women I know could have written those words, but you stated it so eloquently that a "thank you" seems simplistic. However, I am certain that all of the women I know would amplify my Thank You millions of times over . Again, thank you.

I find it very useful to hang out with other elders who are dealing with chronic problems but have no problem being interesting creative people. I have about thirty friends who are 90 years olds (give or take a year). Amazing how different their bodies are aging, and to some degree mental skills, but I love spending time with them all.

I work as a clinical ethicist in a major metropolitan hospital and teach residents daily. One of the things I teach them is to listen to their elderly patients, to see them as individuals and to try to learn what they have to teach us. When they do so, they invariably come back with not only great stories but often a piece of wisdom that they will carry forward.

I love your blog and try to learn from what you are willing to share so openly with all of us! I also used the book "When I am an Old Woman I will wear purple" and that poem as a great goal of my own elderly progression. Even now I see giving up some things as a forward progression ( I no longer have to work to have a bikini body....it's fine that I'm upper-middle aged and a bit more padded, and I'm starting to wear more comfortable and practical shoes and embracing my greying hair) with hopes to go gracefully in to my aging.

I love that you actually walk the walk of combating ageism and I hope to follow in your footsteps!
Karen

You are the best example. Thanks to you, I accept my aches and pains, my shortness of breath, and my rickety knees. Portland is very accepting, not only of the weird and wonderful, but the old as well.

Here we are talking about how people view us, well teenagers are viewed as irresponsible and always on their phones, 20 and 30 year olds are viewed as selfish and out to make money, 40 and 50 year olds as neurotic and unsatisfied. So old people are labeled as well. It doesn't mean we or they have to accept the labels and I'm pretty sure most of them don't. Neither should we!

o/


I was just thinking about this, this morning. The super seniors and the push to stay busy active and living life in a whirlwind. It’s so unrealistic and not a lifestyle that even appeals to me. I want peaceful contentment, a time for reflection and a time to enjoy the small and beautiful things in life. I couldn’t care less about aging and looking old.
The one irony I find is that the US is the most religious of the Western Civilized countries and the majority believing in a glorious joyous ever young happy life with all their loved ones for zillions of years, yet they fear and abhor aging and the subsequent dying the most, as if their very lives here depend on it.

I've been enjoying quite a few shows of late that feature LGBT(etc) relationships and characters - the opening of one episode features a discussion of "Gender is a social construct." I was awake in the middle of the night pondering that statement.

Is not ageism a social construct?

I am an HR and training professional, 64, about to launch a new career as a keynote speaker and conference trainer. I haven't lost my job, I just feel called to speak about creating "never-want-to-leave" workplaces. Your article inspires me to craft a keynote around the theme of "Ageless Wisdom in the Workplace." Would love to hear your thoughts and your readers stories about how olders can mentor youngers and shape the future workplace!

I will be 83 in September. I’m old. Definitely old. People are shocked when they learn my age, because I’m pretty frisky, at least from the neck up, and anyway that term “old” is considered a kind of blasphemy. But the signals come along: when I was turning 70, I discovered that playing volleyball was out; I couldn’t get the ball over the net anymore. Then a few years later my lifelong ability to open jars vanished. Then at 81, I had to have help getting on a horse, and I found it difficult to straddle without pain, but ziplining and white water rafting were still possible. Just. Oh, I’m old all right! But apart from a few beginning health deteriorations, I know I can do whatever I choose. Even though I now choose a bit less. Just don’t call me Sweet Pea.

I had a nice post but I never submitted it because it was kind of negative about aging and my current mood in its regard. I am not happy about it at all; It's a stinking situation. Okay, back to my coffee and looking forward to the next TGB post and especially the next "Ronni and Alex Show".

My 84th birthday today and I gave up climbing higher than the second step on a ladder a couple of years ago. The bulbs in the lights in the kitchen went out about 2 months ago so I made do with the light over the sink and the stove until a couple of tall college boys were at the house to do other things and they changed the bulbs. Now I am waiting for one son to come to treat the mildew over the upstairs bathtub and shower and paint the bathroom. It is not worth a broken hip to try to do it myself. I am in good health and physically active but have never been fond of heights. One nasty fall is one more than I want to have. It is best to hire someone to do things that require taking my feet very far off the ground.

Lightbulbs and ladders. A familiar story here. But I'm not feeble or lacking balance (not yet, anyway). My problem is stiffening knees and ankles. That plus a superabundance of caution about elders and ladders. I have several burned out lightbulbs in the hall (not yet affecting visibility) and debate whether I should try to change them as I always have or pay someone to come do it. I did change a bulb in the kitchen ceiling a few months ago, but I really needed that light.

I must be as naive as ever, thinking those "rock star" elders are, well, rock stars. I never think of their stories as a form of ageism. I admire what they can do (and I can't or choose not to ). I enjoy senior discounts, clerks helping me with my bags, people calling me "ma'am" (in the South that's respect), grandkids seeking my opinion. I think the only ageism I've experienced was in the workplace.

One of the best blogs i;ve ever read. I'll take some time to digest. xx's

In a way though, old age is kind of liberating. You can do and say things you can't get away with as a young person.

Remember the Grey Panthers? I'd join em in a minute - cane and all.

You know what??? Those old people who are stars, riding motorcycles, being movie stars, running marathons, looking like Jane Fonda (what's with that?), they would bore me in half a minute. Send me a person of any age who can have a good discussion, thinks below the surface, that's my kind of person. Our superficial culture quite naturally worships mostly superficial stars. When I was a lot younger I had an elder friend who had a limited life in some ways. But oh, her mind and heart! She taught so much, so much.

Charlotte's comment just reminded me of the Gray Panthers, along with other organizations specifically for older people, like the Older Women's League (although in googling that just now I see it began with age 40 -- good grief!). I seem to rarely hear anything from any organized advocacy group for elders these days, and I'm wondering why that is.

Our local aging services seem to be very limited and focused more on providing information and assistance to old people with disabilities or extreme poverty. There still seem to be lots of books and articles for this demographic, but those mostly originate from larger venues. Maybe it's related to the phenomenon of living in a city with nearly 15 years now of mayors in their 30's-40's.

THANK YOU, Ronni.

Ronni, I do enjoy your posts so much. I do not follow any other blog or go on You Tube and rarely on Facebook, but I enjoy the curated bits you include and also your blog itself. I want to thank you for giving so much that I don't feel the need to waste my time on social media. I prefer to waste my time on reading and playing computer games. I think of you often and enjoy your views. Good luck (for yourself and for all of us who follow you) I continuing with Time Goes By.

Robin Morrison

I gave up my ladder two years ago when we downsized. No regrets.

Ronni, I think you and I must have the same massively annoying kitchen overhead light. Judging from the posts on Home Depot's web site, you don't have to be old to struggle with it! I think they're in every American kitchen built in the early 2000s.

I'm still doing ladders, but I can definitely see the ladder-limited zone from here. That stupid light is one of the many things that, if elders could manage it easily, so could everyone else. And we could ALL have days free of juggling a large, fragile plastic shell eight feet in the air which, from the sound of it, absolutely no one enjoys.

If ladders, changing light bulbs, cleaning the bathroom and all the other things we used to take for granted are more difficult (or impossible) for you now, it may be time to consider assisted living. The ALF allows me to be who I always was without having to obsess of the little things. And the best part, there are no ageists here. Everyone's "shortcomings" are accepted and understood.

Great column, thanks, Ronni; and great posts all. However, Assisted Living is not the answer for all (or even most, in this area) since it usually starts at about $3,000/month. And this state definitely does not pay for anything other than skilled nursing facilities (if you can even get qualified for the state's aid in the first place). And "aging at home" with hired help coming in? Almost as expensive as ALFs. So the aging cheerfully, gracefully, etc. thing is not easy if you're in the 99 percent.

I'm definitely going to read Ms. Vitale-Aussem's book Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift, as you suggested.

And two other good, realistic books on the subject I highly recommend: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age by Susan Jacoby and Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old? by Joy Loverde; both so good I bought them!

(Now if I could just get my husband to at least let me "be old" and go gentle into that good night instead of insisting on my fighting it, refusing to downsize, even plan for what we're going to do when we can no longer drive, etc. as he is doing, sigh.)

I think I'd probably have appreciated the original post John John decided to amend! Getting old: it is what it is. I have to accept it--I'm working on that--but I don't have to like it. As far as "super elder" mountain climbers, zipliners and marathoners go, it won't last forever even if they think it will. Up until I turned 80 I was able to do almost everything I'd always done (I never was a standout athlete) but, seemingly almost overnight, I no longer could due primarily to physical pain. I think I'd be more accepting of ageing if loss of functionality weren't part of it.

I still do ladders occasionally (one or two steps up only) but do wish they'd find an affordable solution to those overhead kitchen lights!

As long as I can function at all, with some help, I hope to stay out of a facility.

When I was in college, there was a course called "How to Lie with Statistics" -- I guess Professor Levy missed that one. Her statement that "those who hold negative self-perceptions of aging are likely to die a whopping 7.5 years earlier than those who have positive views” warrants a bit of "unpacking," as they now say.

Did she consider the obvious likelihood that "those with a negative view of aging" were dealing with more difficult symptoms of aging, that they were not upbeat about it because their personal experiences -- medical, physical, whatever --had subjected them to more of the slings and arrows of old age?

Instead, she (and Ronnie in citing this uncritically) imply that people are dying 7.5 years early because of some "negative thoughts" they may have had. There is something out there called "toxic positivity" which I'll let you Google for yourself.

It was a very good post, Ronni, that so many of us agreed with. Today would have been my 52nd wedding anniversary, but my husband died a few months ago. When my father died my mother joined a “widows and widowers group” in her city, Paris. They were widows/widowers of all ages. They organized trips, going to the theatre and movies, restaurants, etc. She went to Germany with them, to the war fields of Verdun, the castles of the Loire (they would always be provided with all dinner menus and wine list before the trips!).
So several months after my husband died I searched for a widows’ club in my city, none, in my state, none. There were only “grief meetings.” I then found a widows/widowers club on the Internet but realized it was in Montreal Canada. I think there is a generational segregation in the US more than in Europe. There are “senior clubs” for the olds, but no inter-generational clubs that I can find. You are correct, the attitude here is that when you are “old” you are not worth much and no one younger would want to associate with you, unless of course you are still looking and acting very young. After all these years here I still find the US a very peculiar culture.

One solution to the kitchen light problem - I had pendant lights put in. They are hung at a height that doesn't hit me in the head, yet I can still just reach up and change the light bulbs easily, no ladder. I had them put in when I wasn't yet 60 because even when I was younger, I dreaded trying to handle a fragile, slippery glass globe, while on a ladder.

Instead of spending a fortune on so-called anti-ageing products (none of which really work anyway), I will spend on things which help me to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible, so that I can grow older happy and content.

I have noticed a change in people's attitudes towards me as I've grown older. Almost a lack of disrespect or discounting in everyday transactions. I also noticed this when I made calls on behalf of dad. When I requested he keep his phone number the same because it would be easier for him to remember it, I was told about the phone company's elderly relative who had a sharp mind. So many indignities.

Ronni, I love your post today and am looking forward to your next Alex and Ronni show.

Also enjoyed every single comment above mine.

"We start getting old the minute we're born"

said G, my 102 year old Dutch friend at the ILR where I bus tables. I love her stories about how her mom taught her to create beautiful hats which is what eventually got her a job in the needle trade area of Montreal.

Senior seniors are smart. They aren't shy to talk about their past- the good, bad, uglies. How they turned their lives around or missed the boat.

I also volunteer at a veteran's hospital.
Friendly visits and reading to vets. My latest visit was to a female who lived through the Blitz -London UK. A bottle of sand from Juno Beach sits on her side table, along with flags, medals and letters.

Respect.

She told me how she met her Canadian soldier husband and eventually moved to Montreal.

She's a widow.

I went way past my hour listening. Her stories made mine sound like nursery rhymes.

I look forward to my next visit.


On the news just last night, a 103-year-old woman who'd won a runner's event. She looked wonderful, and had only taken up running at 100. The news anchors were over the moon, "I hope I can be *just* like her when I'm 103!"

All this fawning over the 90+ extraordinary athletes is just whistling through the graveyard. Most everyone is terrified of death and the idea that *someone* is still cheating death at 103 calms your fears. *You* could do that, sure you could. Death's a long way off, not tomorrow or next week/next year, but fifty/sixty years! Start running tomorrow and you might live forever!

As we age we adapt or die. Doing something stupid, like climbing a ladder with your shaky legs and the fall might be the death of you. Forget to pace activities so your heart isn't stressed, and that envelope "In case of my death" may meet up with your grandmother's silver letter opener. But you can choose to live as Ronni leads, which brings me to a quote that strikes me in the heart every time I read it.

"...there are a few who grow as solid as a mountain and as wide open as the sky. They are strong and yet tender. Steady yet yielding. Powerful yet gentle. You will recognize them because they resemble the earth you can touch and the sky you cannot contain. It's not that they are superhuman; they are more completely human than most of us ever allow ourselves to be." ~ Karen Maezen Miller

This kind of humanity takes time to ripen and it's almost without exception found in elders.

Thanks Ronni and the rest of the Tribe


Thank you, Deb, love the quote!

Yes, thanks Deb, I love the quote too! Beautiful.

I'd be inclined to expand the age groups it could apply to though.

I know a couple of amazing Gen-Xers who fit this description.

Ladders? I gave up 2-step step ladders long ago.

And could all those communities for 'active seniors' stop calling them "55 and better" communities? It's like other words than death for death.. we all age differently and are impacted by health, genes, finances, other circumstances.

It's exhausting to try to pretend to be young and I gave it up years ago. If only our experience and our knowledge and the value of us would be part of a culture. Wasn't it once?

Models for elders - the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Brigitte Bardot (ok, that last might be a little controversial), and all the ordinary, wonderful, diverse, experienced (wise or not, they lived through events that young people only read about) individuals one sees and knows and learned from in one's own life.

Oh my goodness! I just found this blog- how did I not know about it before?! I am loving the commentary and insight from your readers. Thank you for including my book in your blog. I’m now signed up ftp get your future posts and look forward to learning from them!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)