ELDER MUSIC: 1935
A TGB READER STORY: Ladies of the Silent Generation

The Coronavirus and Ageism

Those of you who've been around this blog for a long time know that I regularly bang away at ageism and age discrimination in these pages. You may also have noticed that my efforts have not made an iota of difference in all these years.

Nevertheless, here I go again.

ITEM: Have you seen the Twitter hashtags #BoomerRemover and #BoomerDoomer? Those came along in the early spring because old people were doing most of the dying. (They still are.)

ITEM: In March, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Fox News that it was time to open businesses again and that old people should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economic good of the country.

ITEM: Then in April, as nursing home deaths from the virus continued to spiral out of control, California Governor Gavin Newsom's administration told hospitals to give preference in treatment to younger people with greater life expectancy over old people. In response to the uproar, the edict was withdrawn.

ITEM: Even with the recent news that more young people are getting sick from the virus than earlier in the pandemic, the number of deaths of elders in nursing homes and assisted living homes continues to lead all other age groups. According to The New York Times,

”At least 54,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States, according to a New York Times database. As of June 26, the virus has infected more than 282,000 people at some 12,000 facilities.”

Although statistics for the virus are fungible due to states' differing methods of counting and reporting, it is clear that the effect on old people is disastrous.

A few days ago, the Washington Post published a story titled, “With the novel coronavirus, suddenly at 60 we're now 'old'”. Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Katherine Ellison, it takes issue with reports that people age 60 and older are more vulnerable to the virus than others.

Ellison's complaint is that the cutoff for old age seems to have been moved from 65 to 60. Her difficulty seems to be that she resents now being cast among the old:

”Many of us, BC - before the novel coronavirus - had counted on a little more time before we had to see ourselves as 'old'...

“Suddenly 60 is the new 65. At 62, I believe I speak for many other late-stage boomers when I say: Wait, what?...

“All the same, this sudden downward pressure on the boundary of old age strikes me as un-American...

“More important, for those of us in the early-60s gray zone, the slipping standard harms more than our vanity, stealing our last shred of deniability even as the shutdown deprives us of tools we’ve relied on to pass ourselves off as younger, such as Botox, hair salons and gyms.”

As I read, I kept wondering if this was supposed to be funny and somehow I was missing the joke. Not that I think old people dying in droves in a pandemic is joke-worthy.

She gives readers a thin tour through the ageist media culture and its negative effect on old people (to which she attributes her aching knees), quotes a couple of research studies, but never questions her desire to be seen as younger than she is.

Before the pandemic, I too imagined myself as, at worst, pre-elderly, while assuming there was widespread agreement about the endpoint of plausible youth...

“But then I realized just how much the coronavirus may be infecting all of us with the most dreadful view of aging, in which 'old' is synonymous with useless and expendable. And who's ever ready for that?”

Really? Is Ms. Ellison just now discovering there is such a thing as ageism? The phenomenon had already been around for decades when the late distinguished geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, coined the word “ageism” 45 years ago.

The coronavirus is a dreadful plague but let us be clear: it did not cause ageism, people do and some of them have used the virus to perpetuate the last acceptable prejudice in the United States.

This is the place in today's post where I would usually go in to my closing diatribe. But I discovered that a lot of the nearly 2000 comments on the WaPo story had made my point, saving me some work. Here is a short handful:

”OMG! We're in the middle of a pandemic and you're whining about how it makes you feel old? And where in the world did you get the idea that 'Denial plays a vital role in human survival'? What cultural anthropologist are you reading?”
”I'm a millennial...here's what I think. Embrace whatever good you can from your age. Wisdom, insight, experience and positivity are often in short supply. Share what you worked hard to learn. Don't take the negativity about age too seriously. They'll get older too someday. We all do if we are lucky.”
Hmmm. I thought this article was going to have something to do with the Coronavirus, not the self-absorbed ramblings of a Boomer in denial.
“I turned 60 today and I only feel about 59.”

We are living in a period of what feels increasingly like an apocalypse but the writer and the Washington Post choose to double down on ageism? Spare me.

Comments

If I don't laugh, I shall cry. Thanks for a provocative posting with which my day may now properly start. Oh, to have the problems that I had at age 60, once again! In 1998 we were livin' the dream.

It's true that ageism has been with us for a long time, but most people simply don't see it until it happens to themselves. My son used to laugh at me for thinking ageism was a thing, but he turns 50 next year so I am waiting for him to discover the awful truth, just as Ms Ellison has. How embarrassing for her to make that discovery so publicly! Many non-coloured people thought racism was a thing of the past, many men think that sexism is also a thing of the past. It's easy to write off complaints of discrimination when it isn't happening to you.

I used to be an ageist myself ... until I got older. Isn't that the cure for ageism?

Dear Ronnie and Friends, ageism (and various other lovlies) is bound to happen in societies who ignore (or scoff at) the Lord's Word (Bible).

By the way, most preachers don't even preach from the Word, oh yeah, they'll toss one, maybe two scripturettes during their 10-minute sermonettes to keep ya coming...cha-ching!

“...the last acceptable prejudice...”. I love that line because it is so absolutely right on. And I agree with Tom that getting old is a great cure for ageism, but of course it shouldn’t have to come to that.

I say, claim your old age! Was talking with a friend yesterday (she is 67) and referred to myself as an "old person". I am 72 this week. She said, "Oh, •you're• not old." I said, "Yes, I am, and it is important for me to acknowledge that. How else can I work actively for change, for policies and changes that support the old?" She got it right away.

Women in their 60s are the worst in terms of accepting that they are old or fast approaching that life stage. They have been conditioned to "fight" ageing with every weapon. It's pathetic, and downright reprehensible on the part of the beauty industry, because it discourages women from becoming advocates, activists and showing the true self.

I am also approaching 72. Now I realize I am actually old, not just elderly. Well, at least I've
been classified and don't have to overachieve anymore. B

My little grandson noticed one day that I have gray hair and said, “Gramma, that means you are almost old.”

I accept my grandson’s invented terminology of “almost old.” I enjoy bragging to anyone who will listen that he nailed it for me, at least for now.

Ronni, I agree with all of your comments and am angered by the rampant attitudes, assumptions, prejudice, and disrespect.

We know that so many cultures revere their elders, but ours has shown its dark side that is permitted without consequence.


👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍🤸🏼‍♀️

Thank you Ronni and all who comment, for it always feels like I am among friends. Today I found Dan Coats 'laughable', in trying to find a bit humor wherever I can.

Re:Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Fox News that it was time to open businesses again and that old people should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economic good of the country. 

I'm surprised Lieutenant Governor  Dan Patrick didn't embellish the word "economic good" with caps, $$, stars, etc. It is not an entity, Dan, it is a poorly disguised euphemism for the almighty dollars going into big pockets.  Dan Patrick is 70 (his OWN dividing line), Will he throw himself on the pyre if he becomes severely ill? 

Of course not, for he has excellent health care insurance funded by the taxpayers in his state.  All of this is like watching a bad "B" movie getting worse and there is no exit. At this point, for me, being in the last part of my time is downright comforting!

It's the superficiality of many of these writers on aging that sticks in my craw, and in many of my acquaintances too. The hair, the nails, the makeup, the creams, the botox. The raging denial. The interior is forgotten in the mad rush to the various "cures" of salons and treatments.

And then I see the fear underlying it all. If I look young and blonded and pink-nailed, how can I die? I'm too young to die. They look in the mirror with waning eyesight and see, optimally, their 50-60 year old selves, rather than the 70+er

A form of rage against the dying of the light.

Or maybe I am too fanciful today with my long grey hair and nails that haven't seen a manicure in 50 years and unbleached teeth and 76 year old jowels.

But I do have a rich interior life.

XO
WWW

Right on point Ronni, as always.

I agree with Duchesse about the women in their 60s. I was one of them until I turned 65 and received my Medicare card. It was like my official step into old age. I even started using the term old at that point. Occasionally someone will attempt to refute my "old" descriptor but I remind them I have the official membership card! We laugh and go on. I'm trying to do well in my old age.

I’ve long been a proponent of natural aging. I find it fascinating to see how the body ages and can be different in individuals. Doesn’t mean I like all the changes that occur for me but I’d rather be aging than the alternative.

I became aware of ageism being perpetrated against people in their forties, generally men, back in the 1950s so they started a group called Forty Plus in an effort to combat the discrimination in job hiring practices. Seems nothing much has changed these decades later.

The language used to denigrate older people continues, often even used by some of the older people themselves. So the beat goes on with each of us needing to combat this ageism to support and carry on RB’s efforts here at TGB for ourselves, children and grandchildren. If we don’t object, how else do we correct misperceptions about aging individuals?

Ten million thumbs up on this one, Ronni.

Like my mom says "we start getting old the minute we're born."

It's about what we do with our time on this planet.

Nature doesn't wait for anyone.

Ronni, I have to take issue with you on one small point - ageism is not the last acceptable prejudice, it's one of two (the other is sizism or fat-shaming).

In a couple of weeks I will join the ranks of septuagenarians. I've been strangely obsessed with this for many months and seem to have something of a love/hate relationship with the idea of this event. Just being honest here and not denying my feelings that I don't seem to have control over. I'm not fearful and I don't expect a switch to be flipped and something negative to happen, I just seem to have some inexplicable response to seventy that I never had in transitioning to any other decade.

A few years ago I acquired a copy of May Sarton's "At Seventy." I have no idea what I did with that book after I brought it home, but I may have sent it on to a friend who turned 70 not long after that. Earlier this year I thought about it again, and decided I would read it in the month before my birthday, but since I seem to no longer have it, or it's hopelessly lost in a pile of books in my house, I thought I'd look for a used copy online today.

I googled the words "turning seventy" by mistake, and the first thing that popped up was a link to blog post written by a history professor at Swarthmore when she was turning 70 in 2003! It was a beautiful post and just what I needed today. One part of it were these words quoting Confucius, from Book Two of the Analects:
"The Master said:
At fifteen, I was eager to learn.
At thirty, I was on solid ground.
At forty, I had no doubts.
At fifty, I knew the laws of heaven.
At sixty, I heard and obeyed them.
At seventy, I could follow my heart's desire without bending what was right."

What could be better than entering a stage of life in which following one's heart's desire without bending what's right is the most notable thing? I'm already feeling much better.

The final entry listed on this writer's blog was in 2005, and I'm now wondering what happened to her fifteen years ago. Rather than reading May Sarton's book in the next two weeks, should I find a copy, I'm going to read all the entries of this blog that the universe gifted me today and perhaps learn what happened over the following two years in the life of this woman who seemed very comfortable and content with her 70 year old self in 2003. We know that blogs can bring great revelations!

In partial defense of Ms Ellison, the Canadian medical system doesn't start the "geriatric" category until age 75; this surprised me bigly. I am 73 and was very upset on election day 2016 -- it was my birthday and the vote was the biggest birthday non-present imaginable. But the other trigger was that my then 55 year old sister (born when I was 15) sent me flowers with a big "70" balloon and a "70" card. I bit her head off over e-mail, so she has good reason to ignore my birthdays going forward. I will resist the urge to send her a "60" card next year : )

The reason people dislike and fear old age is that it often leads to physical incapacity and always leads to death. To my mind, these are valid fears, as no one wants to be incapacitated, and most people don't want to die, inevitable as that is. On the other hand, these instinctive reactions have to be resisted since they result in discrimination against the aged. Can anyone imagine NOT hiring Ronnie 15 years ago? Dummies : )

Why fight age? It comes and how we do it is a choice and highly individual. No judgement. If someone wishes to sky dive, hey, go for it. I dance, and like to look good. No botox but caring about my outfits that are age appropriate but with current fashion in mind which is fine and fun...why not? Have fun, don't be grumpy about how others do it...we get to live as we wish. Is there ageism out there. Sure, especially for those that are working. For the rest of us, kindness for choices...we all get to pick. Go out with a blaze or snuggle in at home...it's all ok.

Hoping this makes some kind of sense,

Karin

Ms. Ellison should know that people already started judging her as "pre-elderly" when she turned 50. Give it up Ms. Ellison! Give it up!

When we moved to Atlanta in the mid 1970s I knew no one there. There was a rose in our garden so I joined the Atlanta Rose Society. In my early thirties I was the youngest member; all the others were mostly elders and retirees. I became very good friend with two elder members, a noted Rosarian and author, Maibelle Swift Dickey (her brother was a poet as well) and a retired colonel who had been at West Point under Douglas MacArthur in 1920. Actually both of them stayed good friends with my family for over twenty years. Maibelle was 30 years older than me and the colonel 40 years older. When he died at 91 I was shattered. When I told some colleagues at work that I had lost my best friend they were sympathetic. They asked how old my friend was. When I said 91 they laughed at me, saying that he had just been an old guy, nothing to be sad about. I was grieving but also furious at their lack of feeling.
My friend gave me a quotation from Douglas MacArthur – here it is:

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart, there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, and courage, so long you are young. “ Douglas McArthur.

Age as nothing to do with it. It is simple. I wish everyone understood that.

I have never felt so singled-out as I do now. The way older Americans have been defined and treated during this pandemic is unconscionable. The words of people who should know better, and are not that far from being old themselves, shows a complete lack of compassion and empathy.
When this is over, many people will have much to account for. But we don't have to wait for that. November 3 will be here soon enough.

Oh, BTW...."Fungible?"

Great post Ronni, but I disagree that your similar posts have not made an iota of difference. Social change is a very slow process and in my opinion, awareness is the first step. Consider feminism or civil rights - we've made progress but the systemic issues and obstacles still remain. I'm not defending any of the heinous practices in nursing homes and many other forms of blatant ageism that this pandemic has brought to light. I observe that social change often takes decades if not generations.

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