290 posts categorized "Ageism"

Old? No Problem. Live Like You're 20

In the past couple of weeks my email inbox has been filling up with a rash of self-help books for old people.

Before I go a word farther, you should know that I despise self-help books. My animus goes back to the 1970s when I worked on local morning TV shows in New York City where staple guests were the authors of this sort of twaddle.

Over those few years I read dozens of self help books but it doesn't take reading more than two or three to see that they are all the same, sometimes dressed up in either exotic-sounding metaphors or standard-issue aphorisms.

If a book is not the seven keys to life found in an African jungle, it is the stairway to heavenly personal success or the magic of thinking big (or little). They all guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong again in your life if you will follow their prescriptions for happiness AND you'll get rich too if you will just buy the book.

While I'm on that point, a whole lot of self-help books are not about enriching your life but about getting rich, as in dollars – about half of them, I'd judge. Before I would read even one more, I'd want to see proof of the author's net worth.

A fairly recent trend in self-help tomes is advice for old people. Someone in the publishing industry apparently got wise to the fact that the U.S. is graying, our numbers are increasing and now writers can't wait to explain to us how to live.

Usually, when these book promotions arrive in my inbox, I hit “delete” but occasionally I scan the message and a few days ago I came upon a book written by a woman whose mother suffered a stroke at age 92 and who then

”...helped her mother achieve and log 93 new activities between her 93rd and 94th birthdays, just to show you’re never too old to have fun.”

Really? Ninety-three brand new activities to match her age? Unless the author is counting rearranging the silverware drawer as a new activity, I doubt it. (Millie Garfield, feel free to chime in here).

This sub-genre of self-help books – self-help for old people – is not any more about SELF help than the self-help books for younger adults. They are all about the authors' way of life – each one of them convinced that theirs is the answer to all man- and womankind's troubles.

Invariably, the main piece of “wisdom” to be gained from these books is for old people to behave like younger people. Oh, they don't say it as baldly as I have. They tell you to be active, take up running, learn to play an instrument, run for political office in your town. Or, as above, find 93 new activities to do in one year because younger, mid-life people think they know all about how old people should behave.

These writers are people who are not yet afflicted with arthritis, rheumatism, emphysema, heart disease or other ailments of age that catch up with most of us eventually. Or, if not disease, we just get tired out, maybe from all the activities of those over-active mid-years.

It's has been awhile, but as I have often said in these pages over many years, individuals age at different rates of change. Unlike babies who can be expected to speak their first word and take their first step at a specific week of life, old age hits some people earlier than others or later than some others.

Either way, there comes a time when, like it or not, we must curtail some of the activities we have enjoyed for years or give in to nap each afternoon or realize we have already climbed a ladder for the last time or, on some days, just want to sit and let our minds wander around.

There is nothing wrong with any of that although many of the self-help gurus spend 300-odd pages in their books telling us otherwise.

What I think is that if self-help books for old people are necessary (a questionable premise), it is old people who should be writing them. Unless a younger writer is a geriatrician, gerontologist or hospice worker, for example, what does a 30- or 40- and 50-year old know about getting old?

The correct answer is: nothing.

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.

Fearing Old Age plus The Alex and Ronni Show

It has been seven or eight years now since I last did this, but there was a time when I regularly clicked around the web to read Facebook and blog posts by young people - late teens and twenties interested me the most.

The one that got me started was from a young women lamenting the approach of her 30th birthday. She was so distraught that I could almost see the tears running down my computer screen as she wrote about being over the hill, losing her looks and her sorrow that men, she believed, would no longer be interested in her.

These were always women - I didn't find any young men writing on this topic - and it was a surprisingly large number who wrote about being afraid to get older with lots of agreement from others in the comment sections.

There was no talk of dying, that was not the issue. It was about how awful growing old is - getting wrinkles and gray hair, becoming “ugly” (that word turned up a lot).

That 30-year-old I mentioned? She was the oldest I encountered on this topic. Most were 23, 24, 27 or so. Where do you suppose these young women get the idea that turning 30 – or, in a couple of cases, 25 - might as well be a death sentence?

How about living in a profoundly ageist culture. That would probably do it.

Last week, a long-time TGB reader and friend, Laura Gordon Giannozzi, sent me a link to an interesting story in The Guardian> by Australian novelist Charlotte Wood asking, “What are we really afraid of when we think of old age?”

After ruminating on the question, Wood, who is 55, comes down on this:

”I think the deepest dread is of being reduced, simplified. We’re afraid that, to paraphrase British psychologist and writer Susie Orbach, we’ll be 'robbed of the richness of who we are' – our complexity stripped away by forces beyond our control.

“This reduction is already happening with the cheerleaders on one side, the catastrophisers on the other. Ours is an all-or-nothing, black-and-white-thinking culture; we picture ourselves as either relentlessly active, plank posing and Camino walking and cycling into our 90s, or dribbling in a nursing-home chair, waiting for death.”

In general, we don't have much say as to which kind of old age we have. Nobody knows how to prevent dementia, cancer and many of the afflictions of old age. And even if different choices when we were younger might have changed our old age outcome, it's too late, once we're there, to do anything about it.

Of Wood's two types of old people, I find the cheerleaders more annoying than the doomsayers. They are usually the young-old who have won (so far) the disease and debility lottery who exhort us, as Wood points out, to go, go, go as if we were still 27.

These days I know all too well how foolish that is and I have found, even before cancer and COPD reduced my capabilities, that the best any of us can do in old age is adapt.

And that's not so bad. I've been doing it by listening to all the old people I've run into while studying aging for this blog over 16 years, and to the many smart people who leave comments here.

Woods appears to have discovered the imperative to adapt at a younger age than many of us:

”...maybe we don’t have to choose either extreme to dwell on...,” she concludes. “Perhaps, instead of capitulating to reduction, we can keep adding to our concept of how to age – turn our thinking about oldness into an art, and keep exploring it. Doing something to it, and doing something else.”

There are other interesting ideas in Charlotte Wood's essay and as I said above, worth your time to read. Let us know what you think.

There should have been a new Alex and Ronni Show last week but my latest medical prognosis, which I wrote about here, was still new and weighing heavily on my mind so Alex let me off the hook.

Now, here is the latest episode of the show, recorded yesterday, talking about the virus. (Is there anything else to talk about these days?)

Are Old People Lives Worth Less Than Young People's Lives?

We, all of us, are witness to something that up until now seemed an historical event safely tucked away in the Middle Ages or, at least, a hundred years ago.

No more than two months ago, few if any of us could have guessed we would see so many succumb to the coronavirus in so short a period of time that morgues and funeral homes would need to store the dead in refrigerated trucks.

Even in our largest cities, there is silence in the streets. We who can lock ourselves in our homes rarely leave nowadays and never get closer than six feet to another person.

Front-line workers take their lives in their hands to care for the sick and dying. Others perform essential services for the rest of us. Both do so while living as separate as possible from their families for fear of passing the virus to loved ones.

It is fear that drives us now. We live in a state of suspended animation with no end date. Does anyone here believe that the numerous U.S. states “opening” their economies now will result in anything but spikes in infections and deaths?

Old people account for more of the dead than any other age group.

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that one-third of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities:

”At least 25,600 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. The virus so far has infected more than 143,000 at some 7,500 facilities.”

The Washington Post reports that the number of elder deaths from the virus may be even higher:

”It’s become clear that nursing homes are particularly deadly incubators: Fifteen states reported (as of Friday) that more than half of their covid-19 fatalities were associated with long-term-care facilities.

“Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says that as many as 50 percent of all deaths in Europe have occurred in such places.”

There has been more than a little ageism in the discussion of who lives and who dies in this pandemic. In March,

”Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set off a firestorm of criticism after he suggested Monday that he and other older Americans should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy, which he said was in mortal jeopardy because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic,” reported the Washington Post.

“'Let’s get back to living,' Patrick (R) said. 'Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.'”

Just over a week ago, Ken Turnage II was ousted as chairman of Antioch, California's city council when he posted this to Facebook:

”'In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers it ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature," reported NBC News.

“As for homeless people, he added that the virus would 'fix what is a significant burden on our society and resources that can be used.'”

Those two are not alone. Calls for sacrifice of elders and the disabled has become relatively commonplace in relation to the pandemic but reporter Nina A. Kohn, in that same Washington Post story wrote a strong counter-narrative on Friday.

Acknowledging that old people are particularly susceptible to the virus, she points out a long-standing inequality that contributes to the large number of elder deaths:

”They’re also dying because of a more entrenched epidemic: the devaluation of older lives.

“Ageism is evident in how we talk about victims from different generations, in the shameful conditions in many nursing homes and even — explicitly — in the formulas some states and health-care systems have developed for determining which desperately ill people get care if there’s a shortage of medical resources.”

Pointing out specifics about how nursing homes are woefully understaffed and under-regulated, while childcare centers that violate state rules routinely have their licenses revoked and facilities closed, Kohn reports,

”Almost two-thirds of the approximately 15,600 nursing homes in the United States have been cited for violating rules on preventing infections since 2017, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of state inspection results.”

When fines are imposed, Kohn writes, they are low enough to be considered the price of doing business. Further, says Kohn,

”Ageism is most explicit in official policies governing whose lives should be saved if equipment or medical staff become scarce during the pandemic...states and health-care systems have plans for such situations.

“All prioritize patients who are likely to benefit from treatment over those who are unlikely to benefit, but many also rate them based on age — with younger patients getting the nod.

“Louisiana, for example, has long advised hospitals to employ a triage system for disasters that deprioritizes anyone age 65 or older. In April, Pennsylvania issued interim guidance that directs hospitals to rank patients based on broad 'life stages': age 12 to 40, age 41 to 60, age 61 to 75, older than 75.”

Ms. Kohn concludes and I agree:

”Inequalities rooted in ageism have caused the coronavirus to spread, and many policy responses take for granted that older lives are worth less than younger ones. These moral blind spots compromise the fight against the pandemic and diminish us all.”

Which brings us back to today's headline: Are Old People's Lives Worth Less Than Young People's Lives? What do you think?

This is an important story rarely so well and thoughtfully reported as Nina A. Kohn has done. You can read it in full at the Washington Post.

What It's Really Like to Get Old

That headline is the subtitle of this blog. It always has been and that's not going to change. It says quite nicely what Time Goes By is about.

A TGB reader who signs his comments John and is a Trump supporter has been complaining of late about politics in TGB posts:

”What does politics have to do with what it is really like to be old?” he wrote last Thursday. “Sure, it comes into play with certain legislation like social security and medicare, or even, to a degree, the government response to Covid-19, but it should not consume a large chuck (sic) - seems like over half - of the Alex and Ronni Show and it also frequently bleads (sic) into the daily blog posts.”

This is not the first time John has complained about politics at TGB and now the repetition has come to irritate me. I spent more time over this past weekend thinking about John's comment than I care to admit.

Part of it could be that all Trumpers are at best annoying and further, apparently do not object, for example, to ripping small children from parents' arms and disappearing them. That alone, to me, disqualifies someone from membership in the human race.

But ignoring that atrocity (not to mention others) is so common among Trumpers that it can't be all the reason John's complaint kept interrupting my weekend.

I finally realized that my objection lies closer to the topic of this blog than I originally imagined. It is the ageism in what John complains about – the implication that politics is better left to younger people, that it has nothing to do with growing old.

That's just balderdash. Let me explain.

The word “ageism” was coined in 1969 by the late Robert N. Butler, a physician and gerontologist who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his first book, Why Survive? Being Old in America.

Butler's definition of ageism includes prejudicial attitudes toward old people and old age in general; discriminatory practices against old people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes of old people.

That's way too dry but what it means in practice is people, often as young as 40 or 45, not being hired due to their age (it's happened to me and to plenty of you who are reading this). It also means medical care being denied and it means being excluded from drug trials, among other shameful acts.

And it means dismissing or ignoring old people's opinions and points of view just because they are old which brings us back John's objection to politics at Time Goes By.

As is said so often now, we are living in an unprecedented time. There is hardly anyone alive who recalls the 1918 pandemic and now the world is living through our own 2020 Coronavirus pandemic with a uniquely unqualified leader.

A leader who politicizes everything, even the health care of stricken people by granting or withholding life-saving equipment to hospitals depending on the level of fealty to him personally of the people making the request.

This is not the United States I grew up in, studied in school and have believed in all my life. It is the behavior, instead, of a tinhorn, wannabe dictator who does not appear to mind 21,000-plus deaths so far of Americans as long he can crow about how perfect he is.

God help us, but on Sunday, he actually tweeted this:

He apparently believes that being the only president in history to declare a disaster in each and every state is a win for him.

This while tens of thousands of U.S. citizens have died and are continuing to die. Even the caregivers are dying due to the president's policies. Some who hang out at this blog or people we know and love may die due to this man's inability to think beyond the next television camera pointed in his direction.

Is this dire virus situation political? You betcha it's political. A president's number one responsibility is to keep the people of the United States safe. That's it. Everything else is secondary. But the president has not done that, is not doing that. And that makes this political.

John has said he doesn't like politics being talked about at a blog whose slogan is “What it's really like to get old.” Does he mean that old people should back off from the political scene – maybe even from voting?

How is politics not as much about what it is really like to get old as anything – and everything - else?

Maybe there is a hint in another part of John 's comment, the part where he castigates the Democrats for going with Joe Biden as their nominee for president this year:

”I am shocked,” writes John, “that the democrats (sic) are trying to unload an arguably nearly senile individual as their apparent candidate.”

No. What IS shocking is John's statement. It is the definition of ageist. The word senile is kin to the N-word and has no place in civil society. It is descriptive of nothing and is meant only to be insulting to old people. That is not allowed at this blog.

Crabby Old Lady is Schooled in How Not to Act Old

This is day three of the 2020 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By. You can read the details on Monday's post.

Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.

* * *

Crabby Old Lady remembers it as clearly as when it happened in 1956. During that summer, she and her mother had moved to Marin County, California, where in the fall Crabby started her third year of high school at Tamalpais High.

After school one day, Crabby and her new friend Judy had taken the bus home to Sausalito together and without any thought in her head about it, Crabby grabbed Judy's hand as they ran across the road to the side where they needed to be.

Immediately, Judy pulled her hand away and said, “Don't do that. We're not little kids.”

At first, Crabby was hurt. Afraid, too, that she would lose her new and, so far, only friend. Because it seemed to her that Judy knew more about these things than Crabby did, Crabby tried not to show her feelings and she certainly didn't say anything. (She was shy in those days.)

All her life, Crabby had held someone's hand when she crossed the street. First, of course, with parents, and later, with girl friends who, in Portland, Oregon where she grew up until moving to California, were just as likely to grab Crabby's hand first.

Now Judy had shown her that in this new place she was still learning to navigate, Crabby shouldn't do that.

And here she is now, 64 years later, while the media, advertisers and random internet writers never stop telling Crabby that she shouldn't act like an old person.

The media is overly fond of old people who do things that even young adults avoid like climbing high mountains, jumping out of airplanes and running marathons. When the supply of those stories runs short, a couple who get married in their 90s is a frequent second choice.

Most recently, ads for a new lipstick brand have been following Crabby around the internet and it knows she is old.

Supposedly, it won't bleed into the little, vertical lines above our lip that many get in old age. But lipstick companies have been telling Crabby that certain lipsticks do that all her life and she doubts this one works any better than all the previous claims.

In addition, there is no dearth of young and young-ish people online feeling the need to school old folks on how not to act like they are old. Among the warnings Crabby came across was this downright nasty one:

”Don't fall victim to a scam. Scams are now rampant and many of them are aimed at old people. It's one thing BEING old. You don't have to add to that by ACTING old and being naïve enough to fall for some of these scams that are out there. That not only marks you as old, old, old, but kind of dumb.”

Worse, the writer cracking the whip at old folks doesn't even know what she (they are mostly women) is talking about. Experian reports about a Better Business Bureau survey:

”The BBB report showed that Americans ages 18 to 34 were more susceptible to scams (43.7% were victims) than Americans 55 and older (27.6% were victims).”

It's only fair to note, however, that the older group loses more money in scams than younger victims.

Here's another one, only slightly less rude:

”Don't wait until you get up to the checker at the grocery story to fish around for your wallet or your check book...Your wallet should be out and if you are writing a check, which, I hate to tell you, pegs you as an old person right there because no one writes checks at the grocery story anymore, your checkbook should be in hand.”

Yes, ma'am!

Other admonitions include:
Don’t talk too much or use too many words
Get a tattoo or lie about having one

And this one, billed as a three-fer:
Don’t call when a text will do
Don’t expect an immediate answer to your text
Please don’t leave a message

Don't act young, they said back then. Don't act old, they tell Crabby now. How 'bout they all go eat worms.

THINKING OUT LOUD: Memory Lapses and Unsuccessful Aging

Three times in an hour-long conversation with a friend this morning, I had reason to say, “Never mind, I lost the thought.” In my case when that happens, the thought is gone forever.

Most TGB readers are old enough to know the problem of forgetting the name of a place, person or thing (these lapses are almost always nouns). It has an infamous twin - walking into the bedroom and forgetting why you're there.

This is an old-age phenomenon, short-term memory being too short to be useful. But Daniel J. Levitin, a 62-year-old neuroscientist says we are wrong.

”This is widely understood to be a classic problem of aging,” he wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times. “But as a neuroscientist, I know that the problem is not necessarily age-related.”

(Or maybe it is; note how he hedges his statement with “necessarily.”)

He goes on to explain that “short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted.”

”It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in the 'next thing to do' file in your mind. You do this by thinking about them, perhaps repeating them over and over again...

“But any distraction — a new thought, someone asking you a question, the telephone ringing — can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.”

Dr. Levitin tells us that his 20-year-old students make “loads” of short-term memory mistakes.

”They walk into the wrong classroom; they show up to exams without the requisite No. 2 pencil; they forget something I just said two minutes before. These are similar to the kinds of things 70-year-olds do.”

The difference between to the two age groups, he says, is how they each describe the events:

”Twenty-year-olds don’t think, 'Oh dear, this must be early-onset Alzheimer’s.' They think, 'I’ve got a lot on my plate right now' or 'I really need to get more than four hours of sleep.'”

Cognition does slow down with age, says Dr. Levitin, but given a little more time, elders' memory works fine. As others before him have explained, part of the slowing down problem is old people have so much more information stored in their brains that it takes longer to sort through it all.

But there's good news too.

”Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age. For instance, our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience.

“(This is why computers need to be shown tens of thousands of pictures of traffic lights or cats in order to be able to recognize them). If you’re going to get an X-ray, you want a 70-year-old radiologist reading it, not a 30-year-old one.”

Dr. Levitin says elders more easily recall events from long ago because they were new when they happened and make strong impressions.

Although little of Dr. Levitin's memory discussion is new to me, I was enjoying reading his piece until I came upon the last paragraph:

”...experiencing new things is the best way to keep the mind young, pliable and growing — into our 80s, 90s and beyond.”

What a bunch of - oh, never mind. I have new experiences every day. Everyone does even if it's as simple as reading something new. That's not going to make anyone's mind young. Instead, it just reinforces the ageist belief that age is inferior to youth.

And anyway, new experiences don't help me remember why I walked into the bedroom.

The Times' article notes that Dr. Levitin's article is adapted it from his book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives.

I was just about to type out a snarky response to that title, but I think most TGB readers will think what I do when see that sorry phrase: please do tell us, then, what is UNsuccessful aging.

Attitudes Toward Old Age


This photograph, one among many, was taken by Paul Graham for his recent book, Mother.

The photo and some others of Graham's mother are included in a Washington Post story written by Keith Dickerman who had recently visited his own mother:

”From my newfound perspective,” writes Dickerman, “Graham’s book looks like a loving meditation on his own mom. The photos are soft, delicate, quiet and, ultimately, reflective. Paging through the book, I felt an affinity for how Graham seems to feel about his mother.”

More portrait than photograph, they led me with each viewing to wonder about her life, the lives of all people who reach a great age and the stillness that seems to accompany many of the oldest old.

Perhaps I have been spoiled by TGB's brilliant comment section, but I hardly ever read comments elsewhere on the internet – so many are stupid, vulgar, mean and therefore time-wasters.

This time, however, I took a glance at them and was not disabused of my opinion:

“I understand this is art," wrote one, "whose purpose is to capture a poignant moment in time. And it is familiar to me as I was there for my mother to her last, when she was a withered shell of herself.

“But I choose not to remember her like this. It is not relevant to who she was. I have several 'snapshots' of her sparkly, vibrant, somewhat incorrigible self in mind, when she was getting the biggest bang out of life. And that is what she would want.”
“Withered shell of herself?” “Not relevant to who she was?” Really? All those late years don't count for anything?

Here are two more:

“I hope to god my children have more kindness and sense than to take and publish photos of me when I am in this state. I’m sure this woman would be horrified to know he has done this.”
“I have raised my children to be kind and I know they would never take pictures of me like this. I don’t want to be remembered as a young woman but as a good mother.”

It is obvious the people who wrote these comments do not believe there is any value to old age. With such apparent loathing of aged bodies, how do they tolerate looking at their mothers? Are they repulsed? Do they tell their children not to photograph their grandmother? Do they not love their old mothers as much as when they were younger?

And will they like themselves less when they are “in this state"?

At the risk of breaking an arm while patting myself on the back, I've made it a point to watch myself age since my mid-fifties when I first realized I am not the world's one immortal. After all those years, my response to changes in my body is generally neutral.

Vein-y hands. Eye crinkles. Forehead lines. Crepe-y neck. Those two smile/frown lines around my mouth – I've watched them deepen over many years and they're still doing it. Plus, as I once wrote in these pages, where did my butt go?

I don't compare myself now to what I looked like as a young or mid-life woman. I look at myself as an old woman now and isn't it amazing the changes that keep happening.

The people who wrote these comments are not outliers. They're just more honest than many others.

But how is it, do you think, that Americans hate old age so much, so deeply? And how is that any different from hating old people themselves?

There are more photos of Paul Graham's mother here. His book is available here and here.

The Public Image of Old People

[EDITORIAL NOTE: My apologies to non-subscribers for the number of New York Times links. Usually I try to use as many sources without paid firewalls as possible but these are the links I had collected over time not knowing I would use them all in the same place. I think, however, the quotations stand on their own.]

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Every now and then, I get all wound up about how poorly old people are treated in the media. This is one of those times.

For every nicely done cable series starring old people (Grace and Frankie and The Kominsky Method come to mind), there are a zillion portrayals reminding everyone that if you're older than 50 (and even younger sometimes) you are no better than dead.

Sometimes it is that literal. Earlier this year, New York Times New Old Age columnist Paula Span related this incident:

”It happened about a year ago. I stepped off the subway and spotted an ad on the station wall for a food delivery service. It read: 'When you want a whole cake to yourself because you’re turning 30, which is basically 50, which is basically dead.'”

Ageism can also be quite subtle. Here's a webpage about a group of professionals dedicated to combating ageism in the advertising business. But it is close to impossible for anyone older than 40 to read it thanks to the light gray text on a white background.

However much they may mean well in regard to ageist words and images in media, what is the point if they can't get this simple part right.

Recently, there has been an uptick in the number of news stories about how marketers mostly ignore old people. In one of them, Tiffany Hsu at The New York Times writes:

”...the demographic is shunned and caricatured in marketing images, perpetuating unrealistic stereotypes and contributing to age discrimination, according to a new report.”

Ms. Hsu, referencing that report, from AARP, notes that although people 50 and older make up more than a third of the U.S. population and one-third of the labor force, they appear in only 15 percent of all types of media images and in only 13 percent of media images showed older people working.

Repetition plays a large role in cementing our beliefs (see or hear it often enough, it must be true) and none of us is immune all the time. In addition, what we do NOT see can be as powerful as what's right in front of us – like screen texts that even middle-aged eyes can't read and old people working alongside people of all other ages.

When old people are excluded from the public media conversation, they become less than everyone else, as if they have a disease, and denigrating them directly or by omission, becomes acceptable.

According to reporter Hsu, some advertising agency employees blame their own ageist offices for fostering ageism in the advertising and marketing they produce. AARP says it is pressing agencies to change their ageist ways and in one instance AARP has

”...teamed with Getty Images, the stock media supplier, to introduce a collection of 1,400 images on Monday that show older people running businesses, playing basketball and hanging out with younger generations.

“'What we needed was imagery showing mature adults leading full lives,' Rebecca Swift, the global head of creative insights for Getty Images, said in a statement.”

That's what bothers me. I'm tired of seeing headlines such as this one, also from The New York Times, June 2019:

”She’s 103 and Just Ran the 100-Meter Dash. Her Life Advice?”

Too often and perhaps in a misguided attempt to show elders as equal to mid-age adults, the media report only on the few old people, the “superelders”, who behave like 30- or 40-year-olds by skydiving and climbing tall mountains. In the real world, most elders must accommodate the inevitable decline of our bodies but that doesn't mean we become stupid or irrelevant.

Do I want to see old people portrayed realistically as workers, business owners, playing whatever sports they enjoy and doing the things they have done all their lives? For god's sake, yes, appropriately for their age.

But I also want us portrayed on the other side of realistic: the ones of us who use wheel chairs or canes to get around, for example, but still go to work, drive cars, cook, clean and take care of the chores and errands everyone else does even if we are a bit slower - that's normal with age. I'm tired of seeing old people portrayed most frequently as needy and dependent.

I want old people to be as respected by the culture and portrayed in the media as the grown ups they are, a right they once had in their lives but which was snatched away when they started to look 50 or 55 or 60.

In short, I want it to become okay to be old and I want to see that reflected in the all the various media that is so much of our lives.

Old Folks Set in Their Ways

It's a joke, that headline phrase, isn't it? And not a good one. In fact, it's ageist in its assumption that old people cannot or will not change, and most of all, it is wrong.

That is not to say there aren't plenty of stubborn people in the world, but they come in all ages. And in the case of old people, the nature of ageing makes change a requirement if you are going to navigate these advanced years.

We'll get back to that in a moment but first, what about our life-long habits? Are they necessarily bad? Do people who believe all old folks are “set in their ways” should change things just because they've been doing them for many years? (I'm not talking about smoking cigarettes and other dangerous undertakings.)

The web has only a skimpy amount of useful material on the subject and with a few exceptions they want old people to change. At least one even has a numbered list of instructions on how to get others to adopt your way of doing things.

But consider where we old folks are in life: We have decades of trial and error in pretty much all aspects of our lives along with sometimes cherished habits that over years turned into favored rituals.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she wouldn't want one of those machines makes a single cup of coffee from the insertion of a little pod. Aside from the environmental disaster they cause, she said, she prefers the ritual of a French press.

I'd never thought of it that way, but I now embrace the idea of ritual with my own French press I've been using for going on 40 years. I like that routine first thing in the morning. It feels comfortable and after all this time, it doesn't require thought (if you don't count the recent morning when I measured the coffee into the cup.)

The other thing about coffee is that even after more than 14 years, I have my favorite blend sent from the shop where I bought it in New York City. A bonus was when I figured out that even with shipping costs, it is cheaper than buying coffee where I live now - particularly so when you know you're getting a full pound (16 ounces) rather than the 10 or 12 ounces at the market.

These are good habits to be set in my ways about – they reliably bring me pleasure and I get to do it every morning. How terrific is that and why would I change?

By the time we reach old age, we have made hundreds, maybe thousands of decisions so we have a lot of practice at making good and not-so-good choices to inform new ones that come along.

If, as some say, a portion of young people do change their minds more frequently than old people, it is because they are just starting out. There's a lot to learn about living, much of it through trial and error.

But it is in old age where willingness to make changes becomes crucial to well-being. Linda Breytspraak of the Center on Aging Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City (quoted at missourifamilies.org/) explains more succinctly than I could:

”The majority of older people are not 'set in their ways and unable to change,'” she writes. “'There is some evidence that older people tend to become more stable in their attitudes, but it is clear that most older people do change.

“'To survive, they must adapt to many events of later life such as retirement, children leaving home, widowhood, moving to new homes, and serious illness.'”

She's right that survival depends on our ability to accommodate our changing circumstances as we grow old.

I've learned a lot about adapting in the past two years since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In one case, I eat what I consider a terrible high calorie, high fat diet nowadays to help keep my weight up so I don't become frail.

As the chief oncology nurse said to me when I objected, “The cancer will kill you long before the diet will.”

And so I eat a lot of the foods I shunned for most of my life and it has kept on the weight. If I skip even a single meal, I lose a pound or so overnight so I am diligent about eating as I never was when I was younger.

In another bid to have a healthy life for as long as possible in my predicament, I sleep a full night every night. For the past year, I've been using cannabis, an edible or tincture) to help ensure a full six to seven hours if not always eight hours. It works and, cancer notwithstanding, I feel a lot better than all those years I woke after only three or four hours of sleep.

Did I mention recently that I made a new rule? No more climbing ladders. Thanks to chemotherapy, I am shaky on my feet sometimes and I surely don't want a broken hip or back or neck from a fall.

For the same reason, I look down when I walk around my apartment complex so that I don't trip on one of the pine cones that are everywhere.

It is doubtful that we will convince others that being “set in our ways” is not a bad thing and can even be a life saver for old people. But we can embrace our habits and rituals and enjoy them. We spent a lifetime learning these lessons, often the hard way.

Old Age Word Play

It cannot be settled among old people (or anyone else) at what age we become old. Ask 10 people, you'll get 10 answers and the older the person being questioned, the older he or she says old age kicks in.

I find it a joke and pathetic, those who say people aren't old until they are 80 or 85.

Like me, a lot of people who read this blog are word mavens so today, let's play around a bit with some of them that relate to being old.

When I started this blog 15 years ago, I made a conscious choice to use the word “old” which was not done then any more frequently than it is now.

In the beginning, as much as I wanted to change the dialogue about ageing, I was still in thrall to the prevailing culture and it was jarring to write the word “old” when most other people used such words as senior, golden ager, oldster and worse.

But repeated use made it feel normal within a week or two. I never think about it now except to lament that most people shun it. The word and people who are old are hated so much that people will not even say the word.

Here are a few that fall into that “worse” category - general descriptions for old people. These are recommended in an online story the authors of which I won't embarrass by naming.

(For wimps. Just use old.)

(Really? At what?)

(Old does not equal wise. I know a lot of dumb old people.)

(Baked at 350 degrees?)

(Way too twee, and few achieve it anyway.)

(What the hell does that even mean in regard to an old person?)

(Too obviously working overtime to avoid “old.” Just use old.)

(You'll find them among the rows of daffodils.)

In addition to “old” itself, I like “elder” for general use but not “elderly.” A geriatrician once told me that she and others of her cohort reserve elderly for old people who are frail and sickly. I think that's a good choice; it makes an important and useful distinction.

Although it sounds derogatory, I like the British word “wrinklies” - it always makes me smile.

The most common euphemisms for “death” - that is, passed, passed on, passed away, etc. - annoy me almost as much as those descriptions of old people above. What's wrong with saying, “Aunt Jane died?”

If you'd like a good laugh, here's a long list at Wikipedia of euphemisms for death. You've heard some of them all your life. A few others are quite clever.

Which brings us to “death with dignity”. That's what Oregon and some other states call their assisted death laws. It bothers me every time I hear it not least because it is difficult to use grammatically but further, I haven't been able to work out why taking state-sanctioned drugs to die provides dignity that dying in any other way does not.

Death comes to us all. It is a profound event however it happens and whistling past the graveyard notwithstanding (see link above), it should not be dishonored by misguided political correctness.

Here are some reasonably good alternatives to “death with dignity.”

Physician-assisted suicide
Physician-assisted death
Aid in dying
Assisted death

Now it's your turn.

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.

Ageism in Medicine

Last week, I was alerted to an important new book via Judith Graham's Navigating Aging column at Kaiser Health Network.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Judith is a friend and journalist who has reported on aging and health issues for most of her career. Last November, she published a column about my blogging about my terminal cancer.]

The book in question is titled, Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life and is about ageism in medicine, something I have been known to rail against in these pages for all the 15 years I've been writing this blog.

The author, Dr. Louise Aronson, is a geriatrician, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and a writer. Judith sat down with Dr. Aronson for an interview about her new book. Three short excerpts:

First, I was knocked out to hear a doctor finally saying out loud what many of us laymen interested in ageing have known and been repeating for many years:

”People age differently — in different ways and at different rates. Sometimes people skip stages. Or they move from an earlier stage to a later stage but then move back again,” said Dr. Aronson.

If you've been around this blog for a good while, you have probably read words similar or almost identical to those of Dr. Aronson ad nauseum. That's because they are true and bear restating until people get it. But it carries a lot more weight coming from a physician.

Here's another from Dr. Aronson about something that drives me nuts:

”Medicine pretends that this part of life isn’t really different from young adulthood or middle age. But it is. And that needs a lot more recognition than it currently gets.”

No kidding. In addition to all the obvious physical changes, we aren't even included in many drug trials so doctors can only guess at what dosage and frequency to assign to a 60- or 70- or 80-year-old body. Good luck with that.

And third, blatant ageism, which too many people who willingly campaign against racism and sexism, for example, refuse to recognize. Dr. Aronson:

”Do you know the famous anecdote about the 97-year-old man with the painful left knee? He goes to a doctor who takes a history and does an exam. There’s no sign of trauma, and the doctor says, 'Hey, the knee is 97 years old. What do you expect?'

“And the patient says, 'But my right knee is 97 and it doesn’t hurt a bit.'

“That’s ageism: dismissing an older person’s concerns simply because the person is old. It happens all the time.”

Dr. Aronson has more compelling things to say about medicine and ageism. You can read Judith's entire interview here.

I'm pleased to report that in my two years of treatment at Oregon Health & Sciences University, not once have I run into an instance of ageism. Of course, I'm being treated mainly in the oncology unit and I'd guess if you choose that specialty with which to make your career, you had better like old people – we get most of the cancers.

Dr. Aronson has been compared – as well she should be - to Atul Gawande and the late Oliver Sacks, two other doctor-authors I greatly admire. Dr. Aronson's book will be published next Tuesday, 11 June and I've got it on pre-order.

You can find Judith Graham's full archive of KHN Navigating Aging columns here.

I'll leave you today with this lecture by Dr. Aronson speaking in Dublin at a dotMD conference in 2014, published in March 2019 to YouTube. She is an engaging speaker, her points are compelling and no medical jargon allowed.

Who is Too Old to be President?

How old is too old to be president?

Wait, wait. Don't rush into this. Before you answer, let me remind you of what I have reported here dozens of times:

Babies' development can be predicted to the week. If she/he has not taken a first step or said a first word by a specified week of life, it's probably time to check with a pediatrician.

The other end of of life, however, is highly unpredictable. Some people's intellectual capabilities are compromised by age 50. Others sail into their eighth, ninth and even tenth decades while carrying on the work and interests they have always had, or taking on new ones.

So (discounting heavy physical labor), there is no date, no particular age at which a person can be labeled too old to work.

We complain about that here all the time, the rejection of job applicants based on whether they look like an interviewer's parent. It's called ageism and it begins to show up at a remarkably early age – about 40 for men and 35 for women and increases from there.

Nevertheless, growing old is not without intellectual consequence. We often laugh at ourselves about forgetting words – even whole concepts we were trying to talk about; aches and pains that wear down our mental and physical stamina throughout the day; and general slowing down we all recognize in ourselves.

Of the people currently in the running for U.S. president, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have been most frequently attacked for being too old for the job. As The Hill reported:

”Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday rebuffed criticism that he is 'too old' to seek the presidency, challenging critics to 'follow' him on the campaign trail.

“'It’s not whether you’re young, it’s not whether you’re old; it’s what you believe in,' Sanders said during a town hall event hosted by Fox News.”

Here are the ages of some of the people running for president. I've not listed them all because – well, it's just absurd how many think they are presidential material. Numbers are each person's age on election day 2020.

Bernie Sanders – 79
Joe Biden - 77
Donald Trump – 74
Elizabeth Warren – 71
Jay Inslee – 69
Amy Klobuchar – 60
Kamala Harris – 56
Cory Booker – 51
Beto O'Roarke – 48
Pete Buttigieg – 38

Those who want a younger president often argue that people keep growing even older year by year after an election and may die in office. Others like to argue that anyone can die unexpectedly at any age (just ask John F. Kennedy).

I'm with the second group on that question, but any old person knows intimately how much most of us slow down, tire easily, make jokes about our C.R.A.F.T. difficulties (“Can't Remember A Fucking Thing).

I want my president to be at the top of his intellectual capabilities.

Even so, I would vehemently oppose a cutoff age for presidential candidacy. They may be few, but people who maintain their mental acuity well into old age are out there and I don't see Bernie Sanders nor any of the other older candidates fumbling for words the way I do.

Now it's your turn. What do you think?

Growing Old My Way

Earlier this week, long-time TGB reader Elizabeth left, in part, this comment:

”The culture we live in insists that 'living to the fullest' means an incessant pursuit of experiences. One MUST travel in retirement. One MUST attend cultural events. In some circles, one MUST volunteer or be politically active.

“The idea of a bucket list is another piece of that pressure to do, do, do. After a lifetime of working and raising a family, I am able to live fully the way I want to...

“My paternal grandmother once commented on how annoying she found the recreational staff at her senior residence. They were so worried that she didn’t participate in the (to Grandma) condescending song fests and games. She kept saying that she was finally able to do exactly what she wanted.”

Elizabeth is correct. The only old people to whom American culture pays even a small amount of respect are the ones who act like younger adults, 40-year-olds for example.

You know the headline stories: a 102-year-old park ranger; an 80-year-old who climbs Mt. Everest; a 91-year-old marathon runner.

These elders are outliers who, via glorification of their physical advantages, we are urged to emulate. Not the tens of millions of us who carry on daily activities the best we can, without too much complaint (if you don't count Crabby Old Lady), while navigating the large and small and sometimes frightening difficulties of old age.

In the media hubbub surrounding the recent Academy Awards, I saw a headline announcing that movie producers are now embracing older actors and stories about old people. No, they are not - not unless their name is Judi Dench or Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren. (It helps to be British.)

And in general, there are just three storylines:

The aforementioned extreme sports stories (that always imply “if he can do it, what's wrong with you?”)

Love in old age (aren't they cute)

Spunky elders (with or without terminal disease) who carry on through every adversity, designed and guaranteed to leave the entire audience weeping when they die at the end

In supporting roles, elders are almost always the objects of ageist humor.

As Elizabeth points out, it is close to universally true that people who have not yet reached old age think we're doing it wrong if we are not behaving like 40-year-olds.

Until you're old, you probably have no idea how chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and dozens of others hamper one's ability to do the things that were easy at age 40.

And that doesn't include plain old tiredness, the fatigue that comes along just because you are old now and your body slows down.

People sometimes say it's too bad there isn't an instruction book for getting old. I think it's a good thing NOT to have that book, not to have an arbitrary “expert” telling us what we should be doing.

Remember, there is no right way to grow old. Do it your way and do it proudly.

Crabby Old Lady – Not Me, A Poem

This is day three (of six) of the 2019 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By for the next five years. You can read the details on Wednesday's post.

Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.

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Last week, a reader named Joseph Burns left this comment on a post from the first year of this blog's existence, September 2004:

”I read this out to my year 10 form, you could hear a pin drop, almost in tears towards the end, but think each child got something from the poem.

“And to me it’s not just a poem it’s a reminder of life, so so true. Whoever wrote this has captured it so true. 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏"

I think after 15 years this is definitely worth a repeat. I've included my original introduction from 2004.

* * *

This poem is floating around the Web here and there. According to some, it was found among the "meager possessions" of an old woman who died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, and was later published in the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.

That all may be apocryphal. I can't find any reference, except in relation to the poem, of the publication or its organization. Those who retrieved the poem did not record the woman's name nor is there a year attached, but that is not important. This is a cry from the heart, whoever wrote it, to not be made invisible in old age.

It would do us all well to remember this poem when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.

Herewith, then, the poem titled Crabby Old Lady.

What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;
'tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years - all too few, gone too fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
not a crabby old woman; look closer - see ME!

Two Age Things of Opposing Interest

Yes, these look like items that would usually turn up in Saturday's weekly Interesting Stuff post. But I think they both deserve more attention than perhaps being lost among eight or 10 other items. See what you think.

Certainly I have banged on here – and will again - about how important it is for Americans to vote for their local and Congressional candidates in the midterm election on 6 November.

But never in my dreams could I have envisioned other voting advocates dismissing the need of some citizens to vote, and definitely not for the reason in this video.

It comes from an organization called the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that sounds righteous enough in their About statement on its website:

“NRDC was founded in 1970 by a group of law students and attorneys at the forefront of the environmental movement. Today's leadership team and board of trustees makes sure the organization continues to work to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.”

“...ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water and healthy communities” but not, apparently, the right to vote after a certain age.

The video is obviously meant to have a little fun while promoting voting by imagining a Non-Voters Anonymous meeting based on the many flavors of such self-help groups. Take a look and be especially attentive at 2:40 in from the top:

Did you get that?

SPEAKER 1: You can vote in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s.

SPEAKER 2: Not 80s. Stay home.

SPEAKER 1: 80s too old. What's the point.

If that exchange was meant to be funny, it missed the mark by 100 percent. Shame on the National Resources Defense Council and everyone involved with the production of this video.

It is a credit to the simpatico between readers of this blog and me that most of the time when readers send links to stories, videos, books, movies, etc. they find interesting, I have just that day or so discovered them myself. (That doesn't mean you should stop sending them; there are plenty I wouldn't know about without you.)

I had just spent 13-plus minutes watching this documentary about Donald Hall when an email arrived from Jack Handley recommending it. He included this message in his note:

No sentimentalities
No denials
No woo woo
No sky gods
No perversion of emotions

And so it is.

American poet laureate, Donald Hall, who has been featured here on several occasions through the years, died in June at age 89. His most recent and now, alas, final book was published in July: A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing 90.

The video, titled Quiet Hours by the producer/director Paul Szynol, premiered at The Atlantic website on Monday – a lovely meditation on old age in which Szynol gives us plenty of silent moments to contemplate what has been said and shown.

(One suggestion: Hall's voice is sometimes muffled and it helps to turn on the closed captioning which is, however, far from perfect but it will help you understand without having to stop and back up the video.)

For all my years producing television, it is words that have always mattered to me first. Two moments among others from the documentary that stand out for me – Hall speaking:

“My companion was her absence.” (Regarding Jane Kenyon, the love of his life who died 22 years ago:)

"Often, at night, solitude loses its soft power, and loneliness takes over. I am grateful for when solitude returns.”

Take a look for yourself:

More at The Atlantic website.

What Was Your Most Difficult Birthday?

As we have discussed here many times, most western democracies are profoundly ageist cultures.

It starts in the cradle, this antipathy toward the no longer young and from there, the number of ways that have been invented to marginalize people older than 50 – even, often, older than 40 – is boundless.

Just last evening, in an otherwise excellent novel I'm reading, this description of a newly introduced character appeared: “She was a woman of about 60 who in her younger years must have been a beauty.” There had been a similar sentence 50 or 60 pages earlier about another woman.

Are you saying that now she's a hag? I thought. It is the most common dismissal of women (and, occasionally, men), that if they are old – calculated by young people's standards – they are ugly.

Of course, the ramifications of such judgments are more serious than simple scorn: people are fired from jobs due to false stereotypes of older adults, not hired in the first place, subject to sub-par healthcare and generally discouraged from participating in public life.

But that's a story for another day. What I want to note today is that even while lamenting all that, we who are old generally abide with ourselves and our kind quite well and actually, life does get better.

These days, at age 77, I wake most mornings with a smile, eager to get on with whatever I have or have not planned for the day. That daily appetite is new and undoubtedly some of it is a consequence of surviving, so far, pancreatic cancer and being more fully aware than at any time in my life how precious is each new day.

But it's not all as a result of cancer. A lot, maybe the largest part, is having been surprised at some of the advantages of advanced age and the real changes I've experienced in my own attitudes and behavior.

Acceptance of what is, to which I have paid lip service for too long, is how, at last, I live mostly. I suspect it may arrive after decades of various levels of catastrophe that were, to my astonishment when they happened, survivable. Now I don't panic anymore when things go wrong.

This has brought better perspective, an increased ability to weigh events on more reasonable scales. Most occurrences that once fell into my disaster column are not - at least in the long run. Just cleaning up the spilt milk and getting on with living is so much easier than the “oh-my-god” anxieties and fears of the past.

And patience. It doesn't need to be today anymore. Although I will admit to being puzzled that at a time in life when what time I have left is demonstrably shorter, I am quite happy to put off all kinds of things – interesting as well as tedious - until tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next. I have no idea why it should be that way; it is a mystery.

And now, even in this culture that to a large degree despises people of old age, I welcome birthdays; I like ticking off the years as they go by. In fact, the last birthday that I feared was 40.

I spent my entire 39th year boring every person I knew with lamentations over the impending doom, as I saw it, of turning 40. Looking back at my incessant wailing, I'm surprised any friendships from that year survived.

When the dread day arrived, I found on my desk at work that morning a classic, long white box in which red roses are usually delivered. But my birthday is in April, springtime, and the man I was then dating was much more inventive than that.

Inside were 40 (I counted them) gorgeous, fresh tulips and as lovely as they were, it was the card that made my day: “See how beautiful 40 can be.” (The seventh photograph from the left in the banner at the top of this page was taken on the evening of that day.)

It was still another three decades or so before I began to make real peace with growing old but none of the succeeding birthdays were as fraught as 40. I was learning acceptance – it just took me a long, long time to get there.

Have you had a really difficult birthday?

What to Call Old People

Although it has been awhile, we have been discussing what words we like and don't like to describe old persons since the earliest days of this blog 15 years ago and there is still not a consensus among us or anyone else.

From past posts, my views are well-known and not counting quotations from others, I don't stray from my personal preferences: old, old person, elder and that's about it.

Not senior or senior citizen and certainly not “older adult” and “older person” which use the comparative adjective as a synonym for “old” in the false belief that it's more polite or somehow doesn't mean the person referenced is old. Come on now, of course it does. Why shilly-shally around.

“Elderly” is another term I eschew as it generally refers to people who are old and medically infirm to differing degrees while implying that all old people are sick or disabled by virtue only of their age and therefore lesser than younger people.

I also don't use cutesy-pooh names like “oldster”, “golden-ager” or “third-ager”, and unless I am referring to a person we know was born between 1946 and 1964, I don't use the word, “boomer.”

In surveys, baby boomers say they don't mind that term as a synonym for old, failing to understand, I guess, that it refers to their specific generation and not all old people up until dead.

There are, give or take, 30 million of us in the U.S. - still very much alive - who were born before and during World War II who do not share the attributes assigned to the boomer generation. Personally, I dislike being lumped with them; we are older, have different experiences, attitudes and outlooks.

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal took on this long-ongoing debate in a short report titled, “Forget 'Senior' - Boomers Search For a Better Term”, which you can read here [pdf].

I will let it go that, from the context, the WSJ reporter seems to believe “boomer” is a synonym for all old people. Further, Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, tells the Journal that people don't like the word “old”:

“For a long time, Dr. Carstensen, 64, tried to get people to call themselves old and be proud of reaching advanced age. Getting others to embrace the term was a tough sell, she says. Other, more positive terms, such as sage, don’t always apply either. 'There are a whole bunch of older people who are nothing close to wise,' she says. She prefers perennial...”

As does former Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright. But I agree with Daniel Reingold, CEO of Riverspring Health, a nursing, rehabilitation and managed care company in New York: perennial “sounds like a plant,” he says.

Reingold says his company has struggled through the years to come up with appropriate wording around this issue.

”He prefers 'older adults,'” reports the WSJ, “which he thinks is neutral and accurate. 'The difference between a 90-year-old and a 40-year-old is that one adult is older,' he says. He’s just not sure when the term starts to kick in: 'I’m 64 and I’m not sure I want to be called an older adult.'”

Oh just stop it. Everyone, stop it. If you are asking the question about when being old “kicks in”, you're there.

Referring again to Carstensen's declaration about urging people to feel “proud” of their advanced age, I disagree again. What is there to be proud of? Why should anyone be proud of being old any more than claiming pride for being 17 or 36 or 52 or any other age?

Pride of years makes no sense to me. All ages are equally valid. Unless we die young, we each go through all of them. There is nothing unique or special about a certain age compared to another.

To use respectful words won't suddenly do away with ageism but over the long haul, it will contribute to easing that particular prejudice. Given how far we have not come in regard to racism (for just one example), that haul will be particularly long given that so many people – including millions of old people themselves – deny that ageism exists.

Elders who think ageism is not real or is not important often say, “Age is just a number.” No it is not, not if you can't get a job, are denied medical care or are cruelly dismissed and ignored due to the number of your years.

In regard to choice of words about anything, I do my best always come down on the sides of fact and clarity – something we should all be well tutored in these days while enduring this bizarre era of daily “fake news” accusations from the president of the United States.

For better and worse, language is used every day to persuade, manipulate, exhalt, denounce and more. Let's make sure we each use it with respect for everyone including elders. Language matters.

What do you think should be preferred terms for old people? And why?

Labor Day 2018: Stuck In Old People Jobs

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Don't forget, if you are interested the documentary film, RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it will be broadcast this evening on CNN at 9PM and again at 12 midnight U.S. eastern time.

* * *

Between the beginning of the great recession in 2008 through the year 2010, 8.7 million U.S. workers, many at the peak of their careers, were laid off. Breakdown of the statistics by age is hard to come by but we can estimate that at least tens of thousands were within the last two or three or four years or so their working lives.

When jobs began to return, did they get back on track?

Through the years since the start of the recession I've wondered what happened to those people. And now that the country apparently has attained near-full employment, have they been hired?

As of last month, the number of jobs in the U.S. is 7.7 percent higher than at the start of the recession. So pretty much everyone should be employed, right?

Well, maybe. Except for the fact that the 7.7 percent comes out almost even equal with the number of new workers who have entered the workforce in that period of time. Even so, the unemployment rate is currently at a low 3.9 percent, a number that hasn't been seen since 2001.

Last week, the Boston Globe (paywall) took a look at what such a tight labor market means for older workers.

The jobless rate for workers 55 and older, 3.1 percent, looks good for those job seekers on it face.

”...but that’s little consolation to the longtime unemployed and underemployed in that age group," reports The Globe. "Research dating back to the 1980s shows that job options narrow for those over 50.

“Many of these workers get funneled into lower-paying 'old person jobs' — everything from retail sales clerks to security or school-crossing guards to taxi drivers, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.”

Plus, the same-old, same old false prejudices and objections to older workers are still widespread: that they expect higher wages; they increase health insurance costs; they are stuck in their ways and can't learn new skills. The Boston Globe:

”Fairly or not, employers’ reluctance to pay more for older workers can be the biggest obstacle, said Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist at DataCore Partners, an economic research firm based in New Haven and Martha’s Vineyard.

“'Many employers are looking at what they’re paying a 60-year-old and they’re saying, Wait, I can hire two hungry 30-year-olds  for the same cost,' he said. Klepper-Smith, who is 64, added, 'My wife is joking right now that she’ll outsource me for two 30-year-olds.'”

I don't mean to be snide - well, maybe I do - is age and low wage now the only criteria? Do knowledge and experience have no place anymore in the workplace?

For older workers left out or left behind in those old people jobs, the future can be bleak. After years of no income and/or much lower income, their savings is often depleted, they don't make enough to pay off debts and save for their future which has its own consequences:

”...older employees continue to be pigeonholed into lower-wage positions, Rutledge said, with often dire financial consequences for their retirement savings and income.

“A lot of people think their earnings are going to grow as they get older,” he said. “When that doesn’t happen, it means they’ve probably overestimated how much they can save and what their Social Security benefits will be. And they’ll end up living on less.”

Although the number of unfilled jobs in the U.S. is the highest it has been in 17 years, ”...most of the openings are in sectors like retail, services, and transportation”, reports The Globe. Old people jobs.

Some say the job market is loosening up a bit and that that bodes well for age 55-plus workers. I'm not so optimistic. In all the years prior to the great recession, age discrimination in the workplace was in full force. Many TGB readers, including me, have been caught in that trap as we grew older.

Don't forget too that in the decade since the recession, the gig economy has taken off with its short-term jobs, low pay, often no health coverage, and freelancers and contractors usually required to pay the full Social Security tax including the employer half, not just their own contribution.

That affects workers of all ages but older ones have so little time to make up the difference for their retirement.

Employment these days is not a pretty picture for millions of people and I'm grateful to not be part of it any longer, either starting out or finishing up a career. Like many TGB readers, I had a taste of workplace discrimination when I was laid off at age 63 and couldn't get rehired in the extremely youth-oriented internet work world I had been part of for 10 years, or anywhere else.

That affected my Social Security benefit in the negative but I'm fortunate to have enough to get by in relative comfort anyway. I don't want for anything and I thank the gods daily for Medicare.

And contrary to what the Boston Globe seems to believe, age discrimination in the workplace has not gotten better with time.

It has been 51 years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted by Congress. It is administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) but far too often the law favors employers over aggrieved employees.

One way that happens is that in legal proceedings, most employers have attorneys on staff or on retainer and they get paid whatever they are working on. They can drag out paperwork and other delays, as only lawyers can, until the (now laid off) plaintiff can't afford to pay his/her attorney any longer.

As pessimistic as I am, even the EEOC doesn't see much change in attitudes of the culture and employers toward older workers. In a historical overview published in 2017, the agency reported:

“Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit.

“After 50 years of a federal law whose purpose is to promote the employment of older workers based on ability, age discrimination remains too common and too accepted.”

It is true that the workplace is in a huge transition and no one knows how or when or in what form it will settle down.

One thing can be counted on, however: age discrimination in the workplace is only one form of ageism and it will not go away until all forms of ageism are vanquished, and no one is stuck in an old person's job just because they are old.