282 posts categorized "Ageism"

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.

Older
(For wimps. Just use old.)

Experienced
(Really? At what?)

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

Seasoned
(Baked at 350 degrees?)

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

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

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

Perennial
(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.

DEATH AND DYING
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.]

ElderhoodCover225px
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

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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.

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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.

ITEM 1: NON-VOTERS ANONYMOUS
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.

ITEM 2: OLD AGE IS A CEREMONY OF LOSSES
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.




It's Time to Abandon the Phrase, Anti-Ageing

REMINDER After such enthusiasm for the idea of a new storytelling feature here at TGB, I was surprised that hardly anyone responded after Wednesday's announcement that it is set up and ready for story submissions.

Maybe I buried the lead? Or, maybe there are a whole lot more readers here than writers. In case you missed the invitation on Wednesday, this is a reminder that story submissions are being accepted.

* * *

“Aging is not a disease any more than puberty or menopause are.”
       - S. Jay Olshansky, Professor of public health/gerontology, University of Illinois

It's hard to know that from the ubiquitous marketing and advertising messages for wrinkles and sags which, when not treating old age as a disease, strongly suggest it is a personal failing.

Ageist terms are common but the one that most drives me nuts, usually from purveyors of pseudo youth potions and procedures, is the ubiquitous “anti-ageing.” About a year ago, The New York Times addressed some of the cultural consequences of its wide use:

”...not displaying the signs of age on one’s face,” writes Amanda Hess, “is seen as a professional accomplishment, even a virtue.

“We elevate a select few celebrity ambassadors of 'good' aging — [Helen] Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Andie MacDowell — and turn them into not just avatars of covetable good looks, but fierce, audacious heroines who are celebrated for pulling off the near-impossible.”

As insulting as the the phrase “anti-ageing” is, it's a big seller for cosmetics industry who tack it onto every product they can. A search of Google for “anti-ageing” (British and my spelling) returns 45,800,000 items; a search for “anti-aging” gets 191,000,000 results.

Anti-ageing is big business. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, $16 billion was spent on cosmetic surgery in 2016 and, if business projections are accurate, sales of anti-aging products are expected to surpass $11 billion this year. Just yesterday, the cosmetics website Sephora listed 262 products labeled “anti-aging.”

Having felt for a long time that I've been on a lonely mission in my objection to the term, I was heartened a year ago to learn that in August 2017, Allure magazine announced it was dropping the use of "anti-ageing" from the magazine:

”'Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle' explained Michelle Lee in her editor’s letter. 'Changing the way we think about ageing starts with changing the way we talk about ageing'”...

“I hope we can all get to a point where we recognize that beauty is not something just for the young. Look at our cover star Helen Mirren, who’s embodied sexiness for nearly four decades in Hollywood without desperately trying to deny her age.”

Allure Mirren

At the time of the Allure's initiative, The Guardian reported:

”The rise in inclusivity and increased visibility of older models and celebrities within an industry that once shunned anyone over the age of 40 is a welcome change. Women including Helen Mirren (72) Allure magazine’s September [2017] issue cover star, Lauren Hutton (73) and Sylviane Degunst (59) all feature in campaigns, this year.”

Although more few more women of age are turning up in fashion features these days, I haven't noticed any reduction in the use of that demeaning phrase in cosmetic adverts. And not on the product labels themselves either. In a check at my local Rite-Aid this week, dozens of creams and other beauty products are plastered with the phrase “anti-aging”.

But the thing is, there is evidence from a large number of sources that the creams don't work. This one from the Mayo Clinic:

”Do they work? That often depends on the specific ingredients and how long you use them. Because these over-the-counter (nonprescription) wrinkle creams aren't classified as drugs, they're not required to undergo scientific research to prove their effectiveness.

“If you're looking for a face-lift in a bottle, you probably won't find it in over-the-counter wrinkle creams. The benefits of these products are usually only modest at best.”

The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPM) agrees with me about the odious phrase, anti-ageing. A month or two ago, the RSPH released a report on a new survey of ageist beliefs in the U.K. - how ageism harms people and what could and should be done about it. Among the report's conclusions:

"...the explicit presumption that ageing is something undesirable and to be battled at every turn is as nonsensical as it is dangerous. To be 'anti-ageing' makes no more sense that being 'anti-life.">

Here is the RSPH's video with a summary of the survey and the final recommendations:

The report, titled That Age Old Question and subtitled, How Attitudes to Ageing Affect Our Health and Wellbeing is well thought out, well written and filled with easy-to-understand detail.

The four major policy suggestions are excellent and doable: Let's repeat them in print where we can pay closer attention than in a video:

”Services such as nurseries, youth clubs and care homes to be brought under one roof

“Positive ageing to be addressed within schools

“Age to be recognized as a protected characteristic alongside others such as gender, race and religion

“An end to the use of the term “anti-ageing”in the cosmetics and beauty industry”

The researchers have a lot to say about the media's role in promulgating ageist attitudes, referencing key points from other research about the harm ageism in all its forms does, which TGB has reported on in the past:

“Previous research has shown that those with more negative attitudes to ageing live on average 7.5 years less than those with more positive attitudes to ageing...

“There is now a growing body of research evidencing the real-life consequences that negative attitudes to ageing have on individual health outcomes such as memory loss, physical function, and ability to recover from illness.”

If you're interested, the report is well worth your time. You will find That Age Old Question study online here [pdf]. The website of the Royal Society for Public Health is here.




Surprise! Old People Have Sex and They Like It

”It seems older people are a lot friskier than some younger people may have thought.”

If you can resist the perfectly understandable urge to smack the reporter who wrote that sentence, findings from a recent survey support the notion, believe it or not, that old people indulge in sex with one another well into their ninth decade and perhaps beyond.

First, however, here is a video from Jimmy Kimmel, the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show, who did some man-in-the-street interviews with a whole bunch of elders about some similar research:

A friend objected to Kimmel's grandfather “joke” and to showing so much of the man who keeps confusing top and bottom, a quibble we'll save for a future rant.

But to be clear regarding my grousing about that sentence in the first paragraph above, when was the last time you heard the word “frisky” applied to anything but a puppy?

In the past two or three years, several research studies have concluded that old people are having a good deal of sex and young people think it's icky.

Writing at HuffPost, Ann Brenoff answers the question, What's the oldest you can be and still have sex?, this way:

”You can have sex for as long as it feels good, kitten, for as long as it feels good. A recent study of 6,201 people ages 50 to 90 published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that up to 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women report having sex at least twice a month.

“As disturbing as you might find the thought of your parents or grandparents having sex,” Brenoff continues, “the truth is they’re still human beings with human-being urges.”

It's hard to tell but I suspect Ms. Brenoff is at least trying to express acceptance of people old enough to be parents and grandparents into the we-enjoy-sex club.

It's the surprise younger people exhibit at finding out old people still do it that ticks me off. How do these writers think they got here, for god's sake. A report of one survey about old people and sex began with this statement: “Sex isn’t just a young person’s game.”

And why would anyone think otherwise?

Um, it's called ageism and for as long as I've been researching age, it has been commonplace and customary, apparently, for younger people to respond to the idea of elders having sex with wonderment at best and disgust at worst.

When I run across these assumptions and judgments, I invariably mutter the two questions to myself:

At what age do they think people should stop having sex?

Do they think we forget how to do it when we hit that age?

If they think about it at all, younger people seem to have a lot of misconceptions about elder sex. Several recent articles address some false assumptions associated with senior sex. In another Huffpost story, reporter Yagana Shah does a decent job of debunking these five myths:

  1. Sex isn’t as important in relationships when you’re older (Wrong)

  2. Sex becomes kind of 'vanilla' as you get older (Wrong)

  3. Older people aren’t having sex (Wrong)

  4. Erectile dysfunction is inevitable (Not wrong and there are treatments that work)

  5. Sex is best when you’re younger (Wrong)

Not long ago, elder sex guru, Joan Price, published comments from readers of her Senior Planet sex column about what makes their sexual encounters pleasurable at their age. Here are three of the responses:

”I’ve learned that sex without penetration provides me and my partner with at least as much core-shaking pleasure as does PIV. Both are very nice, but my notion of 'real sex' has broadened to center now on sex without penetration.”
”I honestly didn’t know our sex drives would slow down. Nobody tells you that a strong libido has a shelf life. Realizing that the days of spontaneous combustion were over for both of us, I felt like I’d been ripped off by life.

“With time, laughter, tears, and a lot of talking and thinking — plus a vibrator, erotica, and soft porn — my husband and I created a place where sex is a wonderful mini-vacation where we give and receive pleasure.”
”We find planned, weekly date-night encounters far more enjoyable than spontaneous episodes, because planning a scene enhances anticipation. It’s a form of extended foreplay. We are consistently ready for sex well before the next date-night, but we deny ourselves, heightening the desire to extreme levels for days.”

It seems to me that the only real impediment to sharing good sex in old age is having a partner but we all know there are other things to do if that is not possible.

As to youngsters' mistaken ideas about old folks and sex, Ann Brenoff redeems herself with her answer to this question:

Q: “Aw, c’mon. Old-age sex is funny, isn’t it?

A: “Actually, it’s pretty serious business. It deserves to not be filtered through a lens of humor or disgust. We can start by not demeaning it. Older couples dancing intimately aren’t 'cute.' Save the 'cute' for babies and puppies.”



Movie Star Quotations About Growing Old

It's been an overly serious week at TGB or, at least, heavy going on Monday and Wednesday so I feel the need to lighten up.

How about this? We all love quotations. They are short, easy to read and sometimes they clarify or illuminate thoughts and ideas we (well, me anyway) have but have not articulated satisfactorily.

Today's quotations are mostly from entertainers – those people, especially women actors, whose livelihoods depend on being beautiful or handsome or some facsimile thereof. In Hollywood, even 35-year-old actors – again, especially women - are considered too old to cast.

The men usually have a longer shelf life but sooner or later, every one of them, male and female, will see their opportunities decline because they are not 20-something anymore.

Among the most interesting quotations about growing old as an entertainer, men spoke about advantages – maybe because they don't experience much work-related ageism.

"I feel the older I get, the more I'm learning to handle life ... being on this quest for a long time, it's all about finding yourself." - Ringo Starr, age 77
"Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get!" - Keith Richards, 74
"Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been." - David Bowie, died in 2016 at age 69
"I find that as you get older, you start to simplify things in general." - George Clooney, 57

It is four women actors who sounded most angry about the discrimination against them in Hollywood:

“Ageism is alive and well.” It is okay for men to get older, because men become more desirable by being powerful. With women, it’s all about how we look. Men are very visual, they want young women. So, for us, it’s all about trying to stay young.” - Jane Fonda, 80
“I do think that when it comes to aging, we’re held to a different standard than men. Some guy said to me: ‘Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock n’ roll?’ I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger’.” - Cher, 71
“Ageism is pervasive in this industry. It’s not a level playing field. You don’t often see women in their 60s playing romantic leads, yet you will see men in their 60s playing romantic leads with costars who are decades younger.” - Jessica Lang, 69

The fourth is only 28 years old but has two good reasons to resent Hollywood's age bias:

“This industry is f—ing brutal,” Dakota Johnson told British Vogue. “Why isn’t my mother [Melanie Griffith] in movies? She’s an extraordinary actress! Why isn’t my grandmother [Tippi Hedron] in movies?”

Most of the women actors bravely talked about ageing naturally – whatever may come with it.

“I want to be a role model for not only younger men and women — and not just in my profession. I think that cosmetic enhancements in my profession are just an occupational hazard. But I think, more culturally, I’m interested in starting the conversation about aging gracefully and how, instead of making it a cultural problem, we make it individuals’ problems. I think that ageism is a cultural illness; it’s not a personal illness.” - Frances McDormand, 60
“There is a saying that with age, you look outside what you are inside. If you are someone who never smiles, your face gets saggy. If you’re a person who smiles a lot, you will have more smile lines. Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life.” - Diane von Furstenberg, 71
“All my life I’ve been looking at 16-year-old girls selling beauty, so I think it’s fabulous that they’re using a 70-year-old woman to sell products to other 60 to 80-year-old women.” Helen Mirren on representing L'Oreal cosmetics in France, 72
“The older you are, the more interesting you are as a character. There’s a whole life history and knowledge of the world and self-possession that come from someone who has seen more. That experienced point of view is always more exciting. Yes, things may start to sag and shift, but the older you are, the wiser, the funnier, the smarter you are. You become more you.” - Melissa McCarthy, 47
"I am appalled that the term we use to talk about aging is 'anti.' Aging is as natural as a baby's softness and scent. Aging is human evolution in its pure form. Death, taxes, and aging." - Jamie Lee Curtis, 59
“Please don't touch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.” - Anna Magnani, died in 1973 at age 65
"I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." - Lauren Bacall, died in 2014 at age 89
"Nothing makes a woman look so old as trying desperately hard to look young." - Coco Chanel, died in 1971 at age 87
"I'm very f*cking grateful to be alive. I have so many friends who are sick or gone, and I'm here. Are you kidding? No complaints!" - Meryl Streep, 68

And one man:

"As you get older, you feel you need to pay more attention to what is around you and relish it. I'm greedy for beauty." - Bill Nighy, 68

It is only in recent years that Hollywood actors have begun to speak out about ageism in their business. It comes up more and more frequently in the media nowadays and that is a good thing for rest of us – the more attention it gets, the higher general consciousness becomes and with any luck, then, corrections are made.

Meanwhile, I give Truman Capote's the last word about growing old:

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” Capote died in 1984 at age 59

Feel free to join in with your own favorite quotations about age – from celebrities, anyone else or even yourselves.



Brain News for Elders, Ageist Headline and Net Neutrality

Often I run across stories of interest to elders that are too long for an item in Saturday's Interesting Stuff and too short for a full blog post. Here today are a three of those.

CAFFEINE CAUSES BRAIN ENTROPY...
and although counter-intuitive, that's a good thing, according to a new study, especially for elders.

”There's not much debate on the subject,” reports Curiosity, “a more chaotic brain is a more effective brain. They call the quality 'brain entropy,' and it measures the complexity and irregularity of brain activity from one moment to the next...

“We generally associate entropy with chaos or decay, but in this case, it's a sign of a brain working correctly...An effective brain is one that doesn't always rely on the same patterns of thinking, and one that can solve problems in unexpected ways.

“By contrast, a brain with lower entropy is characterized by order and repetition. The most orderly brains of all? They belong to comatose people and people in the deepest sleep.”

More than 90 percent of American adults regularly consume caffeine, reports Big Think:

“Despite decreasing blood flow to the brain, caffeine leaves individual regions more stimulated. The stimulating effects are uneven, however, creating a chaotic balance of energy when the stimulant is in full force. The greater unevenness in stimulation throughout the brain, the higher the entropy.”

In addition to drinking coffee, Curiosity notes that there is one sure way to increase entropy in your brain:

”All you need to do is age. Yes, entropy naturally increases with age — we suppose that's just the wisdom of the years accumulating. After all, the longer you've been alive, the more types of thinking you'll have encountered or come up with on your own.

“And with that kind of broad experience, your brain will have a million different possible ways to think.

For the scientifically-minded among you, there is more detailed information about the study at PLOS and at nature.com

MAGAZINE'S AGEIST HEADLINE
Earlier this week we discussed one type of ageism, age discrimination in the workplace. But ageism manifests itself in many other obvious and/or devious ways which hardly anyone recognizes as demeaning to elders.

The latest I came across was published at New York magazine this week.

Before I show it to you, let me say I am far from being a Rudy Giuliani fan, never have been going back to his mayoral stint in New York City. That, however, does not make this headline acceptable:

”Trump Worried Aging, Loudmouth New Yorker Can’t Stay on Message”

“Aging loudmouth.” “Can't stay on message.” The slur is repeated in the story's lede: “Donald Trump is starting to wonder if it was a mistake to trust an elderly, New York celebrity...”

These are among the most common insults – nay, beliefs – regularly used against elders: that we are forgetful and untrustworthy. Further, that "loudmouth" crack is just another version of "get off my lawn" gibes. Even the word "elderly" is used disparagingly in this instance.

The byline on the story is Eric Levitz, a young reporter at the magazine but youth does not absolve him. I'm pretty sure that were he writing about a black person or a woman, Levitz would not have used the N word or "chick' as a description.

It's not that I mean to pick only on Mr. Levitz – hundreds of writers and reporters of all ages use these slurs (and worse) against old people every day with nary a consequence. And that is wrong.

NET NEUTRALITY
It's ba-a-a-a-a-ck, net neutrality. It can seem to be a complicated idea but it isn't, really. Here is a succinct explanation from a February post here quoting Engadget:

”'Net neutrality forced ISPs [internet service providers] to treat all content equally; without these rules in place, providers can charge more for certain types of content and can throttle access to specific websites as they see fit.'

"So, for example, big rich companies could afford hefty fees to providers so their web pages arrive faster in your browser than – oh, let's say political groups that depend on donations or blogs like yours and mine that are throttled because they can't bear the increased cost."

After a vote by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission (FCC), regulations to trash net neutrality, the 2015 rules will cease on 11 June.

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that the fight for net neutrality is back.

"The effort formally begins [last] Wednesday as backers file a petition in the Senate that will force a vote next week to undo the FCC's action. Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google and other online giants support the move...

"Although they're poised for a narrow win in the Senate, net neutrality supporters acknowledge the attempt to restore the Obama-era regulations is a long shot. The hurdles include strong opposition from House Republicans and telecommunications companies, such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., as well as a likely veto from President Trump.

"Regardless of the outcome, the debate over net neutrality — and by extension, the future of the internet — appears headed for a key role in November's congressional midterm elections.

"'There's a political day of reckoning coming against those who vote against net neutrality,' warned Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is leading the Senate effort to restore the rules."

It is said that despite the FCC and its chair, Agit Pai, 86 percent of Americans support net neutrality. You could do your part to move the initiative to restore the 2015 rules by contacting your representatives in both houses of Congress. You can do that here.




The Devastated Lives of Elders Due to Age Discrimination

As I have related here in the past, I was laid off from my job of three years, along with eight or 10 decades-younger colleagues, in 2004. I was 63 at the time.

My co-workers found new jobs within a few weeks or, at most, two or three months and all had several offers to choose from.

A year later, with only two in-person interviews behind me (one of which told me the job had been filled between our 4PM phone call the day before and my arrival at the company's office at 9:00AM the next morning) and deeply in debt, I was forced to sell my home and leave New York City.

This is called age discrimination in the workplace, a subcategory of ageism. Many people deny either one exists. That is a lie. It is real and it is every bit as evil and pernicious as racial, religious, gender and every other kind of discrimination.

In fact, age discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by law, administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is supposed to enforce the laws against workplace discrimination.

Note that I said “supposed” to enforce. In the case of age discrimination, over the years court judges have repeatedly sided with employers, weakening the age discrimination laws to make it more difficult for workers to prove discrimination.

In mid-March, ProPublica published its research into how tech giant IBM has eliminated 20,000 of its American workforce, hitting its oldest employees the hardest - 60 percent of layoffs, firings and required retirements affecting people 40 and older:

”Today,” explains ProPublica, “we are reporting that over the past five years IBM has been removing older U.S. employees from their jobs, replacing some with younger, less experienced, lower-paid American workers and moving many other jobs overseas.

“We’ve got documentation and details — most of which are the direct result of a questionnaire filled out by over 1,100 former IBMers.”

Here is a good video overview of some of the information ProPublica uncovered during their investigation:

ProPublica includes in their written report many personal stories:

”Marjorie Madfis, at the time 57, was a New York-based digital marketing strategist and 17-year IBM employee when she and six other members of her nine-person team — all women in their 40s and 50s — were laid off in July 2013. The two who remained were younger men.

“Since her specialty was one that IBM had said it was expanding, she asked for a written explanation of why she was let go. The company declined to provide it.

Another:

Paul Henry, a 61-year-old IBM sales and technical specialist who loved being on the road, had just returned to his Columbus home from a business trip in August 2016 when he learned he’d been let go. When he asked why, he said an executive told him to 'keep your mouth shut and go quietly.'

“Henry was jobless more than a year, ran through much of his savings to cover the mortgage and health insurance and applied for more than 150 jobs before he found a temporary slot.

“'If you’re over 55, forget about preparing for retirement,' he said in an interview. 'You have to prepare for losing your job and burning through every cent you’ve saved just to get to retirement.”

There are hundreds of heartbreaking personal stories from laid off IBM workers here. I know how awful it is. I've been where these people are.

Once I realized that I had no choice but to sell my apartment, it took a three-day weekend in bed in the fetal position, weeping uncontrollably until I could pull myself together and make plans to leave the city that had been my home for 40 years. I've never quite gotten over that.

The ProPublica story shows the viciousness with which IBM has jettisoned many of their most experienced and loyal workers. And make no mistake: although ProPublica concentrated their research on IBM, hundreds, maybe thousands of other companies do this every day.

”In making these cuts,” explain the ProPublica reporters, “IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.”

ProPublica doesn't have a solution and neither do I. But they have put together a crucially important investigative report and a subject you might want to bring up with your local candidates for Congress as the midterm election campaign heats up.

At minimum, the EEOC regulations weakened by court decisions should be restored.

In a followup report two weeks ago, ProPublica had this to say:

”We haven’t received further explanation or response from [IBM] in the weeks since we published. We know these layoffs haven’t ended. Watching IBM Facebook group members have reported that IBM sent a wave of layoff notices in just the past few weeks.”

Here are the links to the parts of the ProPublica investigation report:

Cutting “Old Heads” at IBM
Eroding Protection of Older Workers Under the Law
How the Crowd Led Us to Investigate IBM
Followup to Original Report

Do you or anyone you know have experience with age discrimination in the workplace?




Crabby Old Lady on Advertising Drugs to Old People

To many television and print advertisers, poor health is the essential and most noteworthy characteristic of old people. As far as Crabby Old Lady can tell, it could be the only thing advertisers know about elders.

Diabetic nerve pain, rheumatoid arthritis, heart arrhythmia, blood clots, insomnia, hepatitis C, osteoporosis, dry eye, dementia, COPD, shingles and cancer – lots of cancer: cervical, breast, melanoma, lung and more.

So familiar is the constant barrage of television commercials for drugs to treat those diseases, conditions and more, Crabby was able to make that list off the top of her head. She's betting you could do that too.

No prescription drug commercial can end without a recitation of the often horrendous side effects, delivered at the verbal speed of an auctioneer and almost always ending with “death.”

Like Crabby Old Lady, you may have noticed that none of these drugs, at least as described in television commercials, actually cure any of the ailments they were created for.

That is because (here is Crabby at her most cynical) the pharmaceutical companies know there is no profit in making people healthy. Treatment – ongoing, lifetime treatment – is the business of big pharma that keeps the big bucks rolling in via refill after refill after refill for a patient's lifetime.

Did you know that New Zealand and the United States are the only countries in the world that permit advertising to consumers of prescription drugs? There is a reason the other 191 countries disallow it: only doctors have the training, knowledge and understanding of an individual patient's medical issues to choose appropriate medications.

If that isn't a good enough reason, think of how much money all that TV advertising adds to the price of prescription drugs.

All those are just the straightforward, direct-to-consumer drug commercials. But Crabby Old Lady's cyber-friend, Chuck Nyren, who blogs at Advertising for Baby Boomers and has written a book with that title, has noticed a new, more insidious development in drug advertisements aimed at old people.

Not long ago, Chuck titled a blog post We're All Sick and led with this:

”No matter what the product or service, when Mad Ave tries to ‘reach’ us we’re always sick. Or something’s horribly wrong. Even if they want us to buy a car we have to be sick first:

This commercial takes the universally-assumed poor health of elders to a whole new level: Lookee here, it says - we the car company have a cure for whatever ails you. Chuck continues:

“What happened to this lady? Did she have a heart attack? The doctor says she has to ‘go slow’. Well, whatever her affliction is, she’ll get better if she buys this car. And exercises. And is looked after by her daughter.

“According to most ads selling stuff to Boomers, we have to be sick before we can buy anything. Or, we’re naturally ill all the time and the only reason we’d buy anything is to make us well...When you’re old, you only buy products for medical reasons.

“I googled the car and it’s a pretty good car. But the spot tells me nothing about the car. Of course, why would I want to know anything about the car? All I need to know is that it has healing powers.”

You can read more of Chuck at his blog.

There is a kind of awful genius to deliberately portraying old people as sick and vulnerable to sell them an expensive car. Or how about laundry detergent. Or a new sofa. "Game changer," as the actor says in one home furnishings commercial.

Expect to see more, many more sick old people portrayed in all kinds of commercials. In December, The New York Times reported on the enormous increase in the number of television prescription drug commercials. Some excerpts:

”According to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks multimedia advertising, 771,368 such ads were shown in 2016, the last full year for which data is available, an increase of almost 65 percent over 2012.

“'TV ad spending by pharmaceutical companies has more than doubled in the past four years, making it the second-fastest-growing category on television during that time, Jon Swallen, Kantar’s chief research officer, said.”

As The Times also points out, it is old people who use the majority of prescription drugs and that's why big pharma saturates TV with commercials for diseases of age:

“'In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot, [Thomas Lom, a consultant and former senior executive at several health care ad agencies] said. 'Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.'

That, of course, reflects the medical issues facing audiences that skew older.

“'The drug companies aren’t generally marketing to people in their 30s; they’re marketing to the 65-plus, and that’s the population that tends to still be watching television,' said Allen Adamson, a brand strategy consultant.”

Certainly they will have no trouble figuring out other media buys for commercials as younger generations age.

Now that Ford has broken the ice by implying their car can cure a sick old person of an unnamed malady, Crabby Old Lady has no doubt other non-medical consumer products will soon follow suit, possibly sharing commercial production costs by partnering with the manufacturer of a brand-name prescription drug. (Oh, is Crabby being too cynical?)

What this means for Crabby and all elders is that the main description of old people as sickly will be perpetuated indefinitely in the minds of everyone.




Elder Job Search: What Should Be Versus Reality

I have been banging on against ageism in general and age discrimination in the workplace for nearly 15 years on this blog without making even a minor dent. But neither has anyone else, even people with a much longer reach than I have.

So instead of living in a culture that accepts and welcomes elders into the the mainstream depending on their capabilities (like people of every younger age), old people (age 50 and even 40 in many cases) are dismissed, hidden, ignored and at best, patronized.

How wrong this is came to mind a couple of days ago when I read a story on the AARP website titled, Over 40? 7 Things Never To Say in a Job Interview.

You can probably guess they are all related to not revealing your age – as if the 20- to 30-something job interviewer can't tell that you look like their parent or grandparent. Some of the seven things you're not supposed to say, according to AARP:

“I’m ready for a change.”
“'It gives the impression that he was bored,” says an expert, that “'his experience was growing stale, and he was unmotivated. Otherwise, why would he stay in his field so long?'”

Really? I loved the field(s) I worked in and still had half a dozen jobs over 45 years I wanted out of for other reasons. This may not be the most politic thing to say in an interview but the objection to it itself is uninformed and stupid.

“I've got 25 years of experience.”
“What the interviewer hears is 'I'm so bogged down in what I believe I already know that I'll be difficult to work with,'” says Rosemary Hook, a recruiter in Austin, Texas. “You paint yourself as unfriendly to learning new things.”

Huh? Is the interviewer listening? What employer in his right mind wouldn't want someone with years of experience, who has solved expected and unexpected problems as they came up over the long term and learned on the job from dozens of people he or she has worked with.

Old people are hated so much in our culture that their experience and knowledge have been turned into a disadvantage.

“I see myself staying in this job until I retire.”
“While you might think such a statement demonstrates your commitment, avoid putting the r-word in their heads,” says another expert. “Employers rightfully want applicants with plenty to give, not someone looking to coast through the last few years of their career...”

How does “until I retire” translate into “someone looking to coast...”? Who thought that up? They're wrong. Or should be.

“Tell me a little about the benefits.”
“'Think of a job interview like running for the Presidency,'” says Hook. “'You must appear vibrant and healthy, able to bring energy to the job regardless of your gray hair.'”

How does asking about benefits make someone appear less vibrant? If it is apparent toward the end of the interview that you have not been rejected, you have a right to know the benefits – it's part of what any applicant needs to know to make a decision about taking a job.

These are among the many ways employers have of getting away with not hiring 40- and 50-somethings, and certainly not anyone older than that.

Make no mistake: eliminating a candidate for saying “I see myself in this job until I retire” is wrong but it is a fact of job search life if you're older than 35 or so.

And that is the dilemma: having a meaningful conversation about the job and what you could bring to it versus the grim reality of finding a job after a certain age, as reported in this AARP story, by demeaning oneself with carefully worded answers designed to offend no one and reveal nothing.

It shouldn't be like this. Old people should not be required to tie themselves in verbal knots to keep from appearing as old as they are. It's not like the interviewer cannot estimate a person's age by just looking.

As a long-time, close observer of the media and culture at large, it appears to me that the only people allowed to work in old age at what they are experienced and good at are rich white males who own the company: George Soros, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet come to mind - all currently in their mid-80s.

But not thee or me. I was forced out the workplace at age 63, years before I was eligible for full Social Security and more personally important, when I had a lot of knowledge and experience I was still eager to use.

And here's the most disheartening part. It's not going to change in the lifetimes of most of us who hang out at this blog. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't continue making noise about it.




What It's Really Like to Get Old

Here are the two winners in the random drawing announced Monday for Malcolm Nance's book, Defeating ISIS: Who They are, How They Fight, What They Believe. Two days later, I rolled the handy-dandy, online random number generator and...

Drum roll please:

One of the winners is Celia Andrews who blogs at Celia's Blue Cottage. The other is Yvonne Behrens. Congratulations to you both - and books are on their way.

* * *

You may have noticed that the headline on today's post is the same as the subtitle up there on top in the banner of the blog. I've tried to make that thought a large component of Time Goes By even if not the entire purpose.

When I started this blog back in 2004, there was literally nothing good being written anywhere in the popular press about growing old. I've told the story here many times that the media – and the culture itself – made getting old sound so awful (and they still do) that I thought then I might as well shoot myself at age 62.

But I didn't really want to do that so I started TGB instead.

However, there was an error I've carried through these pages for too long: I've overdone the positive sides of ageing or, maybe, underplayed the difficulties. Or both. And I want to start fixing that.

Getting old is hard. Most younger people (including ourselves back then) have no idea what courage it takes to keep going in old age.

From simple aches and pains with or without a particular cause to the big deal “diseases of age” like cancer, heart disease and others that afflict elders in much greater numbers than young people to counting out medications, following special diets, exercises, etc., it takes a lot of work, a lot of gumption to grow old.

All this came to mind a few days ago when I ran across a list of tweets about a some changes that are common to most old people I know – and that's what makes them funny.

Some might think these are ageist but I think we need to reconsider how easily we (or I, sometimes) throw around that epithet.

I am beginning to see that such a judgment can require more nuance, as we are discovering is so with the accusations of sexual harassment and/or misconduct and/or abuse can be.

A lot of these were good. Here are my favorites:

  • I thought I was just really tired but it's been five years so I guess this is how I look now.

  • The older I get, the earlier it gets late.

  • I'm not saying I'm old but I just had to increase my font size to "Billboard."

  • Hey guys, remember when you could still refer to your knees as right and left instead of good and bad?

  • You know you're getting old when you pull out your high-powered back massager and actually use it on your back.

  • I'm so old, I can remember getting through an entire day without taking a picture of anything.

  • My daughter just asked why we say "hang up" the phone and now I feel 90.

  • I may be getting old but I'm not "let me call you, I hate texting" old.

  • You know you're getting old when you finger cramps up while scrolling down to find the year you were born on a website.

You can see more of them at Buzzfeed but feel free to add your own in the comments.