In a world that has devolved into 24/7 bad news, it is a treat to run across two stories in one day that are all about making the world a better place and, in these two cases, show how elders are indispensable to the ideas.
Although too many people and institutions deny that ageism exists (or when they concede that it does, insist that it is without consequence), there are others who get it and who are finding ways to help old and young find common ground.
This is important because we live in an age-segregated society where weight is generally given to the interests of youth over those of elders, so finding mutual points of engagement can only lead to more understanding and then more respect among generations, improving outcomes for all ages and, perhaps, the culture at large.
What both of these innovations tell us is that it's all about spending time together and listening.
ANTI-AGEIST PROGRAM IN MEDICAL SCHOOLS
Having studied ageing for the past 25 years, I thought I knew a lot and I suppose that's true in some areas. But this statement from Dr. Ronald Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Cornell, who developed an annual program to correct medical students' ageist beliefs about elders, was an aha! moment for me:
“'Unfortunately, most education takes place within the hospital,' he told Paula Span of [The New York Times].
“'If you’re only seeing the hospitalized elderly, you’re seeing the debilitated, the physically deteriorating, the demented. It’s easy to pick up ageist stereotypes.'”
Obvious, isn't it. But in all my reading about medical care and treatment – or lack thereof for old people – it had not occurred to me or, apparently, to anyone who was writing those articles, reports and studies I read.
”These misperceptions can influence people’s care. In another classroom down the hall, 88-year-old Marcia Levine, a retired family therapist, was telling students about a gastroenterologist who once dismissed her complaints of fatigue by saying, 'At your age, you can’t expect to have much energy.'
“Then, in her 70s, she switched doctors and learned she had a low-grade infection.”
I've heard this story again and again from friends and acquaintances and I found myself in a similar situation some years ago. I fired the doctor too.
Marcia Levine was among the elders who were speaking with second-year medical students about their lives.
The Times tells us that at least 20 medical schools around the U.S. have some form of required study about (excuse me for quoting myself) what it's really like to get old that involves old people themselves.
”Some schools, like the Medical University of South Carolina and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, match students with older patients they follow throughout their four-year educations, making home visits, accompanying their 'senior mentors' to doctors’ appointments, and visiting them if they’re hospitalized.”
According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in the 10 programs of this type they reviewed, “the universal goal of positively influencing student attitudes toward older adults was resoundingly achieved.”
There are 141 accredited medical schools in the United States. They should all be using programs like these. You can read more at The New York Times.
MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY SEPARATES THESE ROOMMATES
The Boston Globe reports on a new program matching college students in need of cheap digs with old people who could use a little extra cash:
”...according to one 2017 survey, some 90,000 spare bedrooms [in the Boston area] are going unused in the homes of aging empty-nesters.
“That got a pair of MIT urban-planning graduate students thinking: Those rooms might be valuable to young people, especially students. And they might also provide a way for older people, who increasingly are living alone, to stay in their homes as they age.”
This isn't the first of such programs. Another I've read about allows music students from a nearby school free or low-cost rent in their own rooms at a retirement community in exchange for regular concerts for the elder residents.
Given today's high rental prices and the terribly debt students incur, this seems to me to be, as they say, a win-win.
Although both were wary at first, 77-year-old Sarah Heintz and 25-year-old Dean Kaplan hit it off:
”They bonded over a shared love of politics — both volunteered for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — and an affinity for cooking.
“Under the terms of their lease agreement, rent is $800 a month (about half the cost of apartments Kaplan had been looking at before the arrangement with Heintz), knocked down to $700 if he devotes eight hours each month to helping Heintz with a range of chores.
“But even without that incentive, they said, they’ve discovered they like doing favors for one another. He helps in the garden and gives her a hand logging into her e-mail account; she offers him rides to Market Basket and recently taught him the proper way to gut a fish.”
Besides helping each other with the practicalities of life, living as full time as roommates can't help but foster understanding between youth and age for which there are few enough places to do that:
”Each weekend, Heintz and Kaplan plan some kind of event — dinner with neighbors, afternoons in the garden — and he has taken to picking her brain on a variety of topics, from botany to the year she spent at a French cooking school in the ’70s.
“'It’s the type of repository of knowledge that you can’t Google,' Kaplan said.”
No kidding. Read more at The Boston Globe.
These are both excellent and important programs that should be encouraged in every way.