Aging in Sneakers

This blog is about outrage against stereotypes of age, sex and marital status. I also rant about the medical profession and talk about comedy. When you put these together, being old, single and female completes the perfect trifecta, making you a target for society in general and the medical profession in particular.

I’m not amused when a fifty-something author jokes about not remembering her ATM pin number. I know my pin number. I also know my library card number and my credit card numbers. It makes life easier.

I’m even less amused when someone asks me if I use email. I tell them I build websites.

I don’t laugh at jokes about old people. Google “old people having fun funny.” Now try, “black people having fun funny.” We laugh at children, cats, and older people who are just being themselves.

It’s time to stop accepting a second place, subservient role just because you’ve had a birthday. Instead of quiet acceptance, let’s belt out the old George Jones anthem, “I don’t need no rocking chair.” Let’s recite Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gently into that good night. Old age should rave and burn at close of day …”

This is a blog for raving, for gym memberships instead of rocking chairs, and replacing calm acceptance with a few well-chosen four-letter words. I want to be blown out like a candle, while I’m still burning.

Why sneakers? I’ve worn nothing but sneakers for the last fifteen years (with a few brief exceptions for dress-up occasions). Sneakers are associated with having fun, relaxing and being yourself. Stilettos have become associated with female success; books have titles like “Success in stilettos.”

The idea is that people, especially women, should accept pain and discomfort in exchange for beauty. In the 21st century, when women are landing fighter planes on Navy carrier decks and running major companies, this idea seems a little dated, to say the least.

Associating high-heeled shoes with success incidentally associates beauty with success, and for most people, beauty equals youth. Part of the pain of aging does indeed come from looking in the mirror. Even worse is the experience of being judged by one’s appearance. Compliments are conditioned by “for your age,” as in, “It’s impressive to see a woman your age who is bungee jumping, running a marathon, doing stand-up comedy or simply surviving without medications.”

Aren’t those accomplishments impressive at any age?

I may have to go down for the count but I don’t have to go there quietly.

Grandma got run over by stereotypes of aging

An article appeared in Time Magazine: Startups for Seniors. I was hoping they were going to highlight seniors who started their own companies in response to age discrimination, but no: they talked about startups making devices to protect seniors in their own homes. Even worse, they referred to these seniors collectively as “Grandma,” as in, “I Grandma falls…” or, “If Grandma needs help…”  http://time.com/3560459/startups-for-seniors/

Then there were mentions of “that ugly Christmas sweater your Gram-Gram got for you. I wrote about them in another post.
“http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/events/Ugly-Christmas-Sweater-Soiree-135669108.html

And from an article on social media, of all things: “For the first time, more than half (56%) of internet users ages 65 and older use Facebook. Yes: grandma and grandpa are now on Facebook.”

So now everyone 65 and older has grandchildren? Is this an extension of singlism?

“10 ways to respect your elders”

Not sure how I feel about this article. It’s not easy to transport attitudes across cultures.

In some ways the stereotypes are reinforced, such as asking “elders” for advice. Being old doesn’t automatically make one wise.

But in general, shouldn’t everyone be treated this way? In a medical setting, everyone should be addressed by last name and title. But if everyone else is on a first name basis, why make the “elders” stick out?

It’s fine to serve “elders” first at a family or purely social event, but not everyone likes to be reminded of his or her status. In some contexts, special care comes across as patronizing.

I’m especially nervous about the advice to intrude on someone’s privacy by assuming they’re lonely and want company. No thanks! Nobody should be in a nursing home – they’re evil places. If you’re at a party and see someone who’s alone, it’s nice to seek them out; in fact, it’s a savvy networking strategy.

Age isn’t a useful marker here. Anyone can be lonely, physically limited, or able to deliver wise counsel. Focus on the person, not the age.

Worried unwell (or potentially unwell)

Responding to Abigail Zuger’s column in the New York Times. Zuger notes that today doctors spend most time prescribing for pre-illness, which means they try to predict the future.

I am amused by, “For people who feel fine… It is the patient … firmly planted in the here and now, while medical personnel spin wild tales of coming catastrophe…”

and

“In fact, our future of treating pre-illness will simply catapult us right back to a priestly past, as we offer up misty visions of the future and encourage the masses to see with us and act accordingly.”

Zuger’s image – emotional doctors versus patients demanding evidence – captures my experience perfectly. When I declined a mammogram, citing research in top journals, the doctor responded emotionally, literally throwing up her hands: “It must be better than nothing.”

Urging a bone density scan, she cited relative risk (50%) rather than absolute risk (3%). Outpatient surgical clinics require pre-op tests for despite published research consistently showing no difference in outcomes. Most doctors don’t know the Society for General Internal Medicine’s guidelines limit testing for asymptomatic adults.

Doctors eagerly embrace studies questioning the value of herbal or alternative options, but shrug off equally credible reports showing the low value of mainstream “preventive” medicine. In fact “preventive” really means “risk reduction” and often the reduction is so low as to be meaningless. Thus the line between science and magic become blurred, educated skeptics resist medical advice, and most doctors hate patients who know how to read statistics in the medical journals.