Here’s what I sent to the author of Milestones, a tabloid for “seniors.”
The story on “elder orphans” raised several questions for me.
The term “elder orphans” is deeply offensive to many people who are aging without family. An orphan is a child without parents. We’re talking about adults without children. The term is infantilizing.
Additionally, the problem of planning for end of life as well as care during illness is not limited to elders. Anyone’s spouse could die or decide to leave; I know a woman who was “dumped” in her mid-fifties. Children can be unreliable, far away, or estranged. There’s no guarantee that children will carry out your wishes; we’ve all heard stories of the grown children who fly in and start making decisions even when they haven’t seen their parents in years.
As for care, something like 90% of elder abuse comes from family.
Your story also implies that older people who live alone are lonely. Many of us would rather be dead than share our living space. In her book, Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby describes a man who’s forced to start living with a caretaker. He steals the caretaker’s car keys, drives to a bridge and jumps off. Many older people can relate.
What’s needed are three things:
1 – A way to allow the elderly to see meaningful employment — something that gets rewarded for good performance. Not every elder wants to leave a legacy Many older people are isolated because of age discrimination in the workplace. One of Trump’s lawyers is 84 years old. Nancy Pelosi is in her late 70s. Most people their age would be considered too old for any job except greeter in a big box store. Getting paid means being recognized and valued. Many older people have trouble reaching out and getting involved because they don’t have money — and because working creates bonds.
I’m older than the people you mentioned in the article. I work on the Internet; there’s no way I could get a meaningful face to face job. And when I meet people, they don’t ask what I do; they ask, “Are you retired?”
2 – Currently age discrimination is not considered politically incorrect. Older women are disrespectfully addressed as “Gramma” or referred to as “grannies.” Jokes about older people needing diapers don’t help. Think of the song, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” Imagine a similar song about black people or gays.
3 – Everybody – not just the elderly – needs to be able to set up advance directives for end of life care, stored in the cloud. Those who set this up could get a bracelet or tattoo with the URL holding these wishes. We need strict laws to prevent overeager medical people from violating these wishes. This is the 21st century. I did my last mortgage without touching a piece of paper. Our ability to die as we wish should not depend on a live medical proxy.
And we need assisted dying. There’s no way to maintain quality of life in most nursing homes. Without constant vigilance by a capable advocate, the inmates will be abused.
Good article here:
Back when I was doing improv, we were at the last class. One of the guys says, “It’s nice to see you playing with the kids.”
“Kids? That guy over there has white hair. He’s not a kid. Anyway, what difference does it make?
7/15 – In the Clay Studio I tell the joke about telling tourists my dog is an authentic colonial dog. Nice guy says, “They think you’re this crazy old lady.”
Me: Crazy? I’m going to come here and make a crack about gays.
Him: “I’ll probably agree with you.” OK…I’m on that one.
7/17: Image on LinkedIn: “Software so simple even a grandma could use it.” Ageist AND Sexist.
7/18 – Today I’m watching a CreativeLive video on vlogs. The charming, very young presenter (who speaks with the usual “young people’s accent”) says, “You vary your presentation for your audience. If they’re older, you might want to go slower.”
The book is generally good, though not as ground-breaking as Influence. The impact of pre-suasion has been identified elsewhere and is commonly practiced by marketers.
However, four pages in this book – 122-126, together with the related footnote, seem particularly disturbing.
“the process of growing old” is described in very negative terms, mostly physical: “erode your ability to see, hear and think clearly…dulled sense of taste…compromised digestive system…vulnerable to an array of other afflictions, such as coronary heart issue, stroke, atherosclerosis, pneumonia, arthritis and heart disease.”
These “afflictions” affect people who are quite old and often near death. Many older people suffer more from the misguided effort of the medical professional to address these conditions, although medical intervention doesn’t always extend mortality or raise quality of life. In fact, some research suggests that diagnosis of diabetes after 65 doesn’t affect mortality.
Cialdini goes on to say that, “on average elderly individuals experience significant losses…yet they don’t let the declines undermine their happiness.” He cites one set of research studies, yet refers to “seniors,” not “seniors in the study.”
In his footnote, he does note that the “positivity paradox doesn’t usually extend into the very last phases of life…” because at that point the elderly lose control of their lives.
Yet considerable research as well as evidence from practicing physicians suggests that depression is significant among the old and younger old. Reported incidence of depression varies widely, possibly due to measurement flaws and motivation of the medical provider to prescribe drugs.
The tendency to focus on the good in a marriage may be related to length of time in a marriage, or experience of being married generally.
Age discrimination takes a huge toll. Many older people are able and willing to work. While a 70-ear-old can be president of the US, a competent person over 50 will have trouble finding an ordinary responsible job; at 60, the options dwindle to jobs like greeter at big box store. Older people often are treated with rudeness and condescension. Not all have spouses or siblings who can be sources of support and advocacy. People who experience these realities have every reason to be “grumpy” — an ageist term that should not appear in the pages of a psychology book. Images of cheerful, tolerant elders are as harmful to the aging population as images of happy slaves were to the treatment of African-Americans.
I’d suggest reading Never Say Die, by Susan Jacoby, for a realistic view of the aging experience, and also Goddesses Never Age by Christiane Northrup, about the possibility of aging in good health. Northrup is optimistic but does not dismiss the realities of age discrimination and stereotypes. Read Mary Pipher’s Another Country (which has become somewhat dated due to weaker family structures in the western world).
Paul Westhead was 68 years old when he coached the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA championship.
Marynell Meadors coached the Atlanta Dream while she was 64 to 69 years old (including playoff appearances).
Bernie Sanders runs for president of the United States at 74.
Donald Trump and Hilly Clinton run for president at 69.
Joan Rivers won The Apprentice at 75.
Nobody would hire people of their ages for a corporate management or academic professorial job.
But it’s important to realize that in some ways these people are outliers. They benefit from a combination of genes and opportunities – seeds sown before they reached their sixties.
When looking at age, it’s about the variance, not the mean.
This article reinforces stereotypes of seniors as soft, cuddly nurturers. Many people over 60 are childless. Many prefer to work for money rather than volunteer (especially for organizations that pay their executives handsomely, such as hospitals and nursing homes). Some just like to travel.
A geriatric psychiatrist should know better than to stereotype “older brains.” Some people take more risks as they get older; novelty-seeking is a personality trait. Having never been especially conscientious or maternal, I doubt that I’ll transform when I hit a magic number.
Here’s what he writes about his patient “Dora:”
“She and her husband spent several months and considerable treasure each year after retirement traveling to a bucket list of exotic locales, but found themselves feeling increasingly alienated from family and friends who did not share in their adventures. Their children complained that they seemed more interested in spending time with itinerant acquaintances than with their grandchildren. Several friends became reticent to invite them on weekend outings, fearing that any such plans paled in comparison with their many adventures.” (more…)