Simplistic article on suicide in the elderly from Milesetones

Milestones is a tabloid type newspaper published by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and distributed free in Philadelphia and downloadable online. It’s the usual party line pep talk stuff.

Their November 2017 issue included an article about suicide. Here’s how I responded.

I was appalled by your article on suicide among the elderly. Milestones reaches a large, diverse audience with a tabloid type newspaper. You have a rare opportunity to share accurate information and raise concerns. Instead, you present a simplistic view of a complex subject, in a way that could actually harm the very people you are targeting for help. (more…)

Oh no … we are “Elder Orphans”

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. (more…)

Aging means getting an insult a day …

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?

So in the last few days I started making notes. (more…)

Comments on Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion

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).

Aging By The Numbers

Something to think about:

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.