“You’re Sick. Whose Fault Is That?” Response to NY Times Article

This article by Dhruv Khullar was published in the NYTimes.

Jan. 10, 2018 – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/upshot/youre-sick-whose-fault-is-that.html

The author writes: “Behavior contributes to nearly half of cancer deaths in the United States, and up to 40 percent of all deaths.”

The first citation refers to a popular news magazine with no links to the actual study. The second refers to a NEJM article that draws the 40% statistic from yet another article, this one appearing to be a summary in JAMA, associating numbers of deaths with specific behaviors, with virtually no info dabout how that number was calculated. (more…)

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…)

Yet another age stereotype of “careers after 50”

Baby Boomers Look to Senior Concierge Services to Raise Income – by Liz Moye

What I wrote to the Times:

As an aging Boomer I’m appalled by this article. The headline suggests that baby boomers could “raise income” by working as low-paid service workers.The rest of the article reinforces the stereotype of “seniors” as caring and nurturing people who are more concerned with doing good and leaving a legacy than earning money. (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).

Most Disgusting HashTag: “ElderlyBooks” Reinforces Stereotypes of Aging

For a while Twitter had a hash tag, #elderlybooks. The purpose apparently was to reinforce stereotypes of aging.
Fortunately, it seemed to disappear on its own. Some examples:

50 Shades of Gray Hair.
Cartoon of an older lady: “Tracking my cookies? They will never get my recipe!”

Charlotte’s Lack Of Understanding Of The Web

The Five People You Are Going To Meet In Heaven Very Soon

What to Expect When You’re Expiring

Tuesdays With Who?

Is 85 too old to climb Mount Everest?

From a WashPo article – Should Nepal impose an upper age limit on climbing Mt Everest?

A study of climbers 1990-2005, showed that overall climbers made it to the top 31% of the time with a 1.2% chance of dying. Those 60 and up? 13% chance of reaching the summit and 25% chance of dying. Recently an 85-year-old man died, apparently of altitude sickness, while waiting to climb. Much better than living with the aftermath of a heart attack or stroke.

My response: If you’re over 60 you get to choose your risks. Dying at 85, surrounded by fellow climbers, in the fresh air of a beautiful mountain … why is this worse than living a few more years to die in a nursing home, surrounded by indifferent caregivers, eating bad food, forced to accept invasive medical procedure you probably don’t need, and possibly tied to a bed or a wheel chair, subject to verbal or physical abuse?

Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

What’s wrong with, “Give me freedom to stay out of a nursing home or give me death.”