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…)
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…)
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…)
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).
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?
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.”
At first I was put off by the title of this book. “Senior Moment” comes with negative connotations. People of any age have moments of forgetfulness. Saying, “I’m having a senior moment!” puts yourself down and reinforces the stereotype.
Spiegelman reinforces other stereotypes as well. “After all,” he says, “at a certain age one doesn’t sleep well to begin with…” I’m curious to know the age he has in mind. I’m not young and I sleep like a log almost every night, unless I have jet lag or get pulled from sleep when the cat yowls.
On page 125, he writes, “One virtue any senior citizen ought to possess is patience…” and I become very impatient with this sentiment. Why give people an excuse to keep you waiting? Medical offices in particular assume that if you’re above a certain age, you don’t mind waiting, and they are free to squeeze people in ahead of you.
On page 153, he says that at the fiftieth reunion, nobody cares what you do … just how you are, with undertones of health. “Voltaire wisely remarked that after eighty all contemporaries are friends. They know where they are going and they are going there both alone and together.” I’ve got a ways to go before eighty but doubt I’ll agree, ever.
Age doesn’t guarantee bonds of common interest, and this type of statement encourages those who want to isolate older people; an improv class here in my city was targeted to “45 and older.” I’d be more interested in whether they were doing scene work, characters or games.
On page 29, he says, “Here is a formula for staying young well beyond the days of youth: Grow old in a place where you do not think you belong. You will feel like an adolescent, because adolescents always consider themselves outsiders. Then, after decades, just as you have gradually habituated yourself to your surroundings, pack up and leave. It is time for another, perhaps the final, beginning.”
That’s an intriguing idea, although I have trouble following along. I’m not sure why it’s advantageous to feel like an adolescent or why feeling like an outsider triggers feelings and behaviors of adolescence. I’ve lived in places as an outsider and I felt…well, like an outsider.
However, as the author of a book on relocation, I’d add that there’s much to gain from taking advantage of local color. Spiegelman refuses to get involved in sports talk, yet following the Cowboys and the Mavericks and (most recently) the WNBA Wings can be enjoyable and rewarding.
Senior Moments is a collection of essays, a series of first-person opinions. Having reviewed many collections of essays, I am surprised at my reaction.
Most contemporary essays delve into the author’s personal life, showing them in their most vulnerable moments, exposing their most intimate secrets. Spiegelman keeps focused on the bigger picture. Yet I found myself wondering about the more personal side of the story.
For instance, Spiegelman refers to his partner. Many essayists would share the details. While I admire his discretion and outward focus, I can’t help wondering what it would be like to live in Texas as a gay person in the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s. My own experience with the south is that everyone’s very interested in your family, love life and religion.
It’s not clear why Spiegelman devotes so much time and analysis to his 4-day high school reunion. I’ve been to one high school reunion and several college reunions. The best part of my college reunions involved spending time with very smart women and, in some cases, listening to good lectures and talks. The people I seek out now are not the same as those I spent time with as an undergrad; I’ve changed and they have. The bottom line is that everyone’s reunion experiences will be different, people have short memories and it’s not worth over-thinking the experience.
But the collection also brings us some special insights. I love what Spiegelman says about restaurants: even in the most upscale venues, you’re drowned out by noise. I can’t help wondering if that’s why the restaurant industry notes declining participation and declining participation. Why bother going out if you can’t talk to the people at your table?
I particularly resonated with the chapter “Quiet,” as I too search for silence. I feel for his question, “Do we really need CNN in airports or music in restaurants?” I would add, “Why are we forced to listen to television in medical offices?”
We forget that there was a time when people didn’t listen to music continually, due to the absence of portable listening devices. Some people have grown up with noise blaring in their homes during all their waking hours. They can’t handle silence.
I also like his thoughts on cars. As he says, driving can make it easy to be alone and even lonely.
And I resonated with the comments on reading. I also read compulsively, and now read shorter works and nonfiction, as he does. But I don’t share his puzzlement to find that very few people are reading books in flight. Airlines have become so miserable, it is hard to concentrate; I find myself escaping with videos myself. After all, you can’t read without turning up the earphones to a level that risks deafness.
Finally a mainstream publication recognizes that many in the aging population don’t have “the family” to care for them. It’s worth reading here.
It’s positioned in an upbeat way, suggesting that you can take control of your life in these circumstances.
Like most journalists, the author chooses the condescending term “elder orphans,” implying that those aging alone are helpless victims. The terms also invokes a touch of insulting humor, with the contrast of “elder” and “orphan.” An orphan is someone who has lost both parents.
Applied to any adult, the term seems irrelevant. It’s the absence of children and spouses that leaves the aging person with no source of help, yet exposed to considerable abuse, including abuse from mainstream medical professionals.
Additionally, the story ignores reality. It very difficult to find a proxy who’s willing to step up and who’s reliable, especially if you’re a “pull the plug” kind of person.
And it’s not that easy to stay connected. Age discrimination is social as well as economic. The elderly are considered irrelevant in our society.
But at least we are acknowledging that there IS a problem. That’s a good first step. Now we need to hear from more people who fear this situation.
A reminder of aging comes at the treadmill in the gym. At 85, Robert Goldfarb notices the graphs for runners’ heart rate goes up to age 70 and stops. It’s a reminder that he is “now officially one of the old-old.” Writing for the The New York Times, his article Talking To Younger Men About Growing Old reminds us that a lot of the frustrations with aging come not from our bodies, but from the way we are defined totally by our age, not by any other factor.
At age 85, Goldfarb is a competitive runner. Yet airport employees come rushing over with wheelchairs and offers of early boarding. (Frankly, I’d take those offers even if I were 55…or 35.)
Goldfarb finds that men his own age don’t want to talk about aging. As he says, men of his generation “regarded feelings as something to be endured, not discussed… Men in my platoon didn’t embrace when we parted after serving in the Korean War. Closer than brothers, we settled for a handshake, knowing that’s what men did.”
What Goldfarb describes is a cohort effect, which many people confuse with an aging effect. We often associate aging with the behaviors of our parents or grandparents, forgetting that when we reach their age, we won’t be like them.
I look at the 30-somethings in my gym who participate in boot camp classes. These classes didn’t exist when I was their age. In particular, women just didn’t do the kinds of exercises we do in class, unless they joined the US Marine Corps (and maybe not even then). Thirty years from now, these totally fit women won’t be moving like their great-grandmothers.
If you want another example, we used to see little old ladies riding on the buses, all dressed up to go shopping. They’d carry a tiny shopping bag from a high-quality store – just one little bag, which suggested they were shopping just for something to do, and felt they had to buy something. They’d be wearing heels and hose, with full make-up.
I remember telling a Canadian colleague, “One day these women will be gone.”
“Where will Eaton’s be?” he teased, referring to a Canadian store that somewhat resembled Macys.
Today Eaton’s is gone and so are the old ladies. I ride the bus in gym shorts and see women of all ages in jeans, sweats and yes, shorts. They wear short sleeves with their bra straps showing, sandals and sneakers. They shop on the Internet and make friends on Facebook.
Cohort effects trump age a good deal of the time.