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The social aspects of aging are by far the most difficult, in my experience, and the least understood. Often we experience altercasting – the way we’re pushed into roles and respond to those involuntary roles through a social interaction.

The brief video on social aspects of aging underestimated the cruelty associated with aging, which can be experienced any time after 35 or 40. It is true that some cultures treat older people better than the US does. However, it’s not clear what roles are appropriate or why special roles should be reserved for people over 60.
I do many things that are not age-appropriate – in my late sixties, I wear shorts, work on the Internet, take classes, workout – and every so often someone will say something that reminds me I’m older than most of the group. I’ve also found that any quirk or unusual quality is attributed to aging, even though it’s something that hasn’t changed for years. Age is the strongest signifier of status – even stronger than gender, sexual preference or (usually) race.

Another social phenomena is the toleration of negative stereotypes of aging. I remember watching a TV morning show years ago, where an “older” women was being interviewed because she did skydiving. The anchor was smiling in a patronizing way, as if to say, “That is so cute.” Similarly we see thousands of Youtube videos showing older women dancing, which is supposed to be amusing. One movie reviewer (wish I’d kept the clipping) wrote that, “It is funny to see older people enjoying themselves.” Can you imagine saying that about black people or disabled people?

Vernon Jordan wrote a book about growing up black. In one episode he was sitting at a table reading a book in a home his mother was cleaning. The lady of the house exclaimed, “Why, Vernon can read!” Most of us would be horrified, yet we tolerate a similar view from social and public media. We see a video of an elderly woman dancing and say, “Why, this old lady can shake her butt!”

I have never liked children and have no interest in activities that would put me around children. I’m not getting mellower; I’ve always been direct and outspoken and I’m still that way. The difference is that many people (especially medical people) expect to deal with sweet, docile old people; it has been necessary to use some colorful language to get them to pay attention, especially when I’m there alone. I don’t necessarily want “respect.” I just want to be treated like an adult who’s paying the bills; I deserve respect as a customer, not for my age.

Moreover, while other cultures treat the elderly with respect, preliterate tribes would leave elders behind when they were too weak to go on the tribal journeys. Some would kill and eat the elders. If you asked, I think many people would rather experience those customs than be locked up home with extreme pain, no meaningful life and the high probability of abuse.