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The NY Times periodically gathers small groups together to get a sense of a specific social group’s position on certain topics. They’ve held focus groups with Asian Americans, transgendered people, college applicants, and more. Last week they headlined the selection: 12 Seniors Discuss “What Happened In America?

It’s nice to see the Times listening respectfully to people over 70.  But it’s also misleading.

1 – Diversity increases as people age. These 12 are random, not representative. 

The Times wrote, “…we don’t hear enough directly from regular Americans 65 or older. That’s why we invited 12 seniors, ages 71 to 88 and from several states, to tell us about what it’s like to be an older person in American society today.”

Normally a focus group would be more targeted. It’s not clear why these 12 were chosen. You’ve got 12 idiosyncratic views which don’t add up to anything specific.

Some people love senior communities. Some would rather be dead than live in one.

When you ask about Medicare, you have to separate traditional Medicare, with and without a supplement, from Medicare Advantage patients. They have totally different experiences.

2 – The group didn’t talk about death and dying, yet many people over 70 are more concerned with how they die than when they die.

Medically-assisted dying – not mentioned at all –  will be increasingly important as more seniors age alone with no family. Some stop accepting medical interventions early to avoid institutions later. Many of us would choose death over nursing home confinement.

3 –  Cohort effects matter.

The 75-year-old of today will be very different than the 75-year-old of 2033 or even 2028. Expect changing patterns of exercise, health, and relationships change, not to mention experience with technology.

4 – Where was the discussion of ageism and stereotyping?

The article said, “For an hour and a half, they discussed and argued about the promise of aging, the perils of ageism, and their views on the direction of the country today.” There was nothing about ageism, stereotyping, or age discrimination.

There’s a trend in writing to say that everyone’s views are equally important. That may be true, but a collection of comments isn’t especially useful. We’d need to see surveys that can be analyzed statistically. We need to understand the limits of these informal discussions. I’d like to see the Times use its resources to investigate abuse in nursing homes and the lack of awareness among medical practitioners everywhere.