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Review of Marc Freedman’s new book

Marc Freedman’s latest book should be subtitled Prescription for Aging Well: Become Mentor to Younger People & Work With Children. Rather than break new ground, the book subtly reinforces some of the most common stereotypes of aging. For instance, “older people are more concerned with leaving a legacy than making money;” “older people want to nurture younger people and children.”

For instance Marc says he has three young children and no grandparents close by. “Our silver-haired safety net is located two doors down. Our quirky, engaging eighty-something neighbors …have become quasi-grandparents for our children… “

Freedman notes institutional factors that help older people: social acuity, Medicare and … AARP?! The truth is, many people avoid AARP because of their overly aggressive advertising (I stopped them by sending a public Facebook message) and because it’s not clear how they really help older Americans. In the last election, the two main party candidates differed significantly in their positions on Medicare and Social Security; one clearly would benefit recipients more than the other. Yet AARP remained steadfastly neutral, merely reporting what each side said.

AARP supported the drug “donut hole.” And AARP is, above all, an insurance company, which many people believe is sub-par in both value and customer service. You can just look at the comments under most AARP articles. r

Freedman points to Experience Corps as a model of ways to help both seniors and children. In fact Experience Corps seems to target “vulnerable older adults.” Their web page includes an excerpt from a newspaper article, “Older citizens have time on their hands and skills to share.” Really? Could this be another stereotype.

Freedman praises the movie The Intern as a “great example” of introducing an older person into a Millennial environment. In fact, the notion that older people need to become low-paid (or no-paid) interns seems preposterous. It’s not unusual for companies to hire executives who bring special skills to the table, even if they’re not familiar with all aspects of the organization. DeNiro reinforced many stereotypes — tech-challenged, always wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Today’s executives of all ages are likely to show up in business casual or even jeans and sneakers. A Pew Trust survey found that 67% of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, in contrast to just 14% in 2000.

Freedman takes a top-down view of aging, talking to people who create services, products or policy for older people. He talks to architects who offer innovative cross-generation housing. He talks to academics and authors. But the “boots on the ground” older people often don’t want any part of that. They want integrated housing but that means they want to live in an ordinary neighborhood or apartment with people of all ages. They want to work in real jobs for market wages and growth opportunities. These days, five years is a long time in any job, so they have time.

The truth is, some people — age 18 to 80 — just naturally enjoy working with children. Some others in the same age group would rather work in a for-profit environment as a contributor, not an intern. Some people are simply not qualified, by temperament or skill, to work with children. And many younger adults can afford to pay a coach or consultant to mentor them.

The workplace is the single biggest area of ageism (closely followed by the medical profession, which tends to pathologize medicate normal aging processes. See Christiane Northup’s excellent book, Goddesses Never Age.)

Finally, many older people aren’t afraid of dying. They’re more afraid of ending up in a nursing home, where many will be abused. They want to die with dignity. The advice to “accept your mortality” seems to apply to a specific segment of the population.

Talking To Younger People About Growing Old

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.

Celebrating A Birthday … WHY?

Some things probably shouldn’t make it to the Internet. Today someone posted on LinkedIn about turning 60. He wrote a whole LI article too for all the world to see. I’m sure he meant well so I’m reluctant to post a link here. But his post embodies many stereotypes of aging.

This guy writes: One thing that becoming an old guy gives me is the right to write an article about what I’ve learned along the pathway that constitutes my life.

Saying you get wise with age is just another way of saying that biological age is related to abilities and skills. I know a guy who’s 32 going on 45 and some people who are in their 60s going on 12. Saying that you now get the “right” to share your views is another way to differentiate yourself from others in a meaningless way. You’ll scare off potential friends, employees and clients.

So what if you’re 60? You’re an expert in some things but not others. Simply living a long time doesn’t mean anything. Just look at some of our politicians.

As it turns out, the wisdom he offers consists of a bunch of cliches and opinions that come out of left field. For instance, “A dog will mourn you when you die, a cat will eat you. Just sayin’.”

Sixty years of living to learn that?

Then there’s “Always take a leak in the other man’s toilet.” I have no idea what that means.

Aging and Being Single: Grandmother Hormones

Today’s New York Times Style section included an article, The Bliss of Grandmother Hormones by Dominique Browning.

She has a remarkably frank comment about aging:
“When we’re young, aging looks sort of yucky; frankly, even though it is extremely un-P.C. to say so, it looks sort of yucky when we get there, too. Hence, the magical thinking around skin creams.”

It’s not clear what we’re to make of that comment. Is she saying that yes, older people are ugly and therefore worthy of discrimination?

But, she says, all these concerns about aging disappear when one enjoys the pleasure of holding “a six-pound newborn boy” against “a heart burnished with the patina of age.”

Probably true. As a single person, I get a lot of pleasure out of holding my cat or snuggling with the dog. Age is a non-issue. Just mutual acceptance.

Maybe I should try for an op-ed about that. Not as PC as grandmothers but surprisingly common.

Virtual Villages For Retirees: Why?

Today’s New York Times has an article on retirees who form “virtual villages” to combat loneliness and get things done.

Frankly, I don’t get it. If you live in a city, you already have a virtual village.

Some things are free. You can get groceries delivered to your door. I don’t take any meds but I could find someone to deliver them if I needed to. Besides Fresh Direct, we have InstaCart (which will do drug store runs) and Task Rabbit.

Some things cost money. You can take classes all over town. You don’t need a “senior” approved class. I live near a world-class pottery studio and am a fast bus ride way from all kinds of art classes, comedy classes … anything a person of any age might want.

Some thing are free. Many community colleges and universities allow people over a certain age to take or audit classes for free.

I belong to a regular gym. I take classes. Sometimes I can’t do all the moves – not because I’m old, in most cases, but because I didn’t do enough gymnastics as a child. No problem. Few people of any age can do all of the moves and all the instructors will suggest modifications. I also work out on my own with weights.

My city has tons of Meetup groups. They don’t ask your age. If you don’t want to go to a movie alone, join a group based on your interest, not your age.

We also have tons of opportunities to be useful with volunteerism – everything from tour guiding to animal rescue.

If I lived in the suburbs, I’d need a car, which costs $5-10,000 a year. Most cities have amenities for people over 65. Lots of things are free or almost-free, including food delivery.

Often you can get things free, too. I sometimes volunteer to usher for plays because if I don’t like the play, I can always say, “Well, at least I didn’t pay $50 and up to be annoyed.”

Mostly what bothers me is, why are these villages for retirees? Most retirees are healthy and able-bodied. Why are they subjected to stereotypes of aging?

In fact, I’d like to ask them,  “Why retire?” I’ve tried a couple of times and got totally bored. I’m too busy to socialize with my age-mates at a happy hour or a movie. I spend time with people of all ages when I have something in common with them besides our decade of birth.

Right now I’m cursing the Internet because I can’t figure out how to get a blank page with a header in one of my blogs. I’m revising my website, which means rewriting pages and struggling with the demands of a new WordPress theme. I’m making videos, which is a hassle because I live near a noisy bridge in a noisy city and have to remove the background noise.

And if I didn’t have these things going on, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of a murder mystery that is a rare treat, not something I can do each day. I might write a mystery or do more comedy… but probably not. I love my pottery class but I wouldn’t be in the studio every day. There’s something about time stolen from work, contrasting with work, that leads to real enjoyment.