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Aging By The Numbers

Something to think about:

Paul Westhead was 68 years old when he coached the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA championship.
Marynell Meadors coached the Atlanta Dream while she was 64 to 69 years old (including playoff appearances).
Bernie Sanders runs for president of the United States at 74.
Donald Trump and Hilly Clinton run for president at 69.
Joan Rivers won The Apprentice at 75.

Nobody would hire people of their ages for a corporate management or academic professorial job.

But it’s important to realize that in some ways these people are outliers. They benefit from a combination of genes and opportunities – seeds sown before they reached their sixties.

When looking at age, it’s about the variance, not the mean.

AARP Food Truck Stunt Shows How AARP Is Clueless

So AARP decides to take on age stereotypes. They set up a food truck with a big sign, “No One Under 40.”

Their takeaway is, “See how silly ageism looks out in the open?”

But the truth is, the response of people in the video sends the opposite message.

Not one person under 40 questioned the ban on over-40 people. Not one said, “This is illegal.” People who were turned away just accepted their fate.

One woman even let her mother be turned away.

Just imagine the sign had said, “White people only.” Or, “We don’t serve gay people.”


Age discrimination starts as early as …35?!

This article from PBS News says it all: age discrimination starts as early as 35. Researchers sent around resumes, changing only the birth date of the applicant. Older applicants got fewer invitations.

When companies were asked why this was happening, the a”reasons given include worries that they’re not good at technology, that they don’t have computer skills. There’s worries that they’re not active, that they’re slow, that they’re not willing to embrace change. There’s worries that they’re just going to leave…” And these reasons just aren’t true.

And AARP’s recommendations, it turns out, aren’t helpful. Why are we not surprised?

According to this article, AARP told people to write, “I’m willing to embrace change.” People who followed this advice got fewer callbacks.

I’m not surprised. I once told a client to remove the phrase, “Maintain an active lifestyle” from his resume. You’re calling attention to age – and emphasizing that you define yourself by age.

So what can you do?

They suggest, “Volunteer and take classes.”

I’d beg to differ.

I’d say to position yourself away from entry level jobs; you’ll still get discrimination but not as much.

And go back to school to study entrepreneurship. Get the entrepreneurial mindset going earlier rather than later.

Reflections on the Coursera “Global Aging” course

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.

Patient activation is really patient subjugation

Another WSJ article that makes my blood boil: How Doctors Rate Patients: Patient Activation.

Concepts like “patient activation” are misleading, manipulative and even dangerous. Doctors do not want activated, engaged patients. They want docile patients who will do as they are told without asking probing questions. They do not want patients who ask why published research seems to contradict their recommendations. They do not want to hear that they are reporting statistics inaccurately. They want patients who will follow their instructions (often incomplete and poorly worded) yet they regard their patients as irresponsible children.

For example, this article writes, “They [i.e., those who are not “model patients”] fail to take their medications, skip preventive screenings and end up back in the hospital soon after discharge.”

Taking medications isn’t always straightforward. I am an educated professional who’s given my cats everything from antibiotics to sub-cutaneous fluids to insulin shots. Yet after eye surgery I’m struggling to comply with vague instructions and poorly designed eye drop dispensers.

The term “preventive screenings” is nonsense. By definition, screenings detect disease or treatable conditions. At best, screenings allow early detection and risk reduction. Screenings do not prevent disease or even death. You can get colonoscopies and mammograms as directed and still die from colon or breast cancer. Flashy numbers like “50% reduction” refer to relative rather than absolute difference; the actual impact is usually very small and the cost of false positives very large. The Society for General Internal Medicine has questioned the usefulness of annual physical exams for asymptomatic adults. If doctors really want patients to be engaged, they will interpret statistics accurately and share *all* the research.

Finally, if doctors really want engagement, they need to treat patients like adults. Following eye surgery, I’m entrusted with a complicated regimen of eyedrops and I’m told to fast the night before surgery; my non-compliance will lead to negative outcomes that are expensive to fix. Yet though I live a few minutes away from the hospital, I’m not trusted to make sure I have transportation home. The hospital wants to call my ride the morning of surgery to make sure they’re really coming. I find this call degrading and insulting.

Yes, I know the risks, but I also know how to manage those risks intelligently. I will be alert and ambulatory after surgery and if I feel unable to leave on my own I know how to get help.

“Patient activation” is just another scheme to get more money by blaming patients for mistakes, carelessness and heavy workload. If doctors spent less time on meaningless “prevention” and more time working with people who really need help, many of these issues would go away.

I’m also disgustingly healthy, eat reasonably, have good genes and exercise. I rarely see doctors. Recently, when I asked a handful of questions, a doctor said with a straight face, “Your problem is you don’t have experience with the system. You don’t know how to be a patient.”