Ellen on Positive Aging Part 2: About ageism

I have recently been trying to develop something akin to guidelines for positive aging. This is a work in progress. There are, so far, three items on this list, with new and exciting research to demonstrate their importance. 

LET’S END AGEISM and negative stereotypes

In spite of the repugnance of ageist stereotypes, we are not likely to have escaped their clutches. This is no small matter. Ageism is everywhere, and it is not good for our health or happiness or longevity

There are serious consequences, as we reported in our 70Candles! book:

Many institutions won’t hire anyone over 55, for fear we won’t be in tune with the younger generation or with the newest technology.

“I’m in a business where I know I wouldn’t have been hired if I admitted my age.”

 “I feel invisible in a crowd of younger people, and when I do get repeated attention, and think I’m being admired, it turns out I remind that young person of a grandma or favorite aunt!”

We hear terms of endearment from receptionists, and on the phone, like “dear,” “sweetie,” “honey,” that we use to address our young grandchildren or our pets.

When someone says something like “she’s 70 years young” they think they are being cute and flattering.  I want to scream, “70 is old!  And that’s okay!”

Social change is needed to educate about and eliminate ageism, particularly now as the population ages and the baby-boomers now reach their senior years.  

And, by the way, there is a significant negative impact on one’s health, life-satisfaction, and actual longevity, if even as children we have negative views of old people. 

The first response by many, to the thought of a 70-year-old and older woman, as supported by the preponderance of current literature, is failing mental and physical functioning.  When I began my literature review for my thesis, I typed “70 year-old women” into Google Scholar.  Nine entries fit onto page one, and titles included “Balance training in 70-year-old women,” “Periodontal conditions in 70-year-old women with osteoporosis,” Epidemiology of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures,” “Cost effectiveness of treatment to lower cholesterol levels in patients with coronary heart disease,” and so on. My husband suggested I call my thesis “Look at All the Pills on Granny’s Night Stand.”

Then this summer, for the first time, I typed “70 year-old men” into Google Scholar, and the first three articles that popped up were “Sperm output of older men,” “Fertility and the Aging Male,” and “Erectile Dysfunction in the Elderly.”

Becca Levy, a professor of psychology at Yale found that “Children as young as 3 or 4 have already taken in the age stereotypes of their culture.” “These age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media. Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.”

She found that older adults with positive beliefs about old age were less likely to develop dementia, including those who are genetically disposed.

Levy explains, “We know . . . that exposing older individuals to negative age stereotypes exacerbates stress, whereas exposing them to positive age stereotypes can act as a buffer against experiencing stress.” 

In fact, the results of her research make the case “for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs.” Even “individuals in their 80s and 90s can strengthen their positive images of aging.”

Finally, a physician has written about ageism in hospitals. “Over the years, I’ve become more and more aware of ageism in health care — a bias against full treatment options for older patients. Assumptions about lower capabilities, cognitive status and sedentary lifestyle are all too common. There is a kind of ‘senior profiling’ that occurs among hospital staff, and this regularly leads to misdiagnoses and inappropriate medical care.”

In other studies it’s been demonstrated that all too often negative attitudes about aging arise from anxiety over impending changes in physical ability and appearance, or worries about loneliness, or boredom. However, many studies of older adults debunk these perceptions. Older adults can and do live enriching and very active lives — so these perceptions aren’t rooted entirely in reality.

The bottom line for me is that we have a unique opportunity, now, to redirect the discourse about aging so it includes the positive aspects of old age. Our health and well-being depend on it.

Let’s do whatever we can to end Ageism. Hear Something, Say Something…TELL YOUR AGE!

This entry was posted in 70candles, Ageism anecdotes, Aging, Attitudes about aging, Men aging, Stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Ellen on Positive Aging Part 2: About ageism

  1. Hanna Frederick says:

    Thank you so much for these 2 articles! Enjoy very much your work. It added so much hope to my everyday life at 71. I “fight” against being old by staying young. Loved how Levy explains, “We know . . . that exposing older individuals to negative age stereotypes exacerbates stress, whereas exposing them to positive age stereotypes can act as a buffer against experiencing stress.” – In a tiny way we owe to ourselves to keep going to be positive stereotypes, in a big or small way!

    It makes my day, when a young woman tells me, I am a role model. What she probably means: an ordinary role model, but that is still very OK!

  2. Ann says:

    I wrestle every day with the conflict between wanting to own my age, I’ll be 70 in November, and wanting to pass for 50 when I can. Owning my age in the technology industry seems like a sure way to the door. Replacing the trappings of purpose that come with a job/career is not easy especially if one wants to avoid one of the most ageist institutions we’ve created — retirement.

    Compared to ‘I’m a teacher.” “I’m a doctor.” or other labels we’ve used, saying “I’m retired” is the most role-less role definition out there.

    I appreciate you and others raising awareness about the topic and the impact, although I’m concerned we don’t take seriously our own individual contribution to the ageist stereotypes. We need to guard our own thoughts, speech and behavior against the inherent ageism that’s crept into our own personal nature.

    I like Marc Middleton’s approach with “Growing Bolder” and promoting more role models for seniors from among the ranks of seniors.

    • Fran says:

      When Part 1 of this 2-part post of 70 Candles was posted (a few days ago), I started doing some research (more research — I’ve been researching old age and retirement for years — I’m 71), and I came across an article, written by someone prominent in the field, who started out with: “We need to stop thinking of old age as a time of decline.” And I literally laughed out loud. OF COURSE old age is a time of decline. I mean, seriously — what? — our bodies are going to somehow get younger and our minds are somehow going to get sharper? We can do some things that will hopefully delay the onset of any dementia, but our bodies get older and older, and eventually we die. Sounds like decline to me. We are not growing younger, and we’re certainly not growing bolder. I often wonder about these people who are making money off of the desires of we old and elderly to be young. (Plastic surgeons make A LOT of money.)

      (The reason 100-year-olds, with little, if any, dementia, make the national or global news is because it IS news — reaching 100 is still not common and reaching 100 without dementia is a real miracle.)

      We are old. And the federal government defines ‘elderly’ as age 85, although my geriatrician (who was 65 when he retired last year) believed it was more like 80. Anyway, we are old, and nothing is going to change until we stop being embarrassed and ashamed about being old, until we stop pretending and trying to pass for ‘young’.

      Old age is its own time of life. It really is a great time of life — it depends on how we view it. I’m loving getting older (not so much losing my looks, getting wrinkles, putting on a bit too much weight, etc. — after all, I am human), and THE LAST thing I’m concerned about is about looking young and acting young and having the truly young and middle-aged perceive me as young. I mean, really, of all the superficial ways to spend the remaining years of our lives, putting our time and energy into looking and acting young has got to be THE WORST waste of time.

      With that said: yes, there is ageism in medical care, and I don’t like it one bit. I and my friends and neighbors have been the recipient of it — well, I have since I turned 65 and went on Medicare. I hate it. But on the other hand — I’ve had a really great life, and I’m not at all afraid of dying and death so living to 90 is hardly a goal of mine.

      And, yes, I think we should do whatever we want to do, whatever we can do. Start our own business. Write a book. Learn to paint. Volunteer. Drive around The US for months. Backpack in Europe, alone or with a friend (I don’t recommend that these days). However, no matter what we do, every year (in old age) we will lose more and more strength and more and more stamina. And there will come a time when we just can’t do it anymore. AND THAT IS PERFECTLY ALL RIGHT. One of the last things I need in old age is to be seen as ‘relevant’ and/or ‘significant’ in US society, which is a very, very sick society — The US has one of the highest rates of mental illness among First World countries throughout the world.

      I’m spending my old age doing a bit of volunteering, reading books I really want to read, rereading books that I’ve loved all my life. When I retired, I left my home state and moved to another state that is absolutely gorgeous, and so I spend as much time as I possible, in the falls and springs, driving around my state — I used to be able to go for 11-13 hours, and now I can do about 6-8. 🙂 I keep up with technology only because I want to do so — I actually attend classes and courses. (I did all the traveling, to foreign countries, that I ever wanted to do, when I was in my 20s and 30s, so I’m grateful — and disappointed — that I don’t do that now.)

      According to Medicare and other valid sources, more than half of us, who are 70 or older today, will be dead before we reach 80. So — again — do we REALLY want to spend the last years of our lives on looking young and pretending to be young?

      I have a neighbor who is 55 and has MS very bad. She was diagnosed about 10 years ago, and she is now getting to the point where she can’t drive (she should have stopped driving years ago, but, ya know). She is also poor. I look at her — and people like her: not in good health and poor — and I’m thrilled just to be alive, to be in relatively good health, and to not be poor. I’m also grateful to be so interested in life and formal/self education that I’m rarely bored — I’m interested in everything from amoebas to zebras.

      OWN your age — don’t let medical personnel treat you like some idiot — LOL — and get on with your old age! There aren’t all that many years left for most of us!

  3. Robin Baumgartner says:

    My affirmation: I will never be old. I am always growing young and strong.

  4. Sandi says:

    Isn’t there some validity to this? There are over a million people; mostly women with osteoporosis. How many women over 70 are NOT on at least one medication? “The first response by many, to the thought of a 70-year-old and older woman, as supported by the preponderance of current literature, is failing mental and physical functioning. When I began my literature review for my thesis, I typed “70 year-old women” into Google Scholar. Nine entries fit onto page one, and titles included “Balance training in 70-year-old women,” “Periodontal conditions in 70-year-old women with osteoporosis,” “Epidemiology of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures”

  5. Blog Mavens says:

    Anonymous, Age 79

    I am unusual for women in my age group to have a technical degree, a PhD in Information Science and I spent my working life as a computer scientist. I had to be twice as good as all the men I worked with which, frankly, turned me into a successful survivor, with a willingness to fight back when I encountered ageism and sexism.
    Growing old has not been much of an issue for me since I decided brains were more important than appearance. And I am fortunate to have kept most (but not all!) of my cognitive functioning. As I aged I made sure I continued to be at the cutting edge of technology which helped with the assumption that aging women had lost most of their intellect.
    I’ve given some thought on how to fight ageism and I read a powerful research paper (sorry I can’t remember the citation) that reported that humans have a very difficult time picturing their future. So most younger people cannot picture themselves as old and so subject to ageism. I thought that maybe the best way to reach younger people about ageism is to find ways to allow them to see themselves as old and subject to the discrimination they will encounter in our society. I do not think that appealing to their better nature as a path forward will be very successful!
    There are no guarantees that I will keep my cognitive functioning, not to mention my current good health, and I dread the prospect of being vulnerable in our society.

  6. Blog Mavens says:

    80 Candles

    For the past year I have been reading your emails regarding 70 Candles. Well, I am an 80 Candle person. You wanted some background information. I am widowed with one son who is 42 yrs. I have a bachelors degree in nursing and I have worked almost 60 years in nursing – in the Dallas/Ft. Wort area primarily. Am currently working about 30 hours a week in a demanding job in home health – quality and compliance.

    Enough for back-ground. My thought is that it is important for 70 Candle People to know that 80 Candle People are active, resilient and involved. Obviously, I am busy since I still work but this is partly because I don’t have any health issues and really quite energetic. But I have friends (80 +) who are very active and involved; some have had serious health set -backs. The only common trend is they live in their own homes. I could give numerous examples.

    Regarding age stereotypes (ageism), I have some thoughts. Yes, I have had the usual patronizing experiences. A major concern is the ageism of children toward their parents. Not my son, however, he considers me to be very independent. Maybe because I was almost 40 when he was born. But I see it in my friends children. Examples: Daughter of one friend whose parents are both professional nurses checks refrigerators to see if they eat well. Another daughter wants her Dad, who had a health set-back, to have Visiting Angels to come routinely to help him do things he can perfectly well do him self.

    What I kinda think is needed is “booklets” for children, grocery chains, department stores, etc. with guidelines of what is good assistance and what is patronizing.

    You have a gathering in the HEB area of Ft. Worth. Have sent an email to Carolyn and hopefully it will work out that I can attend those meetings. Please contact me for additional input and examples. And continue your good works.

    Yours truly,
    Anette Steiner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *