There’s yet another big announcement in the news about “tech for Baby Boomers” and surprise, it’s all about tracking meds, exercise, and doctors. [Read more…]
Mom’s almost 90. She’s bright, independent and social. She’s also frail and tiny. On the rare occasion she goes out in the evening, she lets me know ahead of time. This is because everyone, from local family to relatives from back east, will call me worrying if they can’t reach her after dark.
So when I called around five on Sunday night and she didn’t answer, I figured she was indisposed and would call back. She didn’t. An hour later, she didn’t answer either her cell or landline, so I drove over to her house (four blocks away). Her windows were dark but the porch light was on. I figured she went somewhere with her friends and forgot to tip us off.
Over the next couple hours, I phoned a few more times, and then let my sister know. Karen was concerned. “Have you gone inside her house?” she asked. Feeling like a jerk, I let myself in and checked every room and closet. The car was home, so I checked inside that, too. Looking out the patio slider, I was grateful to note she was not lying in a crumpled heap outside, and in fact, the door was locked, further evidence she’d gone out. As I drove back home, I noted a Christmas program going on at the Lodge, which is the clubhouse for our 55+ community. Probably she was inside, I told Karen.
It was unlike Mom not to keep us posted. She’s very responsible and thoughtful. Over the next few hours, Karen and I called and left a few more messages. Nothing.
Pretty soon it was 9:30, and I called Karen back. “What are we going to do if she hasn’t turned up by 10 when the Lodge closes?” I asked. Karen said, “Why don’t you go inside and see if she’s there?” Smart, but risky: if I showed up at the ballroom, Mom would think something horrible had happened to a family member. Then, when I told her why I was there, she’d be embarrassed in front of her friends.
But maybe I could sneak in, see if she was there, and split, undetected. I put my bra back on, as well as some decent slacks and a dab of lipstick. It was now 9:45. At the Lodge, I parked in front and headed toward the ballroom.
Great timing. The party was ending and a crowd flowed toward me. There she was: the shortest person in a sea of elders, her auburn hair barely visible over someone’s shoulder. I fled to the car, leapt in, and drove down one of the parking aisles, where I shut off the lights and waited to make sure it was her. It was dark, but her walk is distinctive after that broken leg of three years ago, and she has a slight hunch from osteoporosis. Then I saw the glint of her cane, and knew I could relax.
I called Karen. “Found her!” I said, laughing at my sneakiness, all for the purpose of ensuring Mom’s safety without her feeling impeded. Karen asked, “What is she doing now?” Suddenly angry, I said, “She’s crossing the parking lot with her old biddy friends!” I was mad with relief. Then I got the idea to race over to her house and watch to make sure she got in okay. I parked on her street, stalking her again, feeling like an inept spy.
She never showed.
I drove around back, thinking she might have gone in through the garage. Nope. I circled her neighborhood for a few fruitless minutes, but assumed she went over to a friend’s house for a snack. I drove home, mumbling and cursing to myself. And there she was, in the back seat of her friend’s little car. They were on my street, looking at Christmas lights. I managed to get inside my garage undetected.
It was after ten. I went to bed. “She okay?” mumbled Bill from under the covers. “Fine. She’s out partying.” It was, after all, my fault and my success that Mom had come to this. I was the one who lobbied hard for her to move to my community. “You’ll have friends,” I’d said. “There are always activities at the Lodge. You’ll never be bored or lonely.” Now, three years after moving away from her beloved home in the high desert, she was thriving, independent, and social.
And her kids were freaking out, acting like they were the parents.
The next day, she was slightly defensive. “I figured you wouldn’t call,” was her argument, but we both know that’s a load of hooey. I said I was glad she had friends and a social life, and that we kids put her through more than this when we were teenagers. We laughed and changed the subject. She’ll never know how upset I was. If my elderly, fragile mother is capable of independence and self-determination, and has all her marbles, I’ll stay out of her way.
Even if she does drive me apeshit.
Have you ever had the experience of feeling your perspective change, in almost a visceral way? After watching this video, I’m a changed person. You might end up that way, too.
As you watch The Overview Effect, you’ll see glorious, fragile Earth from the International Space Station, with a narration by some of the astronauts who filmed it. At about the four-minute mark, you’ll see thunderstorms, and then the aurora borealis. At about 6:30 you’ll hear that the astronauts, while not working, tend to lose themselves in “earthgazing.” At 11:10, astronaut Edgar Mitchell says he was both excited and troubled by a certain effect he’d experienced in space, and upon his return, asked a local university if they could find a name for it. They did. It’s called salva corpus amanti, which, in this context means, “You see things…with your eyes but you experience them emotionally and viscerally with ecstasy and a sense of totally unity and oneness.”
This morning on my way to an appointment, the fog was breaking up, still drifting over newly-green fields in our rural area. Sun began to come through, as well as a bit of blue sky. I watched the cars in front of me rolling along, and I marveled that they stuck to the road instead of floating off into space. I considered my priorities for the day and realized how unimportant they are, and I am. We little ant-people, bustling about on our lovely blue planet, rarely stop to realize how small it all is. This is the after-effect of the video, for me. As I watched the film and heard the transcendent music, I felt tenderness and gratitude for Earth’s generosity, and fear for her vulnerability. I’m sure that my being almost sixty adds depth to my appreciation. Enjoy.
What if there is no meaningful difference between people of different age groups? We tend to stereotype based on age, but the similarities between the groups might be more numerous than the differences. Here are some common ones:
- Naivete or innocence: A young person may be exploited due to lack of experience, but other ages fall victim as well.
- Independence: Young people can’t live alone or drive a car. Some older people are in the same situation. Commonality, not distinction.
- Appearance: Older people may start to look funny, but remember those pictures of yourself as an adolescent? You say the younger people will outgrow it? So will the elders.
- Dreams: Older people set out on the path of new dreams at every age. And some younger people just aren’t interested.
- Frailty and illness: An older person may have physical limitations, but when I was in elementary school, a classmate missed a whole year due to rheumatoid arthritis. She was infirm. She was very young.
- Death of friends and relatives wounds all of us.
- Intellect: do I even have to explain?
- We all go through physical and hormonal changes in life. Think of your own pubescence. Now think of menopause. Was either more fraught?
Yes, some characteristics are more typical of a certain age group, such as physical decline, but we certainly have a lot of commonalities. Why do we ignore those in favor of artificial differences?
I think because it’s easier. We stereotype people, throwing them into groups, because it saves us from having to see a person as an individual. We label them for our own convenience, but labels might dictate how a human is perceived or treated, leading to a huge waste of potential, not to mention heartache. Besides, labels and stereotypes change over time. One hundred years ago, in the United States of America, women were forbidden to vote. Everyone agreed they were insufficiently intelligent or rational to handle that responsibility.
Maybe someday our perceptions about age will change, too. We might come to think the differences between young and old are so trifling as to be immaterial. Why not start now? Let’s focus on what we all have in common, and beyond that, get to know each other as people. And as far as allowing those labels to limit you, stop right now. Decide who or what you want to be, and become that, regardless of age.
Your time on earth is finite and precious. Don’t waste it trying to comply with some soon-to-be-antiquated standard of behavior.
I’ll be away for the next two weeks. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! See you on December 6.
Eighty! You’re eighty? Eighty’s really old, right?
That’s how I used to see it when I was younger. Maybe you, too.
But now that I’m around 60, and involved with writers and writing groups, I have friends that age. Girl friends who will sit with me, drink wine, and whine about whatever. We discuss our writing, our dreams, other people, sex, wanting to lose a few pounds…
Here’s the news: Age is irrelevant. It truly is “just a number.” People age differently these days. We’re all over the map. You cannot stereotype based on a number, because people differ so substantially at this point in life.
One of my friends, MJ, is 82 and her hair’s on fire. She’s working on her second novel. Another friend, Ray, will be 90 next May. He’s published thirty books so far and there’s no end in sight. My mom is 88. She attends exercise class three times a week, has tons of friends, and loves the novels I recommend. (We had the best discussions after Water for Elephants, Cutting for Stone, and Two Old Women).
What’s going on? Weren’t these people supposed to be in rocking chairs, gazing vacantly into space? Whether due to better nutrition, changing societal expectations, or something else, elders have kicked it up a notch. They’ve been places, they’re doing things and they aren’t done yet.
And I think they have tons of information we’d all benefit from hearing.
The people who really have something to teach us are in their seventies, eighties, and beyond.
Mary McPhee, 87, wrote a book based on her blog. The book, called “Code Name Nora” is about moving to a retirement home. She is sharp, productive and independent, with her own apartment and car. Very unusual, I think, to move to a home under your own steam while you still have choices, but she did so because it was a nicer place to live at the same price as her mortgage, for one reason. I suppose the Midwestern winters had something to do with it. Mary is thriving while enjoying the security and comfort of the home. In Nora, Mary reproduces her blog posts, most of them funny or lighthearted. However, she occasionally makes an observation that reveals the thoughtful elder behind the comedic persona. For example, this is a reflection on a couple of her neighbors who are aging faster, mentally, than others:
It didn’t take much to amuse them. They were on leisure time; holding-pen time; lame duck time; they had no cares or worries in the world. Which of course was not true because they still had plenty – their families and their own health – but nature had relented a little, softening their brains so these things weren’t so sharp for them anymore. Or they had the ability to forget their cares and worries for long periods, if forgetting can be called an ability.
Mary has written twelve books so far in her life, and she’s still writing. Here’s her story.
“As a child, I fell in love with words. I read constantly and collected words which I inflicted on helpless people, often mispronouncing and using them incorrectly. When I was nine, I started ‘publishing’ newspapers for my father, who traveled Monday to Friday, to tell him what had happened during the week.
“I got a degree in Journalism from Oklahoma State College, but lacked confidence in my writing so mostly did secretarial work before marrying. Five children later, in my mid-thirties, I began to write. I wrote casual, humorous pieces about raising children. Over a hundred of these were published in newspapers and magazines, each earning between $50 and $150. An article on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday magazine. $250 for this. But all the time I wanted to write fiction.
“I churned out twelve novels, but I couldn’t get an agent. Then I discovered blogs, and by this time, widowed and my children grown and gone, I moved to a retirement community, and began blogging Code Name Nora. I was eighty. Some readers thought I was a fraud, a much younger person. Writing the Nora blog helped me adapt to community living. I am somewhat shy, preferring mostly to observe, but living in the Twilight Zone, as I called it, helped me to be more outgoing. I moved to my new retirement home because it’s much nicer and the rent is the same as before.
“Then I discovered self-published ebooks on Amazon. It was difficult to learn the technical aspects but I finally managed to put eight novels on Kindle. I wrote several new novels and dusted off some old ones.
“I write early in the morning for an hour or so. I used to write by hand but now on the computer. I belonged to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a large group in Denver that offers critiques, but I don’t any more. I don’t have any beta readers but wish I did because writing is lonely.
I think existential angst is part of the creative make-up. Art of any kind is a way to deal with it.
“Despite what we might have to offer, people my age are frequently left out of discussions with younger people, which is hurtful. This is ironic for me because
I have never felt as creative as I do now at the age of 87.
“But then I remember when I was young and felt older people wouldn’t understand or would be accusatory. And of course, many older people have trouble hearing. (I do, and wear hearing aids.) I mostly listen but when it seems a good time to speak up, I do. Sometimes younger people laugh at what I say, and I’m not always sure what that means. Older people appreciate being listened to but they shouldn’t talk too much or about their ailments.
“I have ideas for new books but none coming out just yet. I’m busy promoting the eight books I have on Kindle. A Fresh Start in a New Place, my memoir about dropping out of big-city life at age 53, to live in a tiny Vermont hamlet, is my next promotion at which time the price will be discounted.
“My blog is MaryMac’s Booktique and my Facebook page is here. The cover for A Fresh Start uses a picture one of my daughters painted when she was eighteen and spent the summer with me in Vermont. The other image is one of the front pages of two of my childish newspapers, yellowed with age. You may need a magnifier to read them. I just include these for fun. Oh, and my blog is kind of a mess. I need to work on it.”
Lynne again: I’m 59. I admit, sometimes my sisters and I feel anxious about getting older, but then I remember people like MJ, Ray, and Mary, and I relax. We have these awesome trail-breakers forging the way for us. They are powerful role models from whom we can draw strength. I am grateful for them.
Sometimes we perpetuate our own victimization. Cultures promulgate Big Lies. We tell each other a certain thing, repeat it endlessly and it becomes true. We don’t even hear our words anymore.
Let me provide an illustration. It’s extreme, but it makes the point about culture – in this case, thankfully, not ours.
The people who live in Afghanistan today believe that the current status quo represents reality, the natural way of things, but do they know any different? Some women are probably alive who remember the days when they could put on a skirt and heels and head out for university to continue studying to be a doctor. I fear that the majority believe the converse: that women are ignorant beasts suitable only for breeding and domestic labor.
Like I said, it’s an extreme example. Here in America, we have in the past chosen to put youth on a pedestal. We chose to imitate them, and we chose to say things like “senior moment,” “60 is the new 30,” and use the word “old ” as a description of something bad, negative, unworthy. We did this voluntarily. Nobody held a gun to our heads. We were so far into the Kool-Aid we were in danger of drowning.
But that’s changing. Judging from your comments, you’re as sick of it as I am, and you’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. You’re standing up for yourselves, refusing to spend the next thirty years of your life bowing, scraping, and apologizing for being old. You’re not as willing to emulate the young. You’re incensed by the ageism that’s so acceptable today, refusing to ignore the profound cruelty in what ignoramuses consider humor.
We have begun to celebrate the glory of the second half, and we’re excited about our potential. For an uplifting view of turning eighty, check out this essay by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks. And notice the title: “The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding)” – as if you have to be KIDDING to think there’s anything good about old age. Good article, stupid subtitle.
I beg you: don’t accept a low ceiling. With our numbers, we can make headway on this. I hope you will continue to spread the word about empowerment after age 50. We are free thinkers, we’re experienced, and we are deeper than we’ve ever been. We have to talk about it, with joy or anger. Too many of us are on the verge of myopic despair when we could be on the verge of enlightenment.
So keep talking. Keep asking why we use the word “old” as a pejorative. Because old is one of the most lovely things I’ve been.
Late add: It’s 7 a.m. and I’m happily reading your comments when this appears in my inbox from Huffington Post: 7 Easy Ways to Avoid Looking Old. *sigh*
I asked my friend Sallie Bailey that question because I think the more we know about aging, the less chance we’ll waste a lot of time being freaked out when we get there. Sallie is an award-winning artist and writer (here’s a link to her website). She’s practical and smart, and she said I could quote her, so here goes.
Frankly, it’s a pain. Literally. Arthritis has taken its toll. Joint replacements help but there’s a lot that brings me up short, limiting my mobility. I’m very fortunate that I’ve dodged all the major bullets – no serious health problems. The brain still functions. I firmly believe that creativity is the answer – I think we writers/artists have an enormous advantage. It’s my opinion that our ceaseless brain activity keeps that organ healthy – keeps it young. I have more ideas than I can carry to fruition. Time can be a problem there – but it’s always been a problem.
That brings up another facet of aging well – curiosity. Many of the normal occurrences of aging surprise me. Physical changes – some small, some more pronounced. I observe and reflect on them.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been gifted with a fine sense of the ridiculous. Laughter certainly helps. My father, mother and brother lacked that. Our youngest son and my brother’s oldest daughter have it. (The niece, knowing I’m partial to art glass, sent me on my 80th birthday an art glass marble on a little base along with the note that it was to replace any marbles I might have lost!) My husband has it – actually both arthritis and a sense of humor.
Death? I don’t like the idea of dying at all. I don’t don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t like the idea of missing anything. On the plus side – people like us leave footprints. They may be lost but they’ll always be there to be found – art, writing, whatever. Another plus – at least someone else will have to clean out our dresser drawers………
I love what Sallie said about being curious and having so many ideas that time is a problem. As long as we’re hungry, life is good. I have another friend who’s in her early eighties and when we get together to talk about the novels we’re writing, we get so excited we talk over each other. We drink wine and rant about our ambitions and dreams.
Want to feel inspired? Here’s a short video interview with a 94-year-old artist who’s making money on his paintings. Thanks to David Kanigan for the lead.
Readers, I’m curious. What is it like being your age?
After last week’s unfortunate review of the Claris tablet by a magazine called FastCompany, I got in touch with Claris Healthcare. One of Claris’ people said they don’t have any control over a journalist’s choice of headings, but she was dismayed by the “firestorm” that reviewer had created. It seemed fair to offer Claris a chance to say something on their own behalf, so here is their statement from Kara Wood:
Simple is Smart
There has been quite a bit of discussion about a recent article titled ‘A Tablet So Simple, Even An Old Person Can Use It’. Claris Healthcare, the company that makes Claris Companion – the subject of the article, appreciates the opportunity to offer our perspective.
There are a lot of older seniors that enjoy keeping pace with today’s rapidly changing technology. But there’s also a portion of the population (independent of age) that isn’t interested, or because of a physical disability, isn’t able to benefit from being online. We developed Claris Companion to help anyone connect with friends, family and caregivers by removing the barriers imposed by modern computer design.
The latest tablet is great if you want to learn all about the pages of icons, settings, menus and options. But what if you aren’t that interested? As my 92-year-old mother would put it, “I never had to enter a user name and password to answer the phone, or launch a web browser and enter a URL to read a letter”.
She’s far from alone. Yes, seniors are the fastest growing population of Internet users (see Sparkbeat 2012/07/03) – not to mention the fastest growing segment of the population, period – but there are a significant portion who simply don’t want to climb the learning curve to get the benefits of the Internet, or due to disease like arthritis or Parkinson’s, have trouble with devices that were specifically designed for a different demographic of users.
So our design challenge was to make a device that can engage anyone in online communications – sharing of email, text messaging and photos with family in a way that most others take for granted. And there is a much larger issue at play here. Access to the Internet is not just about photos and email; but for our aging population, it is increasingly critical to their care and wellbeing. That’s because our healthcare system simply cannot withstand the wave of aging boomers that is coming. We will no longer be able to provide prolonged care for older seniors in hospital or extended care facilities – increasingly people will have to age at home. So effective delivery of self-care assistance and monitoring at home will be critical to successful aging-in-place.
The answer is to be sure that the immediate benefits outweigh the effort required to use the technology. The benefits side of this equation is easy –most people (including older seniors) are very happy to engage with sharing photos, email and text messages with family – and even adopting personalized self-care assistance if and when they want.
It’s the other side of the equation that is challenging – how to design something that doesn’t require any training at all to use. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ computers to make them ‘so simple even old people can use them’. This is about designing something where the benefits are much greater than the effort required to use it. That’s what we believe we have achieved with Claris Companion.
Apparently, we have found that balance for my mother. She now gets photos sent to her from everyone in the family and dashes off emails to us too. But what is even more important to me is that she has now decided to turn on the medication reminders and I get a notification each day confirming that everything is okay.
“A Tablet So Simple, Even An Old Person Can Use It
Technology can be scary, with its buttons and beeps and boops.”
That’s the exact wording in a review by FastCompany of a new Claris product. (Update 7/6/13: the writer, Zak Stone, is not responsible for the headline.) It’s in poor taste, obviously, but it’s worse than that. I don’t think they’d ever say, “A Tablet So Simple, Even a Woman Can Use it,” because that would sound sexist. Or “A Tablet So Simple, Even a (insert ethnic minority here) Can Use It,” because that would sound racist.
But it’s okay to stereotype people due to their age, apparently.
Why FastCompany would choose to look so unsophisticated and dense is beyond me. We’ve tried calling it to their attention. The Yo, Is This Ageist blog talked about it, but nothing changed. I thought it would be fair to email the editor, Morgan Clendaniel and tell him I planned to run this post with the above “stupid x 3″ title, hoping he’d reconsider. We went back and forth a few times and then he stopped answering, so I have to assume he’s cool with it.
Here’s what he said.
You are, I think, unfairly putting into our mouths the most offensive option for why the tablet needs to be simple for seniors to use it. At no point do we say it’s stupidity, nor–emphatically–do we think it is…it was created for older consumers who are not so-called digital natives and who may be uncomfortable with the various bells and whistles–not to mention small type and ungainly interfaces–of the current crop of tablet computers and would like something more simple.AYou should also note that in a recent Pew Survey, only 1% of adults aged 66-74 and 74-85 said they owned a tablet. Nearly half of adults aged 74-85 don’t even own a cell phone. So the idea of technology being an alienating factor for older Americans isn’t just a myth made up by some snot-nosed kids. It’s a fact that Claris reader is trying to address. I assume they think they can sell a lot of tablets to that 99% who still don’t have one, and that they think that the reason those seniors don’t have one yet is that they’re too complicated.
Clendaniel’s statistics aside, he’s missing the point:
The headline is ageist.
What is ageism? Here’s a very brief definition that cuts to the chase:
…Another common instance of ageism is in the case of older adults or senior citizens, when they are portrayed in the media as being feeble or weak-minded (from the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Clendaniel seems not to get it, but he’s not alone. Negative stereotyping of older people is the rule, not the exception. It’s so common it’s not even noticed. This concerns me; society seems oblivious. We’ve become quite knowledgeable about mistreatment of other protected groups, but not older folks. That should change, because ageism isn’t just stupid. It can lead to a waste of talent and resources from older people who can’t get hired and then have to go on the dole. That’s just one example. Ageism is discouraging, unfair, cruel, and it can be illegal. You’d think big, fast companies would know that.
At our age, some of us are beginning to feel material possessions are a burden. Maybe we’re returning to our sixties roots, or maybe we’re tired of the family-sized house, the multiple sets of dishes, the appliances. We’ve had it with closets full of clothes, linens, and seasonal decorations that now feel like a job to take out, set up, pack up and put away. With our kids grown and careers not so much of a consideration, it’s easier to lighten your footprint.
When the local storage unit raised our rates, Bill and I shipped the footlocker full of baseball cards back to our 30-something son, donated the extra set of golf clubs, recycled what we could and merged the rest into our garage.
My personal challenge was the fake Christmas tree. It looked good for many years and we enjoyed it. Now it’s getting raggedy and I’d been playing around with the idea of replacing it with a table-top model. I’d still have the wreath to hang on the fireplace, and the seasonal tablecloths and candle holders. I told Bill about it, and we realized that day was recycling day. So we broke it down and stuck it in the bin with giving ourselves any more time to think about it. If in a couple years we start feeling deprived, we’ll buy a new one.
But that’s just me. My friend down the street has twenty boxes of Christmas decorations in her garage. It would kill her to get rid of one bulb.
I have a cousin who dreams of renting a quiet two-bedroom apartment in a community with a pool, clubhouse, ready-made friends and no yard. Some of us are tired of home maintenance. Much easier to call the landlord with your problems. Some Boomers sold their homes and went to live fulltime in RVs or even on boats. I Googled “tiny houses” and you wouldn’t believe how many websites came up.
I’ve often thought it would be cool to live in a city apartment where I could take the elevator downstairs and walk everywhere; to get coffee, groceries, whatever.
And if it were just me, I wouldn’t mind living in this. I’d want patios and porches all around, a few trees, and a community to keep me from turning into a hermit.
What about you? Are you downsizing and if so, how and why?