Here’s a letter to the editor that I wrote recently to Time Magazine. I don’t expect them to publish it, so I want to share it on my blog. The letter speaks for itself, but since letters to the editor are limited in the number of words they allow, I wanted to follow up on ageism and add more personal information of my experience living in what the author of the article refers to as “an over 55 community”. First here’s the letter I sent to Time.
“I’m one of those 80 something “cranky codgers”, that Joel Stein referred to in his January 30, 2012 column, ‘I Hope I Die before I have to Live with Old People’.
I suspect that I represent the majority of that group that took umbrage with his lumping us all into the ‘old codger category’. Personally, I found the title of his article, the content, and the cartoon, models for ageism. Just in case Mr. Stein is not sure what ageism is, it’s is a form of discrimination that casts judgment on the lifestyles, personalities and abilities of individuals strictly based on accepted stereotypes. Ageism is in the same category as sexism, racism, and all the other isms. They all negatively affect how people perceive themselves and how others perceive them. For elders it has the potential of making them feel as if they are seen as nothing but noncontributing members of a community, despite a lifetime of being an asset to society.
As one of those “old former professors” Stein mentioned in his article, I suggest that he read a recently published book by Karl Pillemer, PhD., entitled “30 Lessions for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans”. Dr. Pillemer, a Sociologist/Gerontologist interviewed over 1200 elders and explains in his book that when it comes to wisdom, elders are the “wisest” Americans.
As my great grandmother used to say, ‘Be careful of what you wish for’.”
Donald F. Fausel, Phoenix, Arizona
More On Ageism
There is no question that ageism is still rampant in our society. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and less offensive than Joel Stein article. Expressions like, “I’m having senior moment” often is greeted by a chuckle, but when you stop to think about it, the assumption is, (especially when the person who says it is under 50) that it’s normal for all old people to be forgetful. And then there are the more odious birthday cards that mock the mobility and intellect of seniors, along with the “Old Coot” and “Old Biddy” bobble head dolls, which really are ugly caricatures of older people. These and other depressing stereotypes have been proven by researchers to have a negative affect on older people’s self esteem. Many elders tend to believe them, and consequently reduce their activities, narrow their outlook on life, and they expect less of themselves. This “stinkin thinkin” (as they say in the 12 step programs) also can have an effect on younger people. Wray Herbert, in an article entitled, “Ageism: A Self-fulfilling Prophesy”, published in Medical News Today, March 11, 2009, references a report that suggests “…that people are internalizing stereotypes of old age when they are quite young—with far reaching consequences.” So, it just isn’t older people who are affected by these unkindly caricatures, but “…people maturing into the very people they have been caricaturing. It could be taken as a cautionary tale for those who think they’ll never grow old.”
Here is some advice that Lou LaGrand gives for all of us, old and young:
- What you think affects the aging process. Every thought you have has a physical effect at the cellular level…a positive view of aging can affect the quality of your life, …and the way you age….therefore, stop thinking old.
- Ignore stereotypes and focus on what you can give to your community and family.
- Never stop learning. “Anyone who stops learning is old,” said Henry Ford, “whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Education about diet, exercise, interpersonal relationships, as well as successful education can make a difference in your health status and the way your mind stays sharp.
- He quoted George Vaillant, author of Successful Aging, “An active and happy old age, dear Brutus, may not lie so much in our stars and genes as in ourselves.”
Downsizing to a Life Plan Community
Just a few words about my own experience in moving to retirement community. It was not an easy decision. After much research and discussion, three years ago, my wife Jane and I moved to the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix, AZ. Before we chose the Beatitudes, we visited four other retirement communities in our area that offer similar programs. Even though the other facilities were competitive, my wife often reminds me that this was the best decision we ever made. Beatitudes is a Life Plan Retirement Community. We live in an attractive apartment in the independent living section, and if at some time in the future we are not as mobile as we are now, the campus offers a continuum of care, ranging from home care to separate facilities on campus for assisted living, and skilled nursing care.
In addition to a convivial environment and an excellent administration and staff, there are more social, educational, physical, entertainment, and spiritual activities available than anyone could possibly take advantage of. They definitively live up to a statement on their website, that the Beatitudes is a “…retirement community that focuses on living rather than aging…”.
For us, the bonus at the Beatitudes is the friendship of a diversity of residents, who share our retirement. Whether it’s enjoying a meal at one of the three restaurants on the campus, line dancing, attending a lecture, or participating at a meeting of the Wisdom Seekers, there is a strong sense of community and camaraderie. May Mr. Stein be as fortunate!