AGEISM AND ANGER

I was considering changing my lifestyle to keep healthy in my 80s as advocated by hundreds of  Ageing Advice sites on the net.  I am already eating healthily, and I try to take regular exercise. To avoid stressful situations is more difficult but I thought I was doing rather well until I came across Angela Rippon two programmes entitled How To Keep Young * . I started to see red, to get angry, to lose my temper. Not a very healthy response but for pity’s sake I am not young, Neither is she. Who is she addressing? 18 years old, 30? Older? is 50 young or old? is 71 Rippon’s age young?

God knows why I took the online  test What Is My Real Age? Do I need to have a test to know my real age? I know how old I am. I was born exactly 81 years, 4 months, 23 days and 4 hours ago. The test gave me a body age of 85. Does the body include the brain? Keep my cool ?  the blooming cheek!  I am all of 81 -and bits – years old no more no less.

“Give the programmes a try” says my husband foreseeing a vicious outburst.  “Blame the programmes not the presenter.”

I viewed and suffered both programmes, the stress increasing by the minute. I will not go into details.  I cannot waste  time to quote the vacuous images, the outlandish research projects and the comments of privileged, self-satisfied Rippon: (” I’m in a job people would give their right arm for, and in 50 years I’ve never felt bored.” Express Newspaper). Suffice it to say that in the first two minutes of the introductions to the programmes I saw smug Rippon (in the mirror) looking ‘half her age’, heard her say how to slow down ageing,  how research help us younger for longer, which exercise holds off ageing the most, what can make us all live seven years longer, how to ‘cure’ ageing, search to find the best way of keeping us all young, keep our minds younger than ever before, the fountain of youth.  The programmes ended with young 71 years old Rippon dancing frantically and desperately?

Now – I tried to forget about the stress of my anger in order to live longer but frankly I would rather rage against this ageism that so pervades our culture. Good friends of mine excused the programmes on the grounds that it does give some good advice about ageing well.  Really? how about employing old people if they want to work? how about fighting poverty, fighting abuse of old people in care homes, prevent malnutrition, isolation.  How about funding community projects and spaces?  How about fighting ageism in all spheres?

I may have shortened my life by a few days but I feel calmer.

 

* broadcast on BBC1 and still available on iplayer.

** coincidence. As I was thinking about this post Channel 4

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/on-demand/63201-006

 

 

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective” M. Holstein

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective , which means that I question, challenge, contest and resist the status quo ( Ray 1999) ” Martha Holstein

At long last a book, Women in Late Life  that fulfils my wish for a general feminist view of the experience of ageing. I have read so much about ageing, attended so many seminars and conferences and meetings since I retired 20 years ago.  Although I have absorbed some knowledge this has remained fragmented and in a way difficult to relate to personally. My work on feature films has been stimulating but has made me angry more often than enlightened.

Martha Holstein’s book fulfils my need of making sense of all this information and I have finally found a language that I identify with in this complex field.

I strongly  recommend this book to women who need to make sense of their ageing.

 

Ageing and Feminism

This month I attended two important public events. Both corresponded to a part of my identity but they could not have been more different in content and form.

I was invited to the OLD’UP colloque in Paris by Moira Allan who founded with Dr. Jean Hively the international ‘Pass it on Network’. The conference took place in the prestigious government building of the ‘Conseil Economic, Social et Environmental.’ The auditorium had perfect sound and vision from its 400 seats. We were treated to 6 panels: Being Old , The Apprentice Centenarians, Old’Up Workshops Reports, Links and International Input, Initiatives, Prospects. The 20 panel members (16 women) were all specialists of ageing: theoreticians as well as workers at the grass-roots: philosopher, academic, sociologist, researcher, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, geriatrician, gerontologist, social and health workers. I was fascinated by the breath of approach to the day. I felt that I belonged to a demographic group worth thinking about, theorising about, researching, studying, providing for and innovating. The day was invigorating. One commentary from the stage did mention that women were in a majority and my searching eyes delighted in the sea of white-haired heads in the auditorium.

I was just as enthused by the Feminist in London Conference  that took place at the Hilton Metropole Hotel: 1000 women, 4 keynote speakers, 16 workshops, art exhibition, film room, children activities, stalls campaigns, crafts, books . The energy was electrifying. Intergenerational contacts and acknowledgement of our past were made, but there was no presence of the old woman here and now. No voice represented me as an old feminist even though many speakers were ‘old women’: the legendary Nawal Saadawi, Bianca Jagger looking magnificent all in black including her mane of jet black hair, Bea Campbell, Jay Ginn. I only mention the old women I actually heard speak  but there were others.

In spite of this presence I felt that we, ordinary old feminists, have not raised our voices loudly enough and have not shared our concerns and contributions. The crisis in care, for example, is without doubt a feminist issue but more personal experiences are worth sharing and understanding also. What does an old feminist grandmother look like? Why are the grandmother and grand-aunt roles not appreciated? Why is the family important as we age? What does an old feminist feel about her ageing body?  What does an old feminist feel about losing independence? What are the changes that a feminist couple need to adapt to.  What are the feminist possible alternatives to the choice between getting isolated and living in a less than liberating care home? How do old feminists  see approaching death?

But also what brings us joy and zest for living and making a difference?

ACTIVE, HEALTHY, SUCCESSFUL AGEING ?

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/unequal-until-the-end/389910/

Browsing vaguely in the early morning, I came across this article. It is about the US but the article looks at ageing from a different angle than the proselytising  “successful ageing”, “active ageing”, “healthy ageing” well-intentioned, money wasting, programmes that so infuriate me.

I will quote only a few lines from the article but Abramson’s book (The End Game .How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years. Corey M. Abramson. Harvard University Press) may be useful to the people engaged in social policy, and fund-raising endeavours.

For the affluent, old age has its challenges. For the impoverished, it’s only harder.

Perhaps the presence of shared challenges in later life explains why we’ve glossed over inequality’s effects among the elderly …  

Social circumstances affect not only how long we live, but how healthy we are when we become seniors.

Some of the elderly I encountered in my study aged with immense wealth, social support, and education. Others did so in poverty and isolation. The wealthiest people in my study had aged in or retired to communities with voluminous senior programs, while many of the poor became increasingly isolated as they struggled with piecemeal social services.

The ideal of “successful aging,” emblazoned in the collective consciousness by glossy magazine pictures of smiling senior couples watching sunsets from a beach, is more attainable for some of us than others. The reality is old age is not the end of inequality, but its end game.

I often argue that the choice given to old people between retirement/care homes and ending their lives on their own in their own homes is a false one. The rich old Americans must know what is good for them… Campaigning for a ‘healthy’ life for the old must include the demand for funds to establish structures to facilitate social life for the frail, the disabled, the financially deprived…

 

 

 

Language advice to journalists

Successful Aging: What words to use, which to avoid in describing the older generation
By Helen Dennis, LA Daily News
POSTED: 06/16/14, 9:39 AM PDT |
0 COMMENTS

Last week D.W., age 64, expressed dismay about the lack of a good term to describe aging boomers. “Senior citizen” and “golden ager” didn’t work.
This week we are continuing the conversation tapping the advice given to journalists.
In a report “Words to Age By: A Brief Glossary on Tips and Usage,” Paul Kleyman, journalist at New America Media, surveyed nearly 100 journalists for the Journalist Exchange on Aging to get a sense of the language they used in covering issues of aging. Here are a few principles noted in the report.

• Elderly. “Use this word carefully and sparingly.” The term is appropriate in phrases that do not refer to specific individuals such as “concern for the elderly or a home for the elderly.” It should not be used in reference to a person’s deteriorating condition.
• Seniors. A style guide for one family of newspapers say that reporters should be specific when possible, reserving ‘seniors’ when no other descriptive will work.”
Additionally journalists are urged to use adjectives that are accurate and avoid patronizing or demeaning words such as “feisty,” “spry,” “sweet,” “eccentric,” “feeble,” “senile” and “grandmotherly.”

• Activity and relationships. Describing an older adult as “active” should also be avoided. This implies the older individual is an exception, suggesting that in general, older people are sedentary.
Additionally, don’t mention relationships when they are irrelevant. An example of an inappropriate use of reference to a relationship is “Golda Meir, a doughty grandmother, told the Egyptians…”
• Mentioning a person’s age. Don’t mention it unless it’s germane. A news story about an 84-year old truck driver who hit two cars should cite facts that his or her age was relevant to the accident.

An example of this is: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi, age 65, held her latest grandchild as she announced that preschool education would be among her top issues.”
Her age was not fundamental to the story.
• Be aware of political spin. This applies to public policy aspects of a news story. For example, the use of the term “burden” can be misleading. We may read it causally such as the “burden” of Social Security or the “burden” of our aging society.
It implies that the ills of America are primarily caused by our aging population.

• Avoid the naïve sense of wonder. This is my favorite both in news stories and general conversations. Operative words are “remain” or “still.”
Example: “At 76, Smith remains active as a eacher…gardener…or hang glider,” which assumes one typically is inactive at age 76.
“Remains active” can be erroneously interpreted as a “vestige of one’s waning power,” Kleyman writes.
On a personal note, here are some questions often asked of me.
“Are you ‘still’ working?” “Are you “still’ running?” “Are you ‘still’ doing yoga?”

It’s yes, yes and yes, with appreciation for the interest and gratitude knowing that many cannot.The most recent question is from an acquaintance who asked me what’s new in aging. After my rather comprehensive reply, she asked in all seriousness, “How is your memory?”
My acquaintance was worried I would forget to remind her friend to take some packages home. There were no “remains” or “stills,” yet the expectation was clear.
Professional journals also have guidelines. A notice to those submitting papers to the “Gerontologist,” a highly regarded peer-reviewed journal on aging, reads, “Please avoid (using the terms) elders, older adults, or other words…” Caregivers, Alzheimer patients and study participants are more commonly used terms.

People’s response to age-related language can depend on their chronological age, generation, cultural community and personal preference. Avoiding preconceived notions and remaining neutral is important not only for journalists, but for each of us in our everyday lives.
So what are the words commonly used? I gravitate to the descriptor indicated as the most preferred among journalists: “older.” I also use terms such as “later life,” “the next chapter,” and the “older generation.”
The guidelines for journalists can help us become more aware of implied ageism through the subtle use of language. By astute listening and use of accurate words, each of us can debunk the stereotypes and erroneous assumptions about aging. Consider that a collective goal.

Thank you, D.W. ,for your important question.
Send email to Helen Dennis at helendenn@aol.com, or go to www.

Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.

TEA AND CAKES AT THE DEATH CAFE

This week is Death Awareness week and yesterday I went for tea to the death cafe at St. Joseph Hospice Hackney. I met there three of my friends and we were joined at our table  by three other women.

This is not a report but simply a note. When I used to go out with Elizabeth my friend, now deceased, I was sometimes embarrassed by the way she made a point of telling the organisers if the hard-of-hearing were not catered for. Now that my hearing is failing I understand her.

There was abundant tea, coffee and lovely cakes in one of the Education rooms  of the hospice. We were welcomed and introduced to some members of the staff and told that Death Cafes were becoming more established in London.  We sat around the tables and talked.  We talked at length about funerals and briefly about assisted dying, hospices, last days of life, in a more or less personal way.  I did miss some of the contributions but it is difficult to ask people more than once to project their voice.

It is a shame that there was no summing up. I was curious to know what were  the subjects at the other tables.  We were asked what we felt about the name of Death Cafe as a name for these meetings.  A majority of people approved of it.

I was clearly the older at our table yesterday and I was surprised to know that one woman said that the only funeral she ever attended was her father’s.  After my friend’s funeral last week I realised that I had a special folder for ‘Order of Service’ booklets. This morning I counted the number of funerals I attended in my life. They amounted to 22*. The deceased were all close family relations and friends. I suppose that I come from a generation where families were not as dispersed as they are now and that I have reached an age when my contemporaries are dying.

5 of us decided to meet again to speak about death.

 

*2 sets of parents, 6 uncles and aunts, 2 sister/sister-in-law,  2 cousins,  7 friends, 1 niece .