My thanks to Stacey Burling for the article, Ageism That Comes From The Elderly, in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. Most people who’ve spent some time in a residence for the aging upward – from cozy retirement villages to full-service “senior lifestyle” communities – can testify to the distain some living there direct toward their fellow olders. It’s not uncommon for independent living residents to harbor negative feelings about those in wheelchairs or worse – evidence of coming attractions; I’ve heard similar opinions & prejudices expressed by people in personal care. It’s almost like they’re dumping on themselves, or the selves they fear will be left by encroaching years.
How well I know the cliques of “mean girls” that form in even the most high brow setting. Our dear friend, Anne, lived in an exceptionally nice continuous care community, yet was the brunt of another resident’s cruel barbs. For some inexplicable reason, the woman – who seemed as nice as anyone, someone we never suspected of being the “mean person” Anne mentioned but refused to identify – let loose with her nastiness sitting with a large group of us, men & women, at dinner in the formal dining room.
“Anne, what time is it?” – knowing our friend’s dementia dimmed her memory of such details. Anne looked at her in some befuddlement, gave a lovely smile, and went back to her meal.
“Anne, what day is it?”
John & I couldn’t believe our ears. I fixed the woman, someone I’d always considered a kind woman, with my best eagle eye & said, “Please stop. It distresses me.”
The woman turned to Anne, saying, “Does it bother you, Anne?” to which our friend immediately said no, it didn’t bother her in the least.
The *itch looked back at me in triumph, only to be met with another icy glare & my reminder, “I didn’t say it bothered Anne. I said it bothers ME.”
Praise be & forever blessings on Mary McDonough, sitting across the table from me, two places over from Anne, who looked the woman straight in the eye as she softly but firmly said, “It bothers me, too.”
The woman never did it again. In fact, she never sat with us again, although she would have been welcome. We felt sorry for her – no one could be so beastly to such a sweet soul as Anne without some pretty miserable stuff in her own background.
Maybe she was livid because our 90+ friend was beset with severe dementia, yet still found life full of joyful moments, was eagerly sought after at mealtime by that precious commodity – male residents, who loved buzzing because she was fun, which she drew to herself like bees to honey. Anne’s feminine nature basked in their masculine & their returned the admiration – I saw 83-year old men preen in her presence!
Anne also had age-based prejudices. Her family only succeeded in getting her to use a walker by stopping talking about the safety features & talking instead about how much more she’d be able to do, how much more mobility a walker would provide.
We never heard Anne moan about her wrinkles, always delighted in her ritual of a dab of facial powder & lipstick before heading out, a quick touch-up in the car – – her lipstick was Anne’s security blanket. Mom was much the same way – she not only didn’t weep & wail over wrinkles & a drooping neckline, when I’d help her dress or towel her down after a shower, she’d take pride in being such a “saggy baggy elephant.”
Mom, who was pleasant looking but not a “looker,” was grateful being saved from the horror of aging that seems the norm for acclaimed beauties. Mom had friends who would rather stay in their homes than be seen as something less than fabulous, which always seemed sad, because an older person gains a different sort of beauty. She had male friends, worshipped athletes back in the day, who winced at using a cane walker wheelchair.
Ageism & ableism, the two curses of growing older without a sense that there’s a reason behind growing older. Instead of seeing our upper years as a time for growing wholer, people can lash out, like the curdled woman did with Anne. Anne appeared to let it roll off her, but we knew it hurt because she’d talk in hushed, dark tones about it, but she didn’t let the bully keep her shut away in her room, which many in a continuous care community feel is their only option.
The article – sorry, it’s apparently not archived yet so I couldn’t find a link – is a spur to help youngers, from toddlers up, to gain realize understand accept that aging ever upward has great value, to the person & others, to individuals & the greater community.
Seems it is self-serving for people to have a better view of aging – it’s reported that studies show people who have negative attitudes in their early adulthood are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes & have dementia-related cognitive problems in their early elderhood (60s). Epidemiology professor, Becca Levy, found that people who see growing “old” as negative die 7.5 years earlier than those who see its positives.
Is that because people with a better attitude toward aging take better care of themselves as they age ever upward? Is it because the poison of dreading older age might speed up problems associated with it? Possibly. The reasons behind the negative impact of negative attitudes aren’t clear, but the outcomes are.
If I needed someone to light a fire under me to figure out how to reach youngers with the message that getting older means the opportunity to grow wholer, that people need to hold onto the connection we seem to have instinctively as little children with the aged & elderly, Stacey Burling’s article is it. Much more to share, but must be off!