Netflix Show Gets Aging Right

I am thrilled that the third season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie is finally here. As one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners to be certified by the ANA back in the 60s and now a 70-something woman, I am depressed that the very same stereotyping and dismissal of the aged I first encountered is still happening.

I came across this article by Ann Brenoff who says, “Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right—and it’s funny.”

Read what Brenoff says about the series and how Grace and Frankie attack the entrenched biases that are reflected by laws, business opportunities and interpersonal relationships in our social networks, including family.

Grace and Frankie

LIFESTYLE 

03/30/2017 03:37 pm ET

‘Grace And Frankie’ Totally Nails What It Means To Be Getting Older

Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right — and it’s funny.

By Ann Brenoff

The Netflix original series “Grace and Frankie” came back with a vengeance for its third season. The story of two 70-something women who become unlikely friends after their husbands announce they are in love totally nails the aging experience in Season 3.

Here’s what it gets pitch-perfect. Of course, beware of spoilers.

  1. Banks don’t take older women seriously.

Grace (Jane Fonda) has a solid track record of launching and managing a successful business, but to the baby-faced banker named Derrick who she and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) approach for a 10-year, $75,000 business loan, she is unworthy.

Actually, it was probably a combination of their gender, their ages, and the fact that the product they want to sell is a lightweight vibrator for women who have arthritic hands. The very idea of older people having sex has been known to gross out some younger people. Note that Derrick closes his office door at the first mention of the vibrator.

As for age and sex discrimination, banks are regulated by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits discrimination on many fronts, including age and sex. But this is one of those cases where there is the law, and then there is the reality. The law does not require banks to make bad loans.

Banks live in fear of the four D’s: death, disability, divorce and drugs. That’s because the four D’s can lead to a fifth D: default. While things can happen to all borrowers, death and disability happen to older borrowers more often.

Plus, older business borrowers aren’t great guarantors ― especially if, like Grace, they’ve been successful and are smart. Successful, smart people generally know to tie up their assets in retirement plans or trusts, which creditors can’t touch. If the borrowers die or are disabled, the bank is left dealing with heirs, who know nothing about the borrowers’ business.

So it was no surprise that the banker Derrick blanched at the idea of making a 10-year loan to Grace and Frankie, who are both north of 70. Derrick was probably wondering whether they would survive long enough to repay the loan. Even the well-regarded Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Index of Entrepreneurial Activity ― the bible for tracking trends in entrepreneurship ― stops counting at age 64.

Maybe the Small Business Administration needs to realize that people are living longer and healthier, and sometimes our second chapters could use some underwriting ― even when we start them a bit later.

  1. Dealing with the death of a parent is hard, especially one we didn’t much like.

Sometimes, we don’t succeed in resolving our issues with our parents before death slams shut the window of opportunity. Martin Sheen’s character, Robert, visits his elderly and very disagreeable mother to tell her that he has married Sol, the man she previously referred to as “the loud, tall Jew at the law firm.”

From her wheelchair in a well-appointed nursing home, she reacts with predictable disapproval, leaving Robert visibly crushed. The scene scores an additional point for realistic aging: Some of us never stop seeking parental approval, regardless of our age.

Without anything resembling kindness, the “Irish Voldemort” ― as Robert’s spouse Sol calls the tyrant mother ― attacks her son as a “selfish man.”

“I could have happily died never knowing that you were one of them,” she adds.

Caregiving is a tough and unreasonable job if there ever was one. And it frequently involves caring for a disagreeable parent ― even a parent who has harmed us and with whom we have a strained relationship. And then they die, leaving us wondering what else we could have done.

  1. We are scared of the R-word.

Retirement is a mixed bag of worries. Can we afford it? What will we do all day? Will we be bored?

Robert has retired and wants Sol to, as well. Sol insists he must still go into the office at least three days a week to “help Bud” run the law firm. It isn’t until Sol attempts to fire his quirky longtime secretary, Joan-Margaret, that he realizes it’s time for him to hang up his law shingle as well ― not because he’s ready to retire, but because Bud and the law firm need him to.

Most experts believe that solid retirement planning includes knowing how you will fill your days. The Institute of Economic Affairs, a London-based think tank, says that following an initial boost in health, retirement increases your risk of clinical depression by 40 percent, while raising your chance of being diagnosed with a physical condition by 60 percent. Lisa Berkman, a Harvard professor of public policy, cites social isolation as a significant factor in longevity. If you’re socially isolated, you may experience poorer health and a shorter lifespan.

  1. We don’t want to be a burden to our children.

Grace’s daughter, Brianna, in cahoots with Frankie, loans the business the money it needs. But she loses her status as secret benefactor a few episodes later, and Grace is enraged. “I don’t want my children’s help,” she says.

Not wanting your children’s help is a precursor to not wanting to be a burden. Same idea, and it’s real. Taking help from those who you are used to taking care of feels demeaning. If the parent-child roles haven’t legitimately reversed yet, don’t be like Brianna.

  1. Just because we are older doesn’t mean we are old.

After both women throw out their backs and can’t get off the floor, Bud gifts them high-tech wearable alert buttons that hang on a chain around the neck. Grace removes one of her high heels to smash the device. Frankie, who has an outlandish outfit that she says it will go with, wears hers to a business meeting, where she inadvertently activates it and alerts an ambulance to rescue her.

It’s a funny schtick, and both actresses pull off the comedy magnificently. But it also rings true when it comes to how adult children see older people. Can we please hold off on the Granny-cam?

  1. All marketing is geared toward youth and sex.

Vybrant’s proposed new business partner hopes to woo Grace and Frankie with a peek at a proposed ad campaign. It features photos of the two of them ― but when they were 20 years younger. Yes, even a product designed for older women is afraid to show them.

Grace and Frankie hold their ground.

About 10,000 people a day turn 65. And pretty soon, there will be more older people than younger ones. More to the point: Boomers have more disposable income than any other generation, but they still can’t even find a box of hair coloring where the model even remotely looks like them.

According to a Nielsen study, by the end of 2017, boomers will control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income. Nearly 60 percent of homeowners over 65 are not weighed down by mortgages, compared with just 11 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds. And boomers account for 80 percent of America’s luxury travel spending, says AARP.

  1. Yeah, some of us do still actually chase our dreams ― and occasionally catch them.Frankie’s art show opening may not have been a rousing financial success, but she rightfully deserves the victory lap she takes for having done it. And kudos to her for giving away the yellow painting that represented Sol’s dislike for mustard. Let bygones be bygones.

Chasing your dreams is something you hear a lot about when you reach the end of your working years. Second chapters, next acts ― whatever you want to call it ― it means following your passions and making the time to do whatever it is you want to do, which for us is finishing watching Season 3.

Keeping Creative Juices Juicy

stock-photo-21838815-used-paintbrushA few years back I took an acrylic painting class. Sometimes, while the ever-present radio played a Mahler violin concerto, an aria from La Traviata or Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, I would spin about whipping color on my canvas, feeling “in the zone.” My mind would disconnect from my hand, which moved independent of my intent. What surprised me most about the fallout from this class was that I improved my writing ability. I was looser, more adventurous, and, best of all, my inner editor became subdued. I am looking to recapture that feeling.

I have always loved to paint and draw, however, over the years I painted only when I had a class. And I have a treasure-trove of supplies, such as canvases, watercolor paper and tubes of paints, not to mention many half-completed paintings stored in my office closet.stock-vector-vector-seamless-pattern-with-palette-tubes-of-paint-brushes-and-paint-stains-hand-drawn-vector-249868591

I took a 3-hour workshop yesterday—a primer in watercolor. Supplies were furnished. Our instructor demonstrated simple techniques that we—all women—replicated on 5 X 7 inch sheets of 140 lb. Cold Press paper. FullSizeRender copyQuick. One fluid motion. Don’t dawdle. Don’t over think. Don’t go back over the stroke. Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor!

After the class, I felt rejuvenated. In two weeks I’ll start a six-session class, and if I like that teacher, I’ll sign up for more classes. And I’ll set up my paint supplies in a corner of my office.

I know that making art has positive affects on the brain. As I get older I am seeking as much help to keep my creative juices juicy.19551922-creativity-brain-vector-illustration-template-design

 

Creative art pursuits provide older adults with multiple benefits, not the least of which is enhanced cognitive function.

Throughout history, artists have known that art provides benefits for both the creator and viewer. Current studies in the fields of art therapy, music therapy, and other creative modalities confirm that art can affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychological and physiological healing. We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few.

. . . Several studies show that art can reduce the depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic diseases. Other research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping them to realize unique, unlived potentials, . . .

Erik Erickson’s eighth and last stage of psychological development culminates in an integration of the individual’s past, present, and future to confront the conflict between integrity and despair. The result can be either despair or wisdom. When older adults pursue activities that are based in meaning, purpose, and honesty, they can attain the wisdom and integrity about which Erickson writes rather than experiencing longing and despair. Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, nonthreatening ways.

Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.

 –Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC

 

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Make My Mother Proud

I’ve mentioned that I’m rewriting the manuscript that I thought I had completed. Besides adding more about gerontology, I am digging deeper into the dichotomy between my bent for caring for older persons and my difficulty getting along with my own aging mother.

Living with Mom had never been easy. Being an only child of a narcissistic woman meant everything I did, or didn’t do, reflected on her self-worth. Back in my blue-collar Jersey City neighborhood in the early ‘60s, where most of my peers didn’t seek education beyond high school, the fact I had become a nurse was a gold star on my mother’s bib apron. I walked the three blocks to and from work at the city hospital in my white uniform, carrying my starched white cap, sometimes stopping to chat with neighbors and fend off questions about health issues.

Soon after I had graduated from nursing school, my mother and I were visiting a cousin. My cousin was much older than I. I had spent summers with her and her husband while growing up, escaping the hot city and my overbearing mother. We sat in the kitchen of her Levittown home drinking coffee and finishing off the last of her home made pineapple upside down cake.

“What should I do about all this drainage coming from Sugar’s ears?” my cousin asked me. My mother leaned back from the table waiting for me to expound on possible causes. She wanted me to know all and be an expert on everything so I could spout off advice and make her proud. She didn’t react when I claimed I didn’t know what was going on.

But later, as we drove home, she reprimanded me. “Why couldn’t you just tell her what was wrong with Sugar?”

“Mom,” I argued, “I know nothing about dogs.”images-1

Sugar was a Cocker Spaniel.

Rewriting the Book

writing a bookI’m doing what I said I would never do. Rewrite my book. I completed my manuscript late last year, sent it out to 20 small presses and one agent. While I have been waiting for the results to trickle in—those returned so far have been rejections—I’ve been troubled by a lingering discomfort that I have left something out. Something significant. Something that I couldn’t, shouldn’t ignore.

So for the past few months I have been having an internal dialogue:

“Leave the book alone. You did the best you could do.”

“No, something isn’t quite right. I’m not happy with the final manuscript.”

“You could be rewriting this book for the rest of your life. Let it go. You don’t want to be that writer who never submits her book because it ‘isn’t good enough’.”

“Aha! I know what it is that’s troubling me.”

My book shows how I managed a Senior Clinic in a Chicago Housing complex. I was a new nurse practitioner (not a new nurse). I show the role of the NP. However, in writing the book, I had totally overlooked the fact that while I was indeed a new nurse practitioner, I was also practicing in a new specialty—Gerontology. I say this but I DON’T SHOW IT.

Why is this important? Well, because when I became a Gerontological NP in the early 80s, studying old folks was a rarity. Older persons were generally ignored or worse, discounted and ill-treated. The 1978 best seller House of God by Samuel Shem, an irreverent book about medical interns in an renowned teaching hospital first coined the derogatory term GOMER, meaning “get out of my emergency room.” A term used frequently to classify the old person as someone without worth to cure, much less treat in our medical facilities. Some believed most old folks disengaged from life, deriving no pleasure in longevity. The fact that elders over 60 would still be interested in sex was shocking. WY SURVIVE: BEING OLD IN AMERICAAnd in this same time period the groundbreaking book: Why Survive? Being Old in America by Robert N. Butler, M.D. discussed whether or not to introduce geriatrics in postgraduate medical education.

Nursing was early to recognize geriatrics as a specialty but thought that the medical definition—specializing in the treatment of existing disease in older adults—too narrow.

Nursing developed a much broader vision and used the term gerontology rather than geriatrics.

Gerontology encompasses the following:

  • studying physical, mental, and social changes in people as they age

  • investigating the biological aging process itself (biogerontology)

  • investigating the social and psychosocial impacts of aging (sociogerontology)

  • investigating the psychological effects on aging (psychogerontology)

  • investigating the interface of biological aging with aging-associated disease (geroscience)

  • investigating the effects of an aging population on societyapplying this knowledge to policies and programs, including the macroscopic (for example, government planning) and microscopic (for example, running a nursing home) perspectives. (Wikipedia)

In 1981, the American Nursing Association certified me as a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner. A Board Certification was developed by the Medical Community 7 years later.

After I rewrite my book, you will see a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner in action.

OLDER WOMEN: THE NEW TREND IN FASHION

Joan Didion
Joan Didion

I am always on the lookout for positive trends in aging. Here’s what I found in Creative Review. The Age Issue, (June 2015) on page 40:FullSizeRender

Cooler older women are having a bit of a fashion moment. What started a couple of years ago as a trickle of magazine covers and ads featuring women over 60 has recently turned into a flood: Helen Mirren for L’Oréal, Charlotte Rampling for Nars, Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs, Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent . . . the list goes on. When Joan Didion was announced as the new face of Céline SS15, via an ad showing her looking almost unbearably hip in a photo shot by Juergen Teller, Twitter exploded with excitement. For those of us weary with the endless parade of blank-faced young models, the arrival of some older faces—complete with both wrinkles and a story to tell—comes as a relief. (Bold and italics mine). . . Could we finally be seeing a shift away from the obsession with youth and a renewed respect for older womenkind? Could we?

Later, I found an article in the Travel and Style section of the Wall Street Journal: Smith, Erin Geiger. “Websites Predict Your Perfect Dress,” The Wall Street Journal, (6 Aug. 2015), which discussed online shopping. One web site, MM.LaFleur, offers a “ ‘Bento Box’ of clothes and accessories ” based on a series of questions to discover the preferences of the prospective buyer. MM.LaFleur goes on to ask buyers to select their “girl crush.” (I take this to mean which woman you most want to look like). The choices are not supermodels but real people. Okay, famous people and some dead ones, but not with unattainable physical perfection or youth. People like Oprah, Sonia Sotomayor, and Amilia Earhart and wait for this, Joan Didion.

I can only surmise that there is a growing trend, however subtle, toward an expanding female ideal that includes, finally, older women with wrinkles, character and brains.

May this trend continue.

NEW OLD AGE

I usually have several topics twirling in my head the days before my bimonthly post is due. I’m never sure which direction I am going until the last minute.

First, I thought I would update you on my cell phone case that Connie Burns had made for me. (See last post: PRIMARY CARE PROVIDER: MD OR NP?) In fact, when I picked

Connie Burn's Custom Creations
Connie Burn’s Custom Creations

up the case, I took her picture at her stand in the Farmers Market and asked permission to use her name and picture, handing her my card with my web site to check this Sunday. Her creation, so beautifully made is also practical. Now I can wear my phone around my neck when my clothes haven’t any pockets rather than leave it somewhere in the house, not able to hear it when a family member desperately needs to reach me. (That would be my husband from the grocery store with a question about which brand of laundry detergent to buy.)

Then I wanted to write about my good friend, who finally decided to lose weight and succeeded. I had been worried about her for a while as she struggled with chronic health issues that now have moderated with dropping extra pounds. She can walk up a flight of stairs without losing her breath. And best of all, her thoughts on future living options have been revised from an assisted living facility to an independent apartment. The gerontological nurse practitioner in me cheers.

imagesI also thought of mentioning something about Nurses Week: May 6 to May 12. But I am having conflicting thoughts about the purpose and relevance of this celebration. So much so that I decided to spare you my rantings.

Last night I watched two episodes of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. If you haven’t been following the hype about this new comedy series it is about “older stars” not “cast as crusty grandparents or needy neighbors.”

I remember all the ballyhoo about the Golden Girls, which premièred in 1985 starring Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan. They were advertised as older, racy free spirits, behaviors inconsistent with their age. So I thought they were ladies in their 80s. I was absolutely shocked that Arthur and White were 63 and McClanahan was only 51. That was NOT old!

This time the cast really is older. The two female leads, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, are 77 and 75, respectively. The men in the series, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, are both 74.

Finally, we have a show that aims to reach older viewers. What I do hope is that it catches the attention of a younger audience so that they can watch a program with an older cast, which doesn’t center on disability, dementia and constipation.

I hope you find time to check the show out for yourself.

SO WHAT’S NOSTALGIZING?

Nostalgizing is a new word for me. I discovered it in a New York Times article: Tierney, John. What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows. The New York Times, 8 July, 2013.

I needed to re-read the essay for reassurance that feelings of nostalgia I’ve been experiencing with some frequency could very well be positive. (The Oxford dictionary defines nostalgia as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.)

Just the other day, I made the trip from my new home in Raleigh to Chapel Hill where we used to live, about half an hour away, to meet a friend for lunch. We moved three months ago, yet as I walked up the steps to the restaurant, memories flooded my mind. I recalled that I had sat at one of the outside wooden benches with a writer consultant that helped me put together a proposal for a grant I didn’t get. How enthusiastic I had been. And once an acquaintance stopped me in front of the counter with coffee carafes to tell me she enjoyed an essay I had published in the local newspaper—the closest I ever came to having a fan club.

When I left the restaurant, I felt a pull to return to my old home, to be back where the grandkids visited us in that tree-lined cul-de-sac. They graduated from babbling in strollers to riding tricycles, to skate boards and on to bicycles. They made friends with the neighbors’ children. Of course, I see them more often after our move since we live a lot closer but those remembrances doggedly follow me.

Tierney’s essay describes the work of Constantine Sedikides’, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, a pioneer in the study of nostalgia. Sedikides’ findings show that nostalgia is a way of thinking about the past. “ . . . topics are universal—reminiscences about friends and family members, holidays, weddings, songs, sunsets, lakes. The stories tend to feature the self as the protagonist surrounded by close friends.”

“Nostalgic stories aren’t simple exercises in cheeriness, though. The memories aren’t all happy, and even the joys are mixed with a wistful sense of loss. But on the whole, the positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements . . .”

Some positive outcomes of nostalgizing include feeling less lonely or depressed, “having stronger feelings of belonging and affiliation,” and becoming “more generous toward others.”

I was reassured when I read that nostalgizing increases with age and “helps us deal with transitions.”

An old friend is coming to visit. Our first houseguest. She is especially flexible, thank goodness, since our new home is in a state of disruption. I look forward to showing her around the neighborhood and the city. But what I am really looking forward to is our trips down memory lane covering 40 years of friendship. We will be nostalgizing together.

Afterthought: I have kept a short essay by Robert Oren Butler since 1994 that moves me every time I read it.

 Nostalgia by Robert Olen Butler

“A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition in the past . . .”

When the word came into common usage in America in the early nineteenth century, nostalgia, a sickness for home, was considered a form of insanity. This is not a surprising attitude for a new country driven to explore, to expand, to push on to a far sea—even at times conquering and dispossessing others in search of a new place. Now, after nearly two centuries have passed, we have settled into a sort of national middle age and nostalgia has become a cultural virtue. Golden-oldies radio stations and movie remakes, Elvis stamps and classic cars, the moral certitudes of the Gulf War and of Family Values: We have now institutionalized the backward look, the moist eye for where we’ve been.

But for me, nostalgia is this: When I was studying the Vietnamese language in an Army school in Arlington, Virginia, my teacher was a young Vietnamese woman who had come to America for the love of an American soldier. It was 1970 and she had grown up near the ancient city of Hue with the sounds of war thumping and chattering through most of her childhood like the angry ghosts of the tales her mother told. She was happy with her man here, happy with her job, happy with the televisions and the rock ‘n’ roll and the frozen foods and with her Ford Mustang convertible and with the night sky that would flare only with lightning. But when the sunset came and they fired the ceremonial cannon over at Fort Myer, she would weep. The sound of cannon fire made her think about Hue, and she would grow sick with yearning for home.

Self, January 1994.th-1

WHAT I LEARNED

 

I am writing my memoir because of what I learned when I ran a clinic on the tenth floor of a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) high-rise twenty years ago. All my patients were over sixty years of age. I was an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.

I learned that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving.

old-man-drinking-whiskey-and-smokingI learned that a few drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco.

I learned that some sold their medicine for street drugs or money and some were abusive and some were abused.

I learned that not all families wanted to care for their older members and that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family.

I learned that most of them enjoyed sex.

I learned that loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group.

I learned how to plan a funeral, hand over firearms to the local police precinct, how to put folks in a nursing home, transfer them to an emergency room, and commit them to a psychiatric hospital.

I learned to listen to a person’s story before I examined her. And that making a home visit told me more than I could ever learn from an office visit.

I learned that I didn’t need the support from a highly educated and professional staff but from people who were caring and didn’t walk away from a problem.

I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.

And I learned that some of my patients were impossible to forget.

PF-Elderlybridge_1201447c

 

Never Too Old

I am empowered knowing age does not limit our creativity. James Arruda Henry learned to read and write in his mid-nineties. He didn’t stop there but went on to write a book: In a Fisherman’s Language.

As a gerontological nurse practitioner and woman of a certain age I am delighted to promote his story.

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