Warren noted that studies show “(W)hen scientists ask, ‘How old do you feel, most of the time?’ the answer tends to reflect the state of people’s physical and mental health.”
Therefore, folks who feel younger are usually healthier than those who feel their age or older. Not surprising. On a lark, I asked Helen, whom I wrote about in my last blog, how old she feels. She just turned 80 and looks much younger, is exercising, and now doesn’t need her blood pressure medication anymore. She said she feels 50! Again, not surprising.
Then I felt guilty asking Helen that question because Tracey Gendron, a gerontologist, questions subjective age research. She thinks that asking the question is perpetuating our cultural bias that aging is fundamentally negative.
The essay stated that in some “cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the concept of subjective age.”
Furthermore, Dr. Gendron suggests that “the study of subjective age may be inherently unethical.” She goes on to say, “I think we have to ask ourselves the question, are we feeding the larger narrative of aging as decline by asking that question? Older age is a time that we can actually look forward to. People really just enjoy who they are. I would love for everyone to say their age at every year and celebrate it”
I agree with Dr. Gendron. There are so many subtle “beliefs” in our society that undermine positive aging. I revisited a past post of mine Rethinking How to Handle this Age Issue. I wrote that post not only to promote being proud of our age—at whatever age we are, and as a reminder not to support the premise that old age means decline.
I’ve had second thoughts about my last post: “How to Handle this Age Issue,” where I decided that the best way for me to deal with being an older woman was to ignore my age.
That decision nagged at me so I did a little research.
I reread an essay that I had saved from the New York Times on April 30, 2019 written by Paula Span titled: “Ageism Is a ‘Prevalent and Insidious’ Health Threat.” Span listed research studies that show that believing in negative stereotypes can have an effect on an older’s person’s health and function, such as an increase in dementia. However, older folks who have a positive attitude toward aging “experience less depression and anxiety. They live longer.”
She goes on to say that “(i)t’s not always easy to find the balance between shrugging off offensive messages and counterproductive scolding . . . .” when speaking against agism. I can certainly relate to that. I describe, in my last post, how I reacted to an ageist comment by a Weight Watcher representative. Definitely counterproductive.
I wanted to post an upbeat aspect of aging after my last one focused on death. While we can’t deny that the ultimate conclusion of aging is death, there are many diversions along the aging journey that turn out to be a surprise and delight.
I, for example, would never have predicted that after I left nursing and focused on writing, I would have written a book. And now I’m preparing to take to the road to promote it.
One of my new friends, Margaret, who has recently retired after years at a desk job in human resources, has learned that she has a talent for painting. She also plans to write about her parent’s tree farm, a biography she will give to her grandchildren. Margaret says, “There are not enough hours in the day to do all I want to do!”
Then there is my writing friend I call Helen who found true love with Tom. Longtime friends, they both lost their spouses and reconnected to find a “spark” that ignited “true love.” See a previous post that I wrote about them.
I have heard from Helen recently. She and Tom are now living together in California. “Tom and I have ten children and stepchildren between us. His live on the west coast, mine on the east coast. And he has a fulltime job in California. We haven’t figured out how to navigate these difficulties yet.”
Recently, they traveled to east coast to attend one of Helen’s grandchildren’s graduations. “Thanks for making my Nana so happy,” her fifteen-year-old grandson told Tom during that trip.
“Our love is truly a miracle for us both,” Helen writes. “Tom is one of the nicest people I have ever known, and there is an ease and flow to our days.”
They work out at a gym several evenings a week and they both swim a quarter of a mile most nights. Both have lost weight—fifteen pounds each–and leave the gym “energized and with a sense of relaxed well-being. Not bad for almost seventy-nine.”
Helen ended her email by writing “We have trouble letting go of the evening and going to bed, like two little kids. I joked recently that we need a parent. But all is not lost — we do still brush our teeth.”
Helen and Al should have been included in Ari Seth Cohen’s newest book Advanced Love.
From the creator of the popular blog Advanced Style, photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Love collects affectionate portraits of subjects who prove that love is bound by neither the constraints of age or time. The book includes 40 profiles of inspiring couples from around the world, and more than 200 photos. The profiles explore themes of love and companionship through firsthand insight from the subjects; they share their stories of falling in love, what they have learned after decades of partnership, and valuable relationship advice. Advanced Love is a touching look at the often-ignored partnerships of the senior set. Filled with couples who have built their lives together, it’s an indispensable trove of wisdom on love and the lessons they have learned along the way.
This book only includes couples who have been together for a long time. I hope Cohen considers writing another book about couples that have found new love in old age. Helen and Tom would certainly be an excellent addition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
As a retired gerontological nurse practitioner and a woman dealing with my own aging, I am always happy to read about successful aging. This one comes all the way from China. I hope you enjoy 80 year-old Wang Deshun’s story as much as I did.
An 80-Year-Old Model Reshapes China’s Views on Aging
BEIJING — Before cranking up the techno music at his 80th birthday party, the man known as “China’s hottest grandpa” paused from his D.J. duties to poke fun at the country’s staid traditional celebrations for the elderly.
“I should wear a long robe, with the word ‘longevity’ embroidered on the front,” the birthday boy, Wang Deshun, said at his party in September.
Far from looking frail, the silver-haired actor, model and artist wore a crisp white shirt and black jeans, his back straight and his eyes glittering with humor.
“Two young maidens should help me into an old-style wooden chair,” he added, pretending to hobble.
Determined to avoid mental and physical stagnation, Mr. Wang has explored new skills and ideas while devoting ample time to daily exercise. Last year, he walked the runway for the first time, his physique causing a national sensation. He takes obvious joy in subverting China’s image of what it means to be old.
Wang Deshun explains how he became a runway model last year. Video by Redstart Media
And old age in China begins relatively early. The legal retirement age for women is 50 for workers and 55 for civil servants, and 60 for most men.
Being older in China typically means being respected, but also, often, sentimentalized. Someone as young as 50 may be addressed as “yeye” or “nainai” — grandpa or grandma — regardless of whether they have offspring.
Mr. Wang is having none of that.
“One way to tell if you’re old or not is to ask yourself, ‘Do you dare try something you’ve never done before?’ ” he said in a recent interview at a hotel in Beijing.
“Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind,” he said.
Mr. Wang has not escaped being called grandpa — he has two children and a 2-year-old granddaughter — but the honorific is accompanied by accolades for his vigor and his embrace of the new.
“Grandpa, you’re my idol!” one admirer wrote on Mr. Wang’s Weibo social media account, one of thousands of similar comments.
Mr. Wang said he was always athletic. An avid swimmer as a child, he still swims more than half a mile each day. “Morning is my learning time,” he said. “I read books and news. From 3 to 6 p.m. is my exercise time, in a gym near my home.”
He also drinks less alcohol now, he said, but that is about as far as his dietary restrictions go. “I am not picky at all about what I eat. I eat whatever I want.”
Mr. Wang was born in the northeastern city of Shenyang in 1936, one of nine children of a cook and a stay-at-home mother. At 14, a year after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, he began working as a streetcar conductor.
“I liked acting, singing, dancing, playing musical instruments so much that I joined my work unit’s band,” he said. At the Workers’ Cultural Palace in Shenyang, he took free lessons in singing, acting and dancing. He later took a job at a military factory and joined its art troupe. Sometimes they entertained soldiers.
“Even if there was just one sentry, say, at the top of a hill, like once in Dalian, we’d surround him and perform,” Mr. Wang said.
Later he worked in radio, film and theater. In the early 1980s, Mr. Wang, who would teach runway modeling at a Beijing fashion school, staged what he believes was the first modeling show in the northeastern city of Changchun.
“In 1982, the clothes Chinese wore were so out of date,” he said. “I went to the city’s biggest department store and told the sales clerks, ‘Give me your nicest clothes, and I’ll organize a show.’ They agreed. The best clothes they had were fur coats, and for men, woolen Sun Yat-sen suits” — also known as Mao suits.
Back then, he said, “Chinese had no sense of color or style. People wore black, white, gray or blue. Some people wore army uniforms. I wanted to start a sense for fashion among ordinary people. We did a swimming-suit show. The girls refused at first, thinking it was indecent. But I insisted.”
By 49, Mr. Wang was eager to move to Beijing, China’s cultural capital. He wanted to be a “living sculpture.” He also needed money.
He began working out, determined to have a lithe body that would allow him to interact, almost naked and covered in metallic paint, with copies of Auguste Rodin’s and Camille Claudel’s sculptures of women. The idea, he said, came from his wife of 48 years, Zhao Aijuan.
After the first show in Beijing, in 1993, the authorities, disturbed by its sensuality, barred Mr. Wang from performing in public. He continued to perform privately.
“I really admire him very much,” said Xiao Lu, 54, a performance artist. “I do body art, and you know, after a certain age. a person’s abilities decline. But he has this amazing sculpted body and spirit. Such power for life really comes from the inside. He makes the feeling that’s in the Rodin sculptures come alive.”
Last year, he appeared bare-chested in a fashion show in Beijing’s 798 arts district, featuring designs by Hu Sheguang.
His appearance on the runway earned him a cultlike following. Some fans call him laoxianrou, or “old fresh meat,” making a play on the word for teen idol: xiaoxianrou, or “young fresh meat.’’
So has old fresh meat replaced young fresh meat?
Perhaps not. But Mr. Wang’s physicality, notable in a society where men rarely highlight their attractiveness, also sets an example in a nation that is growing older fast.
“People can change their life as many times as they wish,” he said. Having a goal is important, he said.
“Being mentally healthy means you know what you’re going to do,” he said. “For example, a vegetable vendor, when he wakes up, he has a goal, he works hard. And when he finishes, he feels fulfilled.”
For Mr. Wang, fulfillment comes in many forms: acting, modeling, exercising and creating art.
And one day soon, he said, parachuting. That is the plan.
I’m now taking watercolor classes, struggling to create something that I can be proud of but mostly learning how to be humble and not compare myself with my fellow classmates. As hard as I try to enjoy the journey and not focus on the end result, I still strive to have my finished product an example of perfection.
I never thought of imperfection as an asset until I read my watercolor instructor’s latest post.
The tempo at which Toscannini or Glenn Gould raced through pieces.
Odd chisel marks in hand-made furniture.
These are just a few examples of what might be thought of as imperfections that, in fact, make a person, place or thing memorable, beautiful, unique.
My favorite live figure model of all time hated her thighs. What a pity. She was stunning.
Make a little list for yourself of physical things, personality traits, or emotional baggage that you think make you imperfect. Forget about what you think anyone else may think about these things. You’ll never know for sure anyway. Plus, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It matters what you think, how you feel about yourself.
Take that little list and find a way to accept, embrace, and ultimately love each and every one of those things, traits, and pieces of baggage. You may find that this exercise can make it easier to let go of said baggage because, hey, who needs it and who has places to store that old crap anymore?
Anyway, all the little marks and bruises, faux pas and clumsiness, guilt about Bad Things You’ve Done and so forth, all of those things make you you. And by the way, you—the real you— is just traveling in this body and personality temporarily.
You’re much bigger and brighter and shinier than you remember. There is no one like you. Never to be repeated, you are a miraculous variation of the human being.
My mother died the day before Mother’s Day sixteen years ago. Each year at this time my memories of Mom revolve around both her life and death. Her last few years weren’t what I would have predicted.
When Ernie and I moved from the Midwest to Maryland in 1993, Mom came with us. I had found an assisted living apartment for her. She was 85 at the time—independent, and mentally sharp.
My father had died over twenty years ago. Since that time her only friends were other women. A couple of months after the move, she had to have new glasses. Then she wanted to replace her old hearing aid with not one but two. Clearly, she wanted to see and hear what was going on around her. Over the phone, she told me, “I am having so much fun,” and mentioned a boy friend. As a gerontological nurse practitioner, I knew that a move to an unfamiliar place could make an old person confused. I dismissed the boy friend as wishful thinking.
Shortly after that phone call, I pulled up in front of Mom’s apartment building on a lovely spring afternoon to take her on a shopping trip. She came to the car and shouted to me through the open window on the passenger side, “Come on out, I want you to meet someone.” After shutting off the engine, I got out of the car and followed her to the bench by the front door. Two men sat side-by-side: one was obese with red blotches over his face and the other, a tall thin man, wore a baseball cap and cowboy boots, with a red-tipped white cane resting between his knees.
Mom nudged me in front of the two men. “Lee, I want you to meet my daughter.”
The man wearing a baseball cap stood up, ramrod straight. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. Red suspenders stretched across a pot belly covered with a blue flannel shirt. His right hand shot out in front of him.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said in a strong, even voice, shaking my hand. He smiled showing a scattering of rotten teeth. I felt as if I were meeting my teenage daughter’s beau who so wanted to impress.
Lee was twelve years Mom’s junior. At first they talked of marriage but Mom said no because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and she a Catholic. In her mind that was deal breaker. Then they were going to move into one apartment. But they were never able to decide which one would give up his/her apartment. For the next seven years, they saw each other daily. They took walks together—Mom leaned on Lee while she guided his steps; they sat together at the same table for communal dinner, and they took naps together. Mom never told me outright but I surmised this when she revealed she had lost her favorite earring in his bed. I never asked what else transpired between them.
However, their relationship was not without problems. Mom didn’t trust him. She suspected that he was cavorting with other women.
While Lee was a younger man, he was an unlikely gigolo. Besides diabetes and blindness, he had had two heart attacks, a triple bypass, and a Foley catheter that migrated from his bladder out of his penis and down his pants leg and ended up in a collection bag not so neatly tucked into his left boot. Most times he reeked of stale urine and dirty clothes. Mom, who had had a life-long addiction to cleanliness, never complained of his hygiene. But by God, don’t let him prove unfaithful.
Mom’s suspicious and judgmental nature never seemed to take a toll on their relationship. Lee would laugh and say, “There she goes again” when she would accuse him of flirting with another woman. At the same time, Mom would insist we include Lee on family celebrations and occasional luncheons where Lee would eat with his hands and Mom would inevitably spill her water, or wine, and I would leave a big tip as we left the table and floor in a shambles.
When Ernie accepted a job offer in North Carolina, Lee encouraged Mom to go with us. She had become more frail and had frequent falls. After being hospitalized with a bout of pneumonia, she was admitted for a short-stay in a nursing home not far from her apartment. A kind health care worker would walk Lee to visit. I was glad I wasn’t present to witness their final good-bye.
Mom lived just lived nine months after the move.
I went to visit Lee shortly after Mom’s death to give him her radio/cassette player and large button telephone. On the drive up to Maryland, I had romanticized the visit—he expressing his deep love for my mother, sharing the moments they laughed together and telling me how much he missed her.
During the visit, Lee sat in his recliner in a cluttered apartment never uttering the nice words about my mother I longed to hear. And he didn’t remember the times I took them to the Red Lobster and the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. After I programmed his daughter’s number into the phone and we ran out of polite topics to talk about, I left.
On the long ride down route 85 South toward North Carolina and home, I wondered if Lee didn’t talk about Mom with me since I was the one who took her away—although he encouraged her to leave, or he was losing his memory? Or both?
Nevertheless, I couldn’t be too disappointed since he gave Mom a reason for living and certainly kept her blood flowing if only from the aggravation of thinking her blind prince charming had a roving eye. And I will always remember the time she said she was having “so much fun.”
As we sat finishing our lunch at a roadside restaurant on our way to the Rainforest in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica, my tablemate said, “It’s all a crapshoot.”
We had been talking about the aging process. She uttered the same term I had been using ever since my husband and I bought a two-story town house rather than an apartment in a continuing care community. The practicality of the choice began to weigh on me soon after moving in the middle of December when I came down with “walking pneumonia” following a bout with the flu. Two weeks later, I fell on a wet floor in a department store. I lacerated the side of my face, therefore, making the second trip to Urgent Care within two weeks.
Thoughts of my personal vulnerability and the volatility of Mother Nature began to circulate in my head. How timely that we had planned this trip to Costa Rica months ago? And fortuitously, I was getting some validation from another older woman that aging isn’t a downhill trip to infirmity. Plus, observing the other 15 travelers slowly tore apart my misconceptions. (Our ages ranged from 63 to 80. The average was 71 one year younger than I.)
The day after my conversation about life being a crapshoot, I had planned to go white-water rafting for the first time. The rapids were a class three. How rough was that, I wondered knowing that the range went up to a five. But still . . .
I woke up the next morning to a thundering rain. This was the Rainforest after all. Would the rafting trip be called off?
Pushing myself to go, I put on a bathing suit, brim hat, a semi-waterproof jacket—which took three days to finally dry out—and Keens. Ten of us showed. After brief instructions, we donned life jackets and helmets and were each handed a paddle and assigned seats in the inflatable raft. Heavy rain pelted us as we followed directions from our guide. “Row” “Stop.” “Down.” “Down” was the scariest. I can still see the raft rushing toward a thick tree trunk extending over the river. The leaves from the tree swept across my face as I hunched on the floor of the boat.
We rose up and dropped down and spun around in the white-capped waves. We dodged rocks. Once, when we slammed into a wall of water, I unintentionally shrieked into the noise of the rain and river. During the river’s calm moments, our guide pointed out the birds and reptiles that watched us from the trees and shore.
Halfway into our trip, we beached our rafts, shared a pineapple and watermelon snack and posed for a group picture. (I am fourth from the right) The outing ended all too soon.
As I, along with the others, hiked back to the hotel in the rain, we congratulated ourselves on not falling out of the raft. I felt tired but exhilarated. Tossing aside feelings of fragility had made room for experiencing the challenges and excitement of life.
I met her on the first day of a required course to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In the interim, we’ve raised our kids, completed advanced degrees, taught and/or practiced nursing, retired, and moved to different cities, but have worked at staying connected, including seeing each other in person at least once a year.
We held our annual meeting last week.
We never need an occasion to celebrate, but it helps. When Marianna asked if I’d like to splurge on a spa day, I pondered a bit and figured out we had an…
It isn’t often that I applaud a drug company. In fact, I can’t remember if I ever have.
Here’s to Pfizer for creating an initiative to stimulate dialogue about getting older, which was described in the New York Times business section this past Wednesday (Elliott, Stuart.Pfizer to Inject Youth Into the Aging Process. The New York Times, 16 July 2014: B9. Print).
Pfizer has set up a website, getold.com, with links to Facebook and Twitter. The main audience is those in their 20s and 30s. Topics revolve around the affirmative aspects of aging, like “Why sex can be better when you’re older” and a story of 90-year-old who runs marathons. Okay, I admit a bit sensational but the emphasis is on the positive.
I only hope Pfizer’s effort to portray the elderly in a flattering light will help diminish ageism which is so prevalent in our society.