What is Old?

The Changing Definition of a Full Life by Luke Yoquinto and Joseph Coughlin in The Atlantic and other articles like When Did I Get Old by Alice Fisher M.A. M.S.W. on her blog The Radical Age Movement really resonate with my own thinking and experience. Both articles are asking the questions, How old is old? What does old look like nowadays? How do we treat those we consider old?

I am actively seeking out more articles like these because I think this topic is long overdue for discussion. In the first article the authors discuss how people in their late sixties are not really “old” these days. They use the example of David Bowie and how his death, at 69,  was viewed as coming too soon and that he was still very active as an artist right up to his death.

In the second post from Alice Fisher, she writes about a discussion with a friend. She and her friend, Karen, are both 70. They talk about how they are treated differently by people and feel old when they internalize the negative messages and stereotypes in society and in the media. This can be dangerous, Fisher says, because when people internalize the negative messages it can affect their health and longevity. She continues and cites a study:

“We are segregated.  We are marginalized.  We are oppressed.  And all this can easily become internalized as feelings of worthlessness.  Becca Levy, Ph.D., a psychologist and doctor at Yale University, has done quite a bit of research in this area.  Her results demonstrate that older people who are subject to negative stereotypes of ‘old’ are not only mentally but also physically less resilient than those who see ‘old’ as a positive stage of life.  Older people who internalize the negative stereotypes are more likely to shorten their life span.”

There was a part of Fisher’s post that really struck a cord with me. Her friend Karen says that,  “when I’m doing something that requires the least amount of physical agility, there is always someone who wants to help me even though I’m capable of doing it myself.” I felt like laughing because I recognized this as an experience I had at my yoga class. A woman kept helping me put away my yoga props after class. It started to make me feel uncomfortable. I finally said to her one day, “Why do you keep helping me, do I look disabled or something?” She really made me uncomfortable and I thought to myself, ” Do I look 100?” Then I thought maybe I am being too sensitive and now she thinks I am nuts. But after reading this post by Alice Fisher, I am thinking I was right in my interpretation.

I think the stereotyping and negative messages can make us less resilient because it wears us down. You are often confronted with it when out in society ( and at yoga class) and feel you must shield yourself against this onslaught.

I do think things will be changing but it is hard to have to live through the transition. And I really don’t want my longevity cut short by this stuff.

6 thoughts on “What is Old?

  1. Dan Antion

    To a certain degree, I think we (older folks or aging folks) are going to have to make this transition happen rather than wait for it. Speak out (as you are doing), be involved and make a difference where we can.

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    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Yes, we are the ones in the trenches and on the front lines. I have often thought that it is our mission in life, us Baby Boomers, to be on the vanguard of change. It gets a bit tiring at times. It would be nice if someone had already broken the ground like we did with Women’s Liberation. Well, there are lots of rumblings and many others are starting to speak out. On a personal note, as you say, we need to speak out. That is my thinking as well. I feel it is good to write about my own experience of this. Maybe others will read it. I am leaving my markers on the path. Maybe someone else will find them and know we have been here and this is what happened.

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  2. cleemckenzie

    I’ve always thought of age in two categories: chronological and biological. In some people they just do not jibe. I’ve been with ninety-year-olds that can out-hike me and twenty-year-olds that can’t keep up with me! I’m in the middle and hoping my biological age is like that of the 90+ person.

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  3. weebluebirdie

    Your comment about your yoga “helper” made me laugh. Perhaps she does it out of yoga karma? Our class is very mixed; in abilities and ages. Our teacher knows what each of us can do in our body; for those in their teens right through to their eighties. She encourages us to perfect our pose for ourselves, and not against each other. We have a great camaraderie in class, it’s one of the reasons I keep going. In fact it’s the only thing I’ve ever stuck to!

    Liked by 1 person

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