Ageism is not OK

Looking at aging in a new light

This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite. $17.99, Celadon Books

The recent headline, "Age Issue Dogs Biden as He Turns 80," may be one the author of This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism would probably call out as unfair. "Chronological age is an increasingly unreliable benchmark of pretty much everything about a person," writes Ashton Applewhite. In her manifesto, she explores ageism as equal to sexism and racism. She calls upon all to examine how they look at aging in general – and in themselves. She tells about people doing amazing things in their lives at all ages, points out the myths associated with age and aging, and provides ways to accept age but not ageism.

"Ageism" is the term first coined in 1969 by geriatrician Robert Butler as "prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age and aging itself." "Ageism is about what people in power want our appearance to mean," Applewhite writes. "It occurs when a group, whether politicians or marketers or employment agencies, uses that power to oppress or exploit or silence or simply ignore people who are much younger or older."

She points to examples – the realtor who recommends removing grab bars in showers before selling a home instead of pointing out how the home is ready for needs in the future. Or the writer who includes a person's age after their name when age should only be pertinent in an obituary. Or the doctor who passes off the symptoms of a patient by calling it "just getting old." Just go to the racks of birthday cards – notice how many reference getting older.

Although the book focuses mainly on older people, Applewhite stresses that young people face ageism also. How often is it said a younger person doesn't have enough experience for a certain position or "these young people just don't know."

Applewhite distinguishes between aging and ageism. Everyone gets older; the aging process does affect physical issues such as hearing, sight, balance and quickness. Sometimes, these issues lead to a new approach. For example, Grandma Moses had to give up embroidery due to arthritis so turned to painting and became famous. Aging is going to happen so accept it.

But, ageism doesn't have to be a part of the equation. It is a mindset that many have about others – and themselves. One example is that many think dementia will set in when one gets older. Thinking that way is a sign of ageism. Remember, it is not just the elderly who forget things. Think of the teen who forgets to take his homework to school or the youngster who forgets her soccer shoes. "Forgetting where your keys are shouldn't be cause for alarm nor forgetting So and So's name (as opposed to not remembering what keys are used for or forgetting who So and So is.)," the author writes.

The book includes quotes from experts in geriatrics and studies by organizations on topics of aging, deafness, elder abuse, poverty levels of the elderly, and the aging impact on health care needs.

Myths abound: that if an older person continues working a younger person won't find a job; that old people are a burden on society; that Social Security will be bankrupt. Facts and statistics in the book show these are examples of ageism.

Applewhite gives tips – stay active; it is well-researched that activity increases bone strength, improves balance, etc. Tip two: "keep your organ recital short" – by this she refers to our body organs – don't be telling everyone about the organs that aren't working and all your aches and pains. She tells of a woman who lived overseas and came once a year to see friends; the woman would "remind her friends she was coming to hear what was happening in their lives, not in their innards."

Another tip is to accept that life is finite so enjoy each day. But also make a will and make plans. If a doctor ever says, "What do you expect at your age?" find a new doctor.

Keep working – paid or volunteer. If you're able, then age doesn't matter. Jim Lizzio was the go-to guy in his neighborhood running errands for many when he was 93.

One area Applewhite pushes is to ask for help and accept it. Too many live in denial that they need help, need hearing aids, need to use a cane etc., and end up missing out on what is possible with a little help. Acknowledge that there are things one might not be able to do the same as in the past. Don't deny it.

This Chair Rocks tells us to look at aging in a new light and with new possibilities. Reading this book, it becomes obvious how much ageism is around us.

Cinda may never again buy a birthday card with a message about getting old.

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