Concerned about an onslaught of enfeebled old people? Don’t worry, robots will take care of them! American techno-optimism knows no bounds, and so-called “age-independence” technologies are proliferating like crazy. But in a profoundly ageist culture, the implications can be disturbing.
This guest post is by Jeanette Leardi, a Portland, Oregon, writer, editor, and community educator who is changing perceptions about the aging process and helping people appreciate elders’ inherent dignity, wisdom, and unique value as mentors and catalysts for social change. You can read more of her blog posts at ChangingAging, where this post first appeared, and reach her through her website.
The WHO's new 2015 World Report on Aging and Health offers a practical roadmap for reframing public health policies to accommodate population aging—“ageing,” that is. As the foundation for its recommendations, it identifies the first priority as “Changing perceptions of health and aging.” Rather than paraphrase, I’ll let a few excerpts speak for themselves.
“There is also something profoundly liberating about aging,” Dominique Browning wrote in the New York Times. “Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: ‘I’m too old for this.’” That’s her new mantra, and the title of her essay, which lingered on the Times’s most-emailed list for days. Why? People want stories that ring true to their experience of growing older because they include its welcome aspects.
Since I titled another post “Oh Grow Up,” I’m establishing a category: the Boomer Lament. The latest entry, “When Did We Get So Old?” appeared on the New York Times’ Most Emailed list, so it’s clearly striking a chord. Make that chord the twang of a tragic country song: How could this happen to me-ee-ee-ee?
I'm on vacation—travelled through the Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Riga andTalinn, now in Helsinki, and on to St. Petersburg—and came across a flyer for a performance piece called Memories for Life about "the past and the present, the old and the young." It quotes Imants Ziedonis (1933-2013) , a Latvian poet who rose to fame during the Soviet occupation of Latvia, who wrote, "We do not walk towards death. We do not walk towards getting old. We walk to meet ourselves. We walk to meet our Other Me.
Charming and modest, Evelyn doesn't have a last name in this video, but she's got a clear sense of right and wrong. The way she reacts to having her drivers license taken away is a model of anti-ageist activism.
I’m just back from a conference hosted by this 30-year-old Palo Alto think tank, the theme of which was “Living Longer/Aging Well.” Most of the attendees were from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, and I wasn’t sure how hospitable they’d be to my message about the medicalization of old age. In cultures with meaningful social and economic roles for older people, physical health is just one aspect of aging, but in ours, sickness takes center stage. And as the population ages the medical-industrial complex will depend more than ever on the old for its profits.