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Successful Aging turns 21: What I’ve learned from readers

Each October I write an anniversary column that reflects what I have learned from our readers. This is year 21 and 1,038 columns later.

In deciding what to write, I reread each email from this past year and then sort them according to topics. Those topics with the most responses typically are included in the column.

This year, I received the most emails on the subject of ageism. Because of the volume and their richness, I am devoting part one of the anniversary column just to this one area. We also received many other emails on retirement, downsizing, meditation, elder abuse, creativity, exercise, employment, purpose, loss and more. Several of these will be shared next week.

Now to the ageism stories and perspectives:

A 65-year-old woman was asked by her doctor’s nurse practitioner the current date and name of the president of the United States. She was curious about the reason for the question since she is physically and mentally healthy. Her thought was that the question was based solely on her age. The same reader objected to suggested age cutoffs for elected officials, noting that “experience and wisdom are priceless.”

A reader indicated one of the reasons he does not watch network news is because so few of the TV characters are older, referring to the 1.5 percent mentioned in my column of September 2, 2022.

Another area of expressed ageism was from a former employee who was laid off at age 59 with 35 years of technical experience. He was replaced by a 21-year-old who quit after one year. Although he’d received numerous government awards, the 300 resumes he sent to prospective employers yielded no results. He ended his note by writing, “Not sure what can be done about it. It’s probably too late for me now that I just turned 70.”

A reader found a cell phone advertisement somewhat ageist. The ad was for “the senior who has to just push the red button if she needs help. It’s just that easy.” This advertisement catering to seniors who need utter simplicity is ageist and offensive, she noted. The reader compared the advertisement to a competitor’s, which referred to older adults as “active and intelligent who are enjoying retirement and need a reasonable plan” for their phones.

And from the Bay Area, a reader found the emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion somewhat lacking. While pleased to see many elements of inclusion represented, the reader noted “you didn’t find a single person over 40 displayed and the word ‘age’ isn’t included in any of their diversity metrics. They don’t even try.”

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Then there was a complaint about a statement made by the new president of a company who had assumed the role from his mother who served in that role after her husband died. The 33-year-old son indicated he could put “a more youthful face” on the company. The reader ended his email by stating, “At 78, I clearly am not in the target community.”

A 73-year- old woman suffering from painful sciatica was told by her daughter-in-law that she should just accept the pain due to her aging. She added, “It doesn’t feel right to be pigeon-holed.” This woman is looking for a comeback statement to say when her children blame age for temporary medical issues.

Another older woman feels invisible when she is with her daughter. She writes, “invariably from doctors’ receptionists to sales clerks, when I approach them, they respond by looking at my daughter and directing the answers to her.”

We may not all agree that the shared stories and perspectives are ageist. Yet we know ageism is real. What have I learned and has been affirmed?  Ageism occurs in everyday life.

Stay well and stay tuned to part two next week.

Note: My recent column on ageism and Ageism Awareness Day (September 2, 2022) made its way to the Los Angeles County Commission on Aging and to a Southern California city councilman. The councilman wrote, “I found your article (on ageism) … in line with my experience as a senior and as an elected official who serves a large population of seniors.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com.  Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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