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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Surveying the Senior Landscape - Popular Messages about Aging Promote Discrimination

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The following is taken from an excerpt delivered at the top of the hour on Senior Agenda on 1/16/14.  The views and opinions expressed here represent those of talk show host Lisa Stockdale.  Lisa is a senior advocate and is committed to addressing all issues that effect seniors. Your comments are welcomed.  We reserve the right to remove comments which utilize excessive profanity or hate speech.  

Strike One - While I was researching for a recent program about loneliness among seniors, I kept running across statements that seemed to reinforce the notion that aging equals gloom and doom. The assumption seemed to be that aging naturally leads to loneliness. Consider the following question posed in an article called The Aging of Loneliness:  "But why does the loneliness of old age seem somehow different, sadder and more painful?  Is the social isolation that so often accompanies it, or perhaps the physical wear and tear of the twilight years?"  In fairness to the author, I believe the question was posed in an attempt to mirror popular perceptions about aging.  Why do we assume that loneliness is inevitable as we age?  Is it because we do not celebrate and esteem our seniors?  Is it because we devalue aging and attempt to steer clear, shun and stay away from it at all costs?  Is it because we allow our seniors to be abandoned, swindled, mistreated and neglected?  I wonder why we make these assumptions and what other underlying assumptions we might uncover if we ever get brave enough to work towards redefining what it means to grow old in this country.  

Strike Two - Earlier this week, I blogged about a commercial that perpetuates age discrimination but very few people seem to care. That particular blog has received about 80% fewer views than our typical posts.  The commercial depicts a man searching for a hotel deal on his laptop while riding his mother's stairlift because he "can't afford to waste a second" looking for hotel deals. Meanwhile, his elderly mother struggles to climb the stairs as he whizzes by without demonstrating a hint of concern.  His wife apparently shares in his callous attitude as she stands at the top of the stairs conversing with him without any regard for the elderly woman's safety. When did it become socially acceptable to ridicule the disabled? Do you suppose more people would take an interest if the person stranded on the stairs was a disabled veteran or a quadriplegic child?  I certainly hope that those depictions would draw criticism. But it is only an old woman whose mobility has been compromised and so it goes unnoticed.  

Strike Three - It was widely reported today that federal and state regulators have shut down a multimillion-dollar scam targeting seniors.  Bravo!!!  That is awesome news.  What left me shaking my head was this comment offered by the Federal Trade Commission regional director:  "You call enough older consumers and you will find someone with dementia or Alzheimer's.  These people knew they were dealing with people who weren't all there and they took their money."  Really?  Did you just say that aloud? Seniors were targeted for the same reasons that seniors are always targeted;  They have resources, strong credit ratings, live alone and are generally too trusting. That's not quite the same as because they are demented now is it?  The report goes on to say that the scammers operated under more than a dozen corporate names, employed more than 100 people and "appeared organized specifically to evade law enforcement."  Read the full story here.  In fact, the Better Business Bureau warned consumers about the scam six months ago, so it took the police at least that long to shut it down. Read full story here. .  That being said, I am hoping this was indeed a sophisticated operation that did not need to rely on seniors suffering with dementia and Alzheimer's to be successful.  

Ageism has been defined as the tendency to regard older people as debilitated or unworthy of attention.  It also includes stereotyping and discrimination based on age.  Popular messages about aging lead to disrespectful behavior towards seniors and the marginalization of seniors.  All seniors are not the same. Moreover, most seniors are mentally and physically capable with much to offer.