What is it about aging that scares some of us? Is it the influx of age defying facial lotions advertised between sitcoms like Cougartown or the commercials of a dapper silver-haired fox driving through the desert in a truck for Viagra? Whatever the case, age isn’t something society is accustomed to embracing in a positive and quite frankly, age shouldn’t matter unless you’re cheese. If you are cheese, well that’s a pity because in most cases, you would smell like feet.
I had the honour of interviewing one of my favourite actors a few years ago and we stumbled upon the discussion of aging in the industry quite briefly. He told me that disclosing his age factors into some of the roles he wants and it does make sense, sadly. I think it has for many decades. Look at Hitchcock’s Vertigo for example with a then 25 year-old Kim Novak lip locking with a nearly double her age, Jimmy Stewart or The Misfits starring a 60 year-old Clark Gable with a 35 year-old Marilyn Monroe. Sure, it was downright hot but there were plenty of other actresses with sex appeal and talent who could have played those roles and been older. The thing is, young is sexy in some twisted way and cinema has shown that spectrum throughout the years.
My best friend brought up this topic of “aging” a few nights ago to me and one can only think is he bringing this up because he’s nearing his 30s? In the past, I have teased him daintily about hair loss and the fact that if heredity will play a part for his disappearing top floor rug that I would then happily agree that when we’re old and gray, I shall chop my locks and make him a wig. However, aging is inevitable. We’re all going down that road. I have four more years till I hit my 30s but as my parents insist, I’m still 25 for another four years – makes sense, since my mother wants more grandchildren but it’s evident that I’m aging. I have wrinkles also known endearingly as “laugh lines” and I already have one single stray white hair. I’ve been called “ma’am” while ordering at McDonald’s and have begrudgingly complained to the female store employees at Hollister that the music is too loud in their store and then proceed to dive into my purse for my keychain flashlight to shop for jeans in a store that needs more light fixtures.
Another thing: do we complain more as we get older or is it just me? Seems funny enough, the process and all but there have been so many stigmas to aging and as we get older, I’ve noticed them more so. Aaliyah said it and I’m saying it now, but age isn’t anything but a number, really. Obviously don’t go and tell that to Roman Polansky or R. Kelly but in reality, the age that we are is more of a physical assessment of our being rather than our mentality. My father always said, if you think young, you are young but that doesn’t mean anything to society who casts the elderly aside and in some form, makes a mockery of them through greeting cards that joke about being “Over The Hill” or poking fun through comedic situations dealing with adult diapers and prune juice. It’s just another aspect of ageism in our modern society.
The elderly are frequently depicted as overly demanding and irritated when really, if you meet a woman on her menstruation cycle during one of her off-months without that comfort food she’s craving, you’re going to face the same thing. Our modern media contributes to the negative images created of the elderly and it’s unfair. What we don’t realize is that society can learn so much from the elderly. When they hit a certain age, they retire and stop working but that doesn’t mean they’re deemed useless. We underestimate them. A study back in 2002 by the Southampton University measured the mental speed which is responsible for information and memory of elderly bingo players with outperformed younger counterparts, claiming the elderly subjects were more alert and accurate because of playing bingo. This proves, keeping the brain active, keeps it sharper longer.
It’s been shown that advertisements designed to benefit the elderly often deliver their messages in a negative light by inducing fear. Take for example commercials that show an elderly man falling down the stairs and no one being able to help him because he doesn’t have the latest staircase gadget installed or how about those calcium supplement commercials? They show older women slowly becoming debilitated by bone loss and being unable to understand what the next step should be. Honestly, the elderly aren’t the only ones affected by osteoporosis. They may be in that demographic but that doesn’t mean that margin represents the whole community. For instance, my sister who is just five years older than me is now on calcium supplements and medication. Her Crohn’s disease and the years of antibiotics and inflammation created a weakening in her bones, leading to a thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density. In simpler terms, she has osteoporosis. Advertisers shouldn’t stereotype aging in their commercials. Instead, they could illustrate adults exercising together, stating how strong and energetic they are now as a result of taking such supplements rather than showing them as inactive and in some form, degenerate.
Some people grow up in life and some don't but the reality is, we all grow old. That’s mandatory.
Now, my best friend who encouraged me to write this piece wanted me to focus on what keeps the elderly going after they’ve been stripped of their jobs and their zest for life. He wanted to know what keeps them motivated and to be honest, it depends on each person, so I would assume. Take for example, Leo Plass of Oregon who graduated from Eastern Oregon University this past year at the age of 99. Yeah, Plass is 99 years old! Plass had to drop out of college though during the Great Depression and take up a logging job which earned him $150 a month which back then was literally like striking gold. It took him 80 years to get it done and it’s a decision he stood by after his nephew urged him to finish, seeing as he had enough credits for an associate’s degree.
Plass isn’t the only one who has made an effort to go back to school. There have been many others and some of them have experienced ageism while studying and interacting with their younger peers. According to a study in 2001 by Duke University, 80% of Americans aged 60 and older have experienced ageism, prejudice and discrimination based on their age. Participants reported experiences ranging from people assuming they had memory problems, physically impaired to just plain old poking fun while 31% said they were regularly ignored and not taken seriously. The biggest shame is that the elderly are North America’s fastest-growing population segment. It's been stated that the number of seniors in the United States and Canada is expected to double in the next three decades, compromising 20% of the population in 2030 compared to less than 13% now.
Researchers believe that ageism in the form of negative stereotypes directly affects longevity. In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, Yale School of Public Health professor Becca Levy and her colleagues concluded that old people with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative images of growing older.
My father was right! Obviously.
Look, age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t really matter.
The thing is America’s aged have fought in wars that ensured their country’s freedom; marching in civil rights protests in the 1960s and now, the nation’s obsession with youth has blinded many to the wisdom, understanding and emotional support that the older generation has to offer. We really do stand to benefit immensely from the friendship and the mentorship of an older individual.
Now while many of us start developing those stereotypes about the elderly during childhood, they’re reinforced throughout our adolescent years, into adulthood as we enter old age with those notions towards our new age group. They then become unfavourable as when we first learned about them. It’s upsetting how aging in our vocabulary and modern culture is equated with impairment and deterioration. From the looks of it and the way our culture has formulated it, there is no real way to root it out except by making others aware of it all. It is possible to overcome these stereotypes but look at our society today. There's so much talk about plastic surgery and botox, foods and exercises to make you look younger – the emphasis is ridiculous. The bottom line is: "don't get old!"
But, how do you stop the aging process? It seems like we’ve reached the conclusion of this piece when really, we haven’t and you can stop the aging process!
Well, not really but it sounded good for an instant, right?
Back in August, ABC News did a piece on the human growth hormone which is now being called the “fountain of youth”. It’s been called a system repair or sex in a bottle but former Kansas City Chiefs player, Ed Lothamer (69) and his wife, Beth (64) started injecting hGH about eight years ago after their doctor prescribed it. They two claimed they weren’t feeling themselves as they hit their middle ages. Within months of the injections, they noticed big changes, including better skin and a spiced-up sex life. Ed says he feels 20 years younger while his wife feels as if she’s in her 20s, saying she’s never had this much energy before and is up all day. The human growth hormone occurs naturally in the body and is used to promote growth in children but is something that diminishes with age. Of course there are side effects to its use like diabetes and it was found causing cancer in mice but the Lothamers get routine checkups with their doctor.
All-in-all, does it really matter though? To age?
There’s beauty in it! There’s experience! There’s wisdom and a life well understood. One of the many things nobody tells you about aging is that it's a nice change from being young. No, really. It is. Aging isn't lost youth but a new stage of opportunities to come and strength you’ll find in the years you lead.
I wish I knew my grandparents the way some of my friends knew theirs. The stories they've shared and the wisdom they've attained, it's remarkable. I can tell from the time my friends have spent with their grandparents that they benefited from not just their wisdom and heart but how they've molded themselves into amazing people who are respectful and have tremendous heart and character. I have understood so much from my friends through stories of their grandparents and from stories from my parents of my grandparents and the lives they led and they're all clear examples of perseverance and a smart change. You’d be amazed at the willpower of many today who choose to overcome the negative stereotypes and maintain a constant path for themselves. The elderly are an asset to us in this modern life.
If we take action to change the societal views of aging and pave the way for a higher quality of life for the future generations, we have much to learn from the elderly and benefit from their insight. After all, we’ll be there one day. Aging is a graceful, natural process which needs to be embraced with confidence and hope.
In the words of Frank Sinatra, "the best is yet to come"!
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