Aging Issues Journal Critical Thinking
Entry One: When I Am Old, I Shall Wear Purple
The first thing I thought of when I considered the idea of aging issues was a poem by Jenny Joseph, who wrote Warning, the first lines of which are, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me” (Sachteleben 2009). Joseph was born in 1932 in England composed this ode to being elderly in 1961. Although she grew up in a different generation, Joseph’s poem still resonates. In some ways, there is a certain freedom for the elderly. Many people spend their younger lives trying to do the right thing, have the perfect family, wear stylish clothing modeled after what is in magazines or by celebrities; in other words, they do their best to do what everyone else expects them to do. Joseph appears to believe that this adherence to convention is not necessary for the elderly.
An interesting part of this poem is that it is written by a younger woman, who asks, “But maybe I ought to practise a little now?” about the eccentric activities she mentions within the poem (Sachteleben 2009). Therefore, this poem does not represent the view of an older woman, but a younger woman’s expectation of what she looks forward to when it comes to aging. This poem reflects a very positive view of aging. There are no fears reflected about the future, such as medical issues, having to go to a nursing home, loss of family members, feeling abandoned, and so on. The poet really looks forward to what she believes aging will bring to her, a freedom from the convention and restrictions society places on people.
The question remains of why the poem is titled Warning rather than Happy Times Ahead or something similar. The answer is that the poet is warning others about what she is going to be like when she is an old woman, eccentric and free-spirited. There is a carpe diem theme to the poem for both the young and the old.
This poem is also part of the foundation of the Red Hat Society, which is an “international society dedicated to reshaping the way women are viewed in today’s culture,” and its members are 50 years of age or older (“Our Passion” n.d.). Sue Ellen, the founder of the Red Hat Society, read the poem by Jenny Joseph and was then inspired to create a group for women to help them to enjoy and celebrate becoming older.
Entry Two: In the Movies
The 1990 movie, Strangers in Good Company, directed by Cynthia Scott, tells the story of a group of elderly woman who are traveling in a small school bus which breaks down in the Canadian wilderness. They are lucky enough to find an old, empty house as shelter, but they have very little food or other items with them. However, the derelict house has been abandoned for years, there are no neighbors, and no means to communicate with the outside world like phones.
This movie does a wonderful job of depicting many aspects of aging, both positive and negative. Because there is little to do, the women spend a lot of time in conversation, often in pairs, discussing their past and personal lives. They have a lot of humor about their situation. For example, when the bus first breaks down, one of them says, “I don’t believe I’m walking around in the woods with all these old . . . I mean, this has got to be a sight for sore eyes!” and everyone laughs (Scott 1990). Some of them express regrets about their past, such as never finishing their educations and having to go to work at age 14 to help the family or not developing artistic talents because they felt they had to give it up for motherhood. Some of the freedom of Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning is reflected in their conversation, for instance when Cissy asks Mary about the loves in her life and Mary reveals she is a lesbian, there is no judgment made. Mary says, “It was very hard in my generation, we were the secret generation,” and admits she could not write about it until she was 60 years old (Scott 1990). The women laugh about the medications they have to take, and though they are strangers to each other in the beginning of the movie, quickly become friends.
However, not all of the issues the women face are easy. Beth does not share Cissy or Mary’s ability to feel free and open about herself and is extremely self conscious about her appearance. She insists on wearing a wig because of her shame about how her hair looks now that she is older, and is very surprised when Michelle, who is age 27, tells her that she hopes she looks as good as Beth does when she is her age.
The elderly women have fears. Some of them fear death. Others express fears about losing everything, being destitute, and being wanted by no one. Yet, they also have hopes. In a conversation in which they recount the first time they fell in love, the women ask each other if they would want to fall in love again. One says, “Why not? We still have our hopes, dreams,” and another says, “You’re still alive,” while a third adds, “I still have feelings” (Scott 1990).
This movie does an excellent job of showing the complexity of the lives and personhoods of the elderly. As commentator Lois LaCivita Nixon writes, “Stereotypical impressions of the old, especially those that suggest they are uniformly feeble and uninteresting, are dispelled” (1997). This is a point that many people unfortunately forget, that the elderly are not all the same and boring. When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to visit an old woman neighbor. Unlike many of the other adults in my life, she always had time to talk with me. At my young age, it was hard for me to imagine her ever being my own age. She took joy in showing me her photographs, asking me about the things I liked to do, comparing our favorite things, and teaching me new things. I was reminded of her and the hours I spent conversing with or just sitting quietly with her when I watched Strangers in Good Company.
Many of the issues the women face in the movie are not unique to aging, such as the idea of wanting to fall in love again. However. it highlights another aspect of aging, which is that the elderly are often marginalized as no longer capable of doing much that is worthwhile in society. Yet, the women in the movie are capable, creative, determined people with a lifetime of knowledge.
Entry Three: Older Workers in the Job Market
Two articles about older workers in the job market present different views about the situation. A February 2013 article from AARP magazine presents a positive view and advice to people aged 50 and up about how best to tackle the job market. In this article, the writer says, “It’s often hard for employers to replace the wide skill set of an experienced worker with that of a new college graduate with little to no work experience” (Setzfand 2013). This statement makes it sound as if older workers with more experience have a clear advantage over recent college graduates. The article also answers the question of whether not a career change later in life is a good thing to try with the advice that “it may be the smartest course of action if you’re in a dying field” (Setzfand 2013). This situation is easy to imagine, since many people aged 50 and up once held jobs in places such as factories, coal mines, or other industries which are either no longer in demand or manual labor has been replaced by machinery.
The second article discusses the frustrations of older workers who are searching for jobs. This article starts by describing the trials of a man named Ron Pierson who spent over 30 years in the hotel and restaurant industry before losing his job. It has been two years since he lost that job, and despite his attempts, he has been unable to secure employment. Pierson understands the recession plays a part in the difficulty of finding a job, but he also believes that his lengthy job experience is also hurting his ability to find employment. Reasons the article cites for the difficulties older workers face include not having enough knowledge about the latest technology or trends, employers not wanting to spend money training an employee who will retire soon, and employers not wanting to pay the salary worker a more experienced older worker commands (Linn 2010).
That these two articles contrast each other is not surprising. The point of the AARP article was encourage older workers to keep trying and offer advice on positive steps to take when looking for employment. It is a positive article with a valuable message because it doesn’t just discuss the problems of finding work for older people, but also offers sound solutions to combat some of the problems. Interestingly, it does not mention brushing up on technology skills but seems to assume that older workers today probably have those skills, because it mentions a variety of websites to consult as well as social networks like LinkedIn.
While many older workers may need to find work in order to maintain homes, health insurance, and so forth, another issue is the matter of pride and self-worth. As Ron Pierson said about his long and fruitless job search, he not only needs to work in order to support himself and his family, but he also says, “I need it mentally and physically, in that order. I need a challenge. I need to excel. I need to be proud of myself again” (Linn 2010).
After viewing a movie like Strangers in Good Company and seeing the capable ways of the women and reading the two articles on older workers, it seems as if when it comes to aging, society needs to put more thought and effort into finding a place for older workers. A culture that worships youth and appears to prefer getting things cheaply rather than quality is one that will have difficulty appreciating the contributions older people can make to society. The AARP article mentions its awards program for “Best Employers for Workers Over 50” as well as their “Work Reimagined” program via LinkedIn where over 160 employers pledged that they value older workers and are ready to hire them (Setzfand 2013). This is a very positive step and a growing need for the increasing aging population of the world; however, in order to make things really work, this type of cause and attitude need to be adopted by more than just AARP and similar groups.
Entry Four: Caregiver Stress
As the average age of the population of the nation increases, the problem of caregiver stress will also increase. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines a caregiver as “anyone who provides help to another person in need,” most commonly an adult child caring for an elderly parent (2008). According to the Caregiver Stress Fact Sheet, typical feelings of stress come from dealing with difficult symptoms of dementia, feelings of guilt because the caregiver believes she is not doing a good enough job, feelings of loneliness due to decreased time for a social life, and exhaustion from time and effort spend caregiving. The fact sheet offers many suggestions about how to deal with the stress, including asking for and accepting help, being able to say no to things like hosting holiday events, setting realistic goals, reaching out to community resources, taking a break from caregiving, how to pay for costs relating to caregiving, and more (HHS 2008).
While these issues are very important and the suggestions are apt, after talking to a woman who is a caregiver for her elderly mother, another stress factor is important to bring up that the fact sheet did not raise. For her, the most difficult and stressful aspect of being a caregiver was learning to maneuver and navigate the health care system. In her experience, it is of the utmost importance for a patient to have an advocate to deal with the health care system, and she felt this was her primary role. Doctors do not always have the time to spend with the patient or advocate for the patient, therefore this role falls to the caregiver. As an example, she discussed one of her mother’s hospitalizations in which her mother could not form coherent sentences or take care of basic needs like going to the bathroom. The doctors did not see a problem because they assumed that was just the way her mother was because she was old. However, it turns out that the real problem was her mother was having a bad reaction to a particular medication she was prescribed. If the woman had not been there as a caregiver, keeping a daily journal of medicines, procedures, symptoms, and so forth, her mother could have continued to deteriorate or even die because of receiving incorrect medical care. Dealing with doctors who were not always agreeable to the input of non-medical staff was also stressful.
In addition, another issue she had to deal with that is not mentioned in the fact sheet is the stress of having to deal with helping her mother make a change in living conditions. This began when her mother was still able to live at home, but required a visiting nurse (VN) to come in and assist her. It was again an issue when her mother could no longer live at home but needed to be moved to a nursing home because she needed full time supervision and care. It was very difficult to get her mother to accept help because in her mother’s generation, they value independence above all else. Finally, a larger issue for this caretaker is that she often had to help from a distance. In order to ensure her mother received good care, keeping in contact with family, friends, doctors, the VN, other health care professionals, making arrangements for transportation to doctors, and so on was very stressful when she could not be there herself. As a result, the woman has made detailed plans and directions concerning herself for her future caretakers so that some of the issues that caused stress for her can be alleviated for those who care for her in the future.
Entry Five: On Television
The television show Golden Girls is a sitcom that depicts the lives of four older women, all of whom are either divorced or widowed, and now live together as roommates in Miami, Florida (IMDb n.d.). Although I had never seen the show before, I had heard positive things about it and its actresses. The episode watched is titled Flu Attack, a story in which three of the women have the flu all at the same time.
The plot of the episode is simple. There is an awards banquet coming up, and the three women who come down with the flu each believe that she deserves to win the award. They are very competitive and cranky with each other as they try to recover enough from their illness to attend the banquet. It is the eldest them, Sophia Petrillo, who does not come down with the flu and has the best-looking date to the banquet that ends up winning the award.
Several issues regarding aging were themes in the show. Perhaps it was because the episode was filmed in 1986, but one of the women was very surprised at being treated by a female doctor. When Dorothy is being fitted for her banquet gown, Sophia accuses her of slouching because she has never gotten over teasing she experienced in fourth grade. Although it is a comic moment, it is a reminder that things that happen to people even in early childhood may have a strong effect on feelings and actions even when much older. The difficulty of finding a date is highlighted when the women discover by a mishap that Blanche was unable to find a date to the banquet. Although she seems very confident about her looks, perhaps physical appearance is a stumbling block for her, like it was for Beth in the movie Strangers in Good Company. Beth was so worried about her appearance as she aged that it often stopped her from doing things she wanted to do; perhaps there is a similar issue for Blanche.
Overall, this episode of the television show Golden Girls did not present any deep issues regarding aging. It is a sitcom designed to entertain and amuse, not provide a serious analysis of aging issues. It is impossible to know from a single episode whether all of the episodes have such a light, frothy view of aging, and more episodes would have to be watched to see if there are any deeper themes or plotlines that regard aging. However, it does present its elderly characters as funny and interesting people full of personality and interests, a very positive characterization of aging.
Entry Five: Advertisements
Advertisements dealing with aging are common on television and magazines. The target audience can be of any age, although some are more specifically aimed at the elderly. The first example is an advertisement from Allure magazine for Olay Total Effects skin cream (2012). The ad depicts actress Thandie Newton, who is about 40 years old, holding the product, and her quote, “Makeup artists use a lot of products to make my skin look its best on set. But at home, I use one easy step” (Olay 2012). Other texts emphasize that this cream is designed to be anti-aging. Judging by the overall content of Allure magazine, the target audience is women aged between 18 to 40 years old. Although men also worry about the effects of aging on their looks, from this advertisement in Allure, it is obvious that skin care product companies want women to become worried about the effects of aging from a very young age. When searching for information about Oil of Olay, I found a quote from a woman named Mehta who said, “When I was 4, I saw a commercial for Oil of Olay and asked my mother to buy it, because I wanted to look younger. When she asked me how much younger I wanted to look, I say, ‘Oh, two?’” The awareness of the need to look younger and prevent aging starts at a very early age.
Other advertisements, such as one for Life Alert featured in the February/March 2013 issue of AARP magazine are specifically targeted at an elderly audience or perhaps the caretakers of the elderly (p. 71). The advertisement features a man receiving medical care with the words “Only Life Alert Saves a Life from a catastrophe Every 11 Minutes!” (AARP 2013, p. 72). Other texts informs about the variety of emergencies Life Alert can help with. This full-page advertisement has very large print, especially the 800 telephone number to call for more information, which could help those who have difficulty reading small print to be able to understand the advertisement. This ad is simple but effective. Independence is a big issue for many elderly people, so if this ad makes it appear as if this is something the user chooses to do as part of taking control of his or her own life, it will be more appealing. Older people who live alone have many worries, and this product seeks to find a solution to help the elderly worry less and to get help if an emergency does occur.
A third ad from the March 2013 issue of Money magazine is for a service, Seniors Helping Seniors. According to this advertisement, participants can “receive substantial financial and emotional rewards” by assisting senior citizens in living in their own homes “by matching them with other loving, caring, compassionate seniors,” by helping seniors with non-medical tasks like shopping, housekeeping, and companionship, and more (Money 2013, p. 39). This advertisement’s target is senior citizens who are able and fit enough to help other seniors with tasks they may no longer be able to do. In comparison to the Life Alert ad, the print is much smaller, so it could be hard for some seniors to read. Also, the only contact information provided are email and web addresses, so the ad appears to be limited to seniors who have Internet access.