Lying about birthdays is for sissies

August 2016

Birthdays usually remind us to take our aging seriously. I just reached 68. While it is now often said that 70 is the new 50, 50 is the new 30, silver is the new blond, etc., the dominant US culture often marginalizes people as we age, particularly women.

Ashton Applewhite, in her new book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, points out that “You look great for your age.” is an insult. Any of us can look great at any age. Rather than being mean, biased, ageist, and insulting, just say, “You look great.”

So much of what Applewhite says is so well put, that rather than quote her extensively, I urge you to get her book.

An insight that I received about aging at the beginning of my gerontological career is that there is a point in our lives where we feel like ourselves, regardless of age. Our identity stays steady over the decades. Revered gerontological social worker Wendy Lustbader wrote a poignant tale about a 90-something woman in her book, Counting on Kindness.

When the woman agreed to let Wendy visit and be her social worker, the woman held up a photograph, perhaps a prom picture, of a lovely young woman in a gorgeous red dress. She said something like “I want you to remember that this is who I am.” The next time Wendy visited, she looked deeply at the woman and remembered her in the red dress. The woman sensed it immediately and said, “You know who I am.” I am paraphrasing, but the scenario has stayed with me over the years.

Often staff in health care settings, retirement communities, and especially nursing homes see a frail, compromised elderly person who may have trouble communicating. It can be so hard to learn who the person really is. Staff are often rushed and it can be emotionally exhausting to recognize every single person for who he or she is. But it’s crucial to good care and good relationships. In fact many experts posit that good relationships are the key to good care.

Some gems from another of Lustbaders’ books, What’s Worth Knowing:

  • “A good listener is someone who’s not talking.” Harold Jones, age 76.
  • “Retirement is a ridiculous idea.” Ben Rail, age 92.
  • “When in doubt, try the truth.” Martha Eastman, age 80.
  • “Don’t hide your age.” Henry Horton, age 90.
  • “All that matters in the end is that you are loved.” Edna Whitman Chittick, age 101.
  • “Doing good gets you out of bed in the morning.” Grace Stanchfield, age 96. I had the great fortune to get to know Grace well. She lived in an assisted living community where I took a group of UW Medical School graduate students every year. She was always ready to help, to interact with students, or to do any kindness.

My latest book is available at Silverdale Barnes and Noble

While I prefer to support independent booksellers, I also endorse every type of brick and mortar bookstore. It’s important to me to buy a real book in a real store. Even though I do have stock in Amazon. It’s generous of a big chain to carry a small local book, so please do stop in the Silverdale Barnes and Noble. Also, request Ashton Appleton’s new book: This Chair Rocks. She’s awesome!

It takes a village,

    How can a community best support aging in place and why should we? The why is easy: few people want to spend the last year of their life in a nursing home. Not only that, but as the boomers age, the economy won’t be able to support a huge increase in the long-term care population, whether publicly funded or private pay. The costs are gigantic.

   According to the 2010 US Census, those in the age group of 85 to 94 are the fastest growing age group in the US. That age group is the most likely to need long-term care.

   Several concepts can maximize options for aging in place. One is the village concept. Check out . If you are on or near Bainbridge Island, you might want to look at . Portland, Oregon has 9 villages; Seattle has 3.

   Another aspect of aging well and aging in place is understanding ageism. Don’t miss Ashton Applewhite in Seattle Sept. 18. 2016, at Cornish Playhouse in Seattle. I can hardly wait to get my copy of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

   Negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and older people are a huge barrier. Even older people themselves sometimes assume that they will decline dramatically both physically and mentally. While we do experience challenges in old age, exercise, engagement, and education can mitigate the changes. Don’t let negative assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies!


Not-so-shocking news

NY Times today covered a new retirement community specifically for those of Indian-American origin (as in from India).

Culturally-specific and age-segregated communities have been around for decades, although this appears to be the first for Indian-Americans. These communities can be a nice fit for those who prefer them and can afford the price.

On Loc in San Francisco in the 60s was one of the first programs. Young activists were horrified to see the single men who had come west without families, to build the railways and the shipping industries, being forced into nursing homes. Through grassroots organizing they created the first comprehensive eldercare community, and while not always as culturally specific, there are similar models nationwide.

I spoke recently at Nikkei Horizons in Seattle, predominantly Japanese, but inclusive of many ethnicities. The food was outstanding!

Seattle also has a Norse Home, a German Home, a predominantly African American home, a kosher/orthodox retirement community, a Spanish-speaking nursing home and health care organization, and one that is Chinese. California has some highly regarded retirement communities for musicians, actors, and those in the film industry. And of course there are those that are specifically GLBT.

My county, Kitsap, has a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that is clearly white, rich, and Christian. They don’t even allow wine at meals!

I advocate ‘finding your best fit’, which for my partner and me is clearly age-integrated, multi-ethnic, and at least somewhat affordable. The important criteria for us is to be in an accessible home where we can walk to the store, clinic, dentist, restaurants, pub, and 3 museums. Plus we are close to health care, friends, and family.

My community is currently organizing BI Village, where I hope services such as home care can be negotiated with great economy of scale and reliability. If you want to come to a living room talk, call me at 206-755-8461.

Upcoming Talks

Bainbridge Island Library, March 26, 3 pm, “7 Actions to Take to Stay out of a Nursing Home”

“End-of-life Issues”, BI Senior and Community Center, Sat. April 16, call 842-1616 for more information

Bremerton at “The Pearl” April 2 10 am, “7 Actions to Take to Stay out of a Nursing Home”

my email is

Inherent ageism

One of my (several) angry rants is about people of all ages who refer to “us” and “them”—them being older people. Excuse me but all of us are “we”. Old people are not a separate species. Humans of all ages have huge variability and when one assumes that people over 65, or whichever milepost you choose, have commonalities, you are bound to be wrong.

In fact, the longer we live, the greater the variability. Babies have age-specific markers. It is somewhat predictable at what age babies begin to walk and talk. But the longer a human lives, the greater the variability. Even by the teen years, people are more unpredictable. Any time one generalizes about all old people, one is bound to be wrong.

This “us” and “them” is particularly obnoxious in people working with older people. Just as racism and sexism foster unfair stereotypes and injustices, ageism does too.

Over the river and through the woods

I love it when the fact that most extended families live in close geographic proximity makes front-page news! According to the December 24, 2015 New York Times, “Over all, the median distance Americans live from their mother is 18 miles.”

Gerontologists have known for decades that the primary caregivers of frail older adults are family members. It turns out that a great many grandparents care for grandchildren as well. Even though the perception is that boomers neglect their aging parents, and millennials pay for childcare, in fact we are a tightly-knit nation of multi-generational familial caregivers.

Should you buy long-term care insurance?

When I give my talk, “7 Actions You Can Take to Stay Out of a Nursing Home”, people often ask about long-term care insurance. This insurance might be a prudent investment, unless you are in one of two income categories.

If you have few assets and would easily qualify for Medicaid, then check with a lawyer who can advise you specifically about spending down if you need to qualify for Medicaid. It will pay for skilled care (most residents of nursing homes are on Medicaid), but will limit your choices on where you go to live, often for the rest of your life.

According to the AARP in 2015, people with sufficient resources to pay $100,000 a year for extended long-term care, can afford to self-pay. Having enough money to fund your own long-term care will give you more options such as home care, high-end assisted living, and some of the more elegant nursing homes, which do not accept Medicaid.

I’m going to include this information in the 3rd edition of my book, to be published soon. Please email me at if this is not clear. It’s complicated!

Is it weird to google yourself?

I was honored when a dear friend recently bought 3 copies of To Move or To Stay Put to give as holiday presents. Thank you! I was even more pleased when she asked me to sign them. Thank you a hundred times, Roxanne!

This slender book mails for only $2.72 and is a nice gift for those adult children telling mom or dad, “You ought to move.” As I often point out, a major predictor of people who perceive a high quality of life in old age is how they answer the question, “Who decided you were going to live here?” Of course those who answer, “I did” are the happiest.” If you want your offspring to understand this, give them the book!

This brings me to my question, “Is it weird to google yourself?” I wanted to see what pops up when I google my book. Naturally, for better or for worse, Amazon is at the top. They spend the big bucks and make the big bucks. And I was absolutely delighted to see favorable reviews. I hope you consider adding yours—but only if you write from your heart, please.

I wrote this book for one reason only—to get into print what I’ve learned in 30 years working with older people and does not pop up in other books. I’ve now broken even in terms of cost (my labor being free) and must decide whether to do a third edition. Please let me know what YOU think.