Why Ageism Deserves Respect

by Alice Fisher, M.S.W.
May 1, 2017

Ageism: It’s as systemic as racism. It’s as insulting as ableism. It’s as hurtful as homophobia. It’s everywhere like sexism. It marginalizes. It stereotypes. It stigmatizes. It makes older people invisible. It discounts a life of experience and wisdom. It prevents people from living a whole full life. It kills. Yet, because of a lack of awareness, ageism does not get the respect it deserves, unlike racism and antisemitism, homophobia, et. al

It has been documented by many researchers, including Becca Levy of Yale, that ageism when internalized cuts short a person’s lifespan. And, yet ageism is sometimes not even recognized by its victims. When an older adult says, “I, personally, have never encountered ageism,” my usual reply is, “You must be satisfied with the amount of your social security payment.” There is always that moment of “aha” when I say this. Yes, the amount of income we receive from social security has ageism written all over it.

When someone calls you an ageist, are you as upset as when the same person calls you a racist or a sexist? If not, ask yourself why.

  • Ageism is as systemic as racism. Both ageism and racism are built into the fabric of our society, and is expressed by individuals, institutions, and our government. Ageism and Racism have a significant impact both on the individuals who experience it and the wider community. Research shows that there are significant links between experiences of ageism and/or racism and discrimination and poor physical and mental health, reduced productivity and reduced life expectancy.

Further, it is well-recognized that ageism and/or racism presents barriers to social inclusion and economic participation.

  • Ageism is as insulting as ableism. While the country prides itself on its increasing acceptance of traditionally marginalized populations, old people and disabled people continue to be stripped of their voices, and it’s hurting everyone.

“Ableism” refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. Not unlike ageism, ableism targets people with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Similar to ageism, ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities.

  • Ageism is as hurtful as homophobia. Homophobic bullying is behavior or language which makes a person feel unwelcome or marginalized because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Although not referred to as “bullying”, elder abuse also makes a person feel unwelcome and marginalized as the result of ageism. In so many ways, an abused elder, is also a victim of bullying…elder bullying.

Bobbie Sackman testimony at NYC CouncilSome of the more common forms of elder abuse and homophobic bullying include: verbal bullying, indirect bullying by way of social exclusion, and physical bullying. The effects shared by bullied homosexuals and abused old people include; denial of sexual orientation and/or denial of one’s age, low self-esteem, shame, depression, defensiveness, anger and / or bitterness. All of this leads to risk-taking behaviors, including substance abuse, self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.

    • Ageism is everywhere like sexism. You don’t have to look further than the oval office these days to know that sexism is alive and flourishing these days. And, add to that the fiasco at Fox news which seems to be a bastion of sexual harassment. This is just blatant in-your-face sexism. Yet, sexism, just like ageism, is often hidden in plain sight. Although ageism is practiced against men as well as women, for women it looks very different, and it’s found everywhere.
    • Ageism is a women’s Issue. Women are still the majority of caregivers to the elderly, and perhaps this why there is still a deficit in caregiver resources. Think about it. How would the picture change if men were the primary caregivers, both professional and personal? According to Caring Across Generations, more of us are caregivers than ever before. Nationwide, there are more than 41 million family caregivers who are doing the important work of caring for a loved one, often while juggling a full-time job.
    • Ageism is a healthcare issue. In reality, 70 percent of Americans older than age 65 will need some form of long-term care (Kane, 2013). This denial of the need for care is comprehensive public−private partnership in long-term care is to perpetuate ageism—denial of growing old is ageist. . Much of the public policy in our country smacks of ageism. When adequate resources are not allotted to senior services, when social security doesn’t reflect the cost of living, when people are on waiting lists for necessary services like meals-on-wheels or casework, ageism can be found as the root cause for so many of these issues.
    • Ageism is an economic and political issue. Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.
  • Last, but not least, ageism is an inter-generational issue. Young adults who hold ageist views are setting up discrimination against their future selves. We may not all be victims of racism, or sexism, or antisemitism, yet if we are fortunate to live a long life, we will all have the opportunity to be victims of ageism. Because of longevity, it is more a certainty that many of us will need help to sustain ourselves through our later years. Younger generations must be prepared to offer a helping hand to the oldest and most vulnerable among us. To achieve this, we need to build a co-dependent society where we all recognize ourselves in the faces of our fellow human beings.

Let’s give ageism the same respect we give to racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest. Older adults deserve our respect as do the issues that marginalize them.

Demand That Trevor Noah Apologize

Trevor Noah’s recent remarks on the Daily Show segment America’s Xenophobic Grandpa were outrageous and demeaning to older adults everywhere (if you have limited time, start listening at 2:00 of the 8 minute clip).

In keeping with The Radical Age Movement’s mission is to confront and eliminate ageism, we have started an online petition addressed to Trevor and the Daily Show. After listening, if you agree that Trevor’s citing the President’s AGE as the cause of his actions and remarks, along with his use of NEGATIVE STEREOTYPICAL STATEMENTS about old people is disgraceful, please add your name to our petition demanding a retraction and apology for this insensitive segment.

Sign Petition

Looking for Abuela in America

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.
January 6, 2017

My husband and I just spent a marvelous week with our friend of over 30 years, Maria Acosta Castro, and the entire Acosta family in Medellin, Colombia. It was our first time there, and we were thrilled to meet the entire Acosta family, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and great grandchildren, lots of cousins, and, most important, Abuela, Maria’s mom and matriarch of this loving and dedicated family. They are certainly dedicated to each other. Most impressive, however, is their dedication to Abuela (grandmother in Spanish).

Over Christmas weekend, we ate and danced and ate and drank and ate some more. Such a happy family who sincerely enjoy each other’s company and being together. They are not a wealthy family, and yet they are extremely rich in the most important things in life…unqualified love and support. There is no word for ageism in their vocabulary.

During a conversation with Maria’s 30-year-old nephew, Fredy Duque, I mentioned how heartwarming it was to witness everyone’s devotion to his grandmother. “My grandmother is revered,” he told me. “No matter what I am doing in my life, I visit my grandmother every week, sometimes twice, as do most of our family. Her advice is invaluable.”
Maria’s brother explained to me how most of his brothers and sisters live relatively close to Abuela. “It’s how it is here,” he added. “We are all devoted to her.”

Fredy inquired about my own 3 sons and grandchildren. When I told him we have have 4 granddaughters, he asked how often they come to see us. I told him that we see two of them, 11 and 14, once a year, occasionally twice. They live in Chicago, and we go to them…they never come to us. This was completely beyond his comprehension. The others, one in college in Wisconsin and one in high school in DC where they live, we see more often…maybe 4-5 times a year. And, even that was unacceptable to him. “No, no,” he said, shaking his head, “impossible!”

I described our ageist American culture to him, explaining how Ageism is as endemic to our society as is racism, sexism, and all the rest. “Americans worship youth,” I said. “They do not value elders as contributors to our society”, I added; “some even see us as a burden. Many older and elder adults are resigned to the margins of society”. He tried to control the look of anguish on his face. He couldn’t understand. Who can? The Radical Age Movement was just not describable. I was in another world.

I then expressed my concern over our own needs in our old age and if there would be anyone to help us at the end of our lives when we can no longer care for each other or ourselves. “Incredible!” was his response. “That you need to worry about this in your later years is so bad.” I attempted to put this in perspective, explaining how we would survive while many old people who are homeless with no social support systems cannot survive old age with any quality of life, self-worth, or dignity.

Now, as I am flying home to New York City, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of the respect and reverence that this extraordinary older woman receives, and how those high opinions contribute to her marvelous sense of well-being. I can’t help wondering where we, as a society and as individuals, went wrong. I ask myself what happened to Abuela in our American culture? Where is she?

For sure, you can find her here among the immigrant community that has not yet internalized the negative images of the old that we are bombarded with every day. Will they, I wonder, also succumb to the power of our society’s disregard for the oldest among us?

Two incidents come to mind:

  1. My parents spent the last couple of years of their lives at a wonderful facility, The Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York. When we were arranging their accommodations, one of the staff said to us, “You would not believe how many people drop off their parents or other older members of their family, never to be seen again.”

2. I was asked to make a presentation on empowerment to a new women’s group that had been formed at an assistant living facility. I met with a lovely and intelligent group of older women. One issue most of them seemed to have in common was their relationships with their grandchildren. One woman told the group that she hardly knows her grandchildren and how the grandchildren really don’t know her. This sentiment was echoed by the majority of women in the room.

How sad is that!

We have to confront ageism wherever we see it. We will not only be helping ourselves; we will be helping make a better society.

Alice Fisher is Founder and President of the Radical Age Movement

How to Fight the War vs. Old People

by Alice Fisher
January 3, 2017

“Movements are engaged in ‘meaning-work’…the struggle over the production of ideas of meaning…The failure of mass mobilization when structural conditions seem otherwise ripe may be accounted for by the absence of a resonant master frame.”

Reframing Aging: Seeing What You’re Up Against and Finding a Way Forward, Frameworks Institute, April 1, 2015

elderly-peopleOld people have been getting a bad rap for a very long time. And, in case you haven’t noticed, since we have a new president-elect, there is now an out-and-out war against older adults.

I’m not proposing that age prejudice is more devastating than any other prejudice. What I am doing is calling attention to ageism, which is pernicious in our society and yet rarely included when other “isms” are mentioned. Age prejudice is the most widespread prejudice endemic to our culture as it affects every other group-whether a person of color, a woman, or LGBTQ. Why aren’t more people interested in this devastating cultural development? Ageism is a prejudice that is not bound by gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or economic status. If we are lucky to get old, it is a prejudice that everyone will have to confront. There is a saying in the field of aging: “If you are an ageist, you are setting up a prejudice against your own future self.”

As the Radical Age Movement and other organizations are confronting aspects of ageism which include invisibility, marginalization, isolation, and loneliness, we recognize that age prejudice is a poison dart shot into the self-esteem of so many older adults. It is internalized, turned into depression, and leads to an earlier decline. We must work to stop such damage—from others and done to ourselves, for we are now again threatened with Medicare and Social Security insecurity. Those who seek to destroy our benefits are counting on us to withdraw, stay depressed, remain quiet. This cannot happen!

growth-of-older-populationOne of the tools we already have at our disposal is language and how we use it. When, ask yourself, did reverence, respect, and honor disappear from the lexicon of aging? Why do elders around the world express the irrelevance to society they now feel after years of engagement with and contributions to the communities that they live in? When did older adults become geezers, biddies, codgers, and crones, old goats and old bags? Ask yourself why we see these words on birthday cards that are assumed to be funny yet target older adults with insulting humor. Why is the growth of an older population called a “tsunami” instead of a “wave of wisdom and experience”?

Think about how recent movements have resulted in language change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the LGBTQ Movement, among others. Regarding Ageism, The Frameworks Institute describes ageism as being an important concern among professionals that is otherwise absent from thinking among the general public:

“While aging experts are attuned to the myriad ways that older Americans face discrimination in our society, the public is largely not attuned to this factor or to the need to address it via legal and other systemic means.”

Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America Frameworks Institute, 2015

We need to turn to language to create a society that is attuned to the ways that older Americans face discrimination. If we look at language as a symbolic system through which people communicate and through which culture is transmitted, it is not difficult to see how the words mentioned above like geezers, biddies, codgers, and crones, old goats and old bags should not be acceptable to anyone who believes that everyone should be valued throughout the lifespan regardless of age. How can we take the presently pejorative meaning of the word “old” and make it a future positive?

That’s an easy one. What about, however, the word “senior”? As “senior” today is imbued with all of these negative images conferred on older people through our culture, many older adults, particularly leading edge boomers, refuse to be categorized in this way.

In a report on language change by the National Science Foundation, we are told that:

“Languages change for a variety of reasons. Large-scale shifts often occur in response to social, economic and political pressures. History records many examples of language change fueled by invasions, colonization and migration. Even without these kinds of influences, a language can change dramatically if enough users alter the way they speak it.”

At the Radical Age Movement, we believe that longevity and the opening up of a new stage of life along the life-span has fueled the call for language that enhances the concept of ageing to replace the demeaning language that has grown up in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton Applewhite suggests that we substitute “olders” and “elders” to replace the homogenized term “seniors” which lumps all people over 65 into one category. Nobody knows what to call those of us born during and after WWII; we are referred to as “young seniors” or “leading edge boomers” for lack of any other appropriate term that is acceptable to those being described.

So, what can we do to change the language of the current ageing narrative? Again, from the National Science Foundation, “before a language can change, speakers must adopt new words…, spread them through the community, and transmit them to the next generation. In order to do this, we all need to develop critical language awareness.

Here are some questions we could ask ourselves, from The Power of Talk: How Words Change Our Lives, by Briscoe, Arriaza, and Henze:

  • What social relations or social process does this language reflect, reinforce, or reproduce?
  • If I want to change these relations or process, what else besides language needs to change?
  • How can I link language change with broader social change? Or the reverse—How can I link broader social change with ground level changes that might be reflected in language?

We cannot ask others to change their language until we look into our own ageist tendencies and work on changing our own language; and, by doing so, we develop a powerful weapon to fight this war on old people. When you read, hear, or use language that in some way perpetuates or reinforces ageism, cultivate the habit of imagining alternatives. Ask yourself “How could I have said this in another way?”

Today I am inviting all of you to create space for yourselves and others to imagine what a new alternative language of ageing would look like. All suggestions accepted, staring with “I’m proud to be old!”

Alice Fisher is Founder and President of the Radical Age Movement.

A Campaign for Age Justice – 11/14/16 Event


A Campaign for Age Justice
Getting Our Fair Share

Bobbie Sackman, M.S.W.
Director of Public Policy
Live-On NY
How Ageism Affects the NYC Budget

Steve Burghardt, Ph.D.
Professor, Community Organizing
Silberman School of Social Work
CUNY Hunter College
What We Can Do About It

Monday, Nov. 14, 2016
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

For the past 2 years, The Radical Age Movement has been working to promote awareness of the incessant ageism that permeates our society.

We believe that ageism is the root cause of NYC’s older adults not getting their fair share of the NYC budget.

At this presentation and workshop, you will have an opportunity to learn what YOU can do.

Our Campaign for Age Justice is a 5-point plan. You will be able to choose which part of the plan you want to work on and begin working with others who have the same interest.

We are counting on you to help shape actions to address this insidious age prejudice and eliminate its detrimental effects on young and old alike.

How Technology Promotes Ageism – 9/20/16 Event

How Technology Promotes Ageism
and What You Can Do to Fight Back

Thomas Kamber, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Older Adults Technology Services
Senior Planet

Learn More About “Techno-Ageism”
and the Ways the Digital World is Failing Seniors

Tue, Sep. 20, 2016
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

NY Society for Ethical Culture
2 West 64th Street @ Central Park West
New York, NY

Tom Kamber is an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator and activist who has created new initiatives in aging, technology, affordable housing and the arts. As founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), Tom has helped over 30,000 seniors get online and created the country’s first technology-themed community center for older adults, Senior Planet.

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

(This article, authored by our Steering Committee member Ashton Applewhite, appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 3, 2016.)

It might not seem that Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump have much in common. But they share something important with each other and with a whole lot of their fellow citizens. Both are job seekers. And at ages 68 and 70, respectively, they’re part of a large group of Americans who are radically upending the concept of retirement.

In 2016, almost 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are working. Some of them want to; many need to. The demise of traditional pensions means that many people have to keep earning in their 60s and 70s to maintain a decent standard of living.

These older people represent a vast well of productive and creative potential. Veteran workers can bring deep knowledge to the table, as well as well-honed interpersonal skills, better judgment than the less experienced and a more balanced perspective. They embody a natural resource that’s increasing: the social capital of millions of healthy, educated adults.

Why, then, are well over a million and a half Americans over 50, people with decades of life ahead of them, unable to find work? The underlying reason isn’t personal, it’s structural. It’s the result of a network of attitudes and institutional practices that we can no longer ignore.

The problem is ageism — discrimination on the basis of age. A dumb and destructive obsession with youth so extreme that experience has become a liability. In Silicon Valley, engineers are getting Botox and hair transplants before interviews — and these are skilled, educated, white guys in their 20s, so imagine the effect further down the food chain.

Age discrimination in employment is illegal, but two-thirds of older job seekers report encountering it. At 64, I’m fortunate not to have been one of them, as I work at the American Museum of Natural History, a truly all-age-friendly employer.

I write about ageism, though, so I hear stories all the time. The 51-year-old Uber driver taking me to Los Angeles International Airport at dawn a few weeks ago told me about a marketing position he thought he was eminently qualified for. He did his homework and nailed the interview. On his way out of the building he overheard, “Yeah, he’s perfect, but he’s too old.”

I’m lucky enough to get my tech support from JK Scheinberg, the engineer at Apple who led the effort that moved the Mac to Intel processors. A little restless after retiring in 2008, at 54, he figured he’d be a great fit for a position at an Apple store Genius Bar, despite being twice as old as anyone else at the group interview. “On the way out, all three of the interviewers singled me out and said, ‘We’ll be in touch,’ ” he said. “I never heard back.”

Recruiters say people with more than three years of work experience need not apply. Ads call for “digital natives,” as if playing video games as a kid is proof of competence. Résumés go unread, as Christina Economos, a science educator with more than 40 years of experience developing curriculum, has learned. “I don’t even get a reply — or they just say, ‘We’ve found someone more suited,’ ” she said. “I feel that my experience, skill set, work ethic, are being dismissed just because of my age. It’s really a blow, since I still feel like a vital human being.”

A 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “robust” evidence that age discrimination in the workplace starts earlier for women and never relents. The pay gap kicks in early, at age 32, when women start getting passed over for promotion.

Discouraged and diminished, many older Americans stop looking for work entirely. They become economically dependent, contributing to the misperception that older people are a burden to society, but it’s not by choice. How are older people supposed to remain self-sufficient if they’re forced out of the job market?

Not one negative stereotype about older workers holds up under scrutiny. Abundant data show that they’re reliable, handle stress well, master new skills and are the most engaged of all workers when offered the chance to grow and advance on the job. Older people might take longer to accomplish a given task, but they make fewer mistakes. They take longer to recover from injury but hurt themselves less often. It’s a wash. Motivation and effort affect output far more than age does.

Age prejudice — assuming that someone is too old or too young to handle a task or take on a responsibility — cramps prospects for everyone, old or young. Millennials, who are criticized for having “no work ethic” and “needing to have their hands held,” have trouble getting a foothold in the job market. Unless we tackle age bias, they too are likely to become less employable through no fault of their own, and sooner than they might think. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act kicks in at 40.

The myth that older workers crowd out younger ones is called the “lump of labor” fallacy, and economists have debunked it countless times. When jobs are scarce, this is true in the narrowest sense, but that’s a labor market problem, not a too-many-old-people problem.

A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts study of employment rates over the last 40 years found rates for younger and older workers to be positively correlated. In other words, as more older workers stayed on the job, the employment rate and number of hours worked also improved for younger people.

Progressive companies know the benefits of workplace diversity. A friend in work force policy calls this the “shoe test”: look under the table, and if everyone’s wearing the same kind of shoes, whether wingtips or flip-flops, you’ve got a problem. It’s blindingly obvious that age belongs alongside race, gender, ability and sexual orientation as a criterion for diversity — not only because it’s the ethical path but also because age discrimination hurts productivity and profits.

Being part of a mixed-age team can be challenging. Betsy Martens was 55 when she landed a job as an information architect at a start-up during the heady days of the tech boom. Decades older than most of the staff, she found it invigorating. “When it came time to talk about the music we loved, the books we’d read, the movies we saw and the life experiences we’d had, we were on different planets, but we were all open-minded enough to find these differences intriguing,” she told me. Things shifted during an argument with her boss, “when he said exasperatedly, ‘You sound just like my mother.’ That was the moment the pin pricked the balloon.”

“Culture fit” gets bandied about in this context — the idea that people in an organization should share attitudes, backgrounds and working styles. That can mean rejecting people who “aren’t like us.” Age, however, is a far less reliable indicator of shared values or interests than class, gender, race or income level. Discomfort at reaching across an age gap is one of the sorry consequences of living in a profoundly age-segregated society. The Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer says that Americans are more likely to have a friend of a different race than one who is 10 years older or younger than they are.

Age segregation impoverishes us, because it cuts us off from most of humanity and because the exchange of skills and stories across generations is the natural order of things. In the United States, ageism has subverted it.

What is achieving age diversity going to take? Nothing less than a mass movement like the women’s movement, which made people aware that “personal problems” — like being perceived as incompetent, or being paid less, or getting passed over for promotion — were actually widely shared political problems that required collective action.

The critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudice: internalized bias like “I’m too old for that job,” and that directed at others, like “It’s going to take me forever to bring that old guy up to speed.” Confronting ageism means making friends of all ages. It means pointing out bias when you encounter it (when everyone at a meeting is the same age, for example).

Confronting ageism means joining forces. It means seeing older people not as alien and “other,” but as us — future us, that is.

(For more on this topic, read Ashton’s book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism)

To Confront Elder Abuse, We Have to Confront Ageism

How can a grandson plot to steal the last of grandma’s savings? How can a daughter leave her frail mother tied to the bed while she is at work all day? How can neighbors say and do nothing when they notice the bruises on Mrs. Schwartz’ arms? How can friends not investigate when Sally hasn’t shown up for lunch at the senior center for over a week now? It all sounds so unconscionable, and yet it happens far too frequently. What, one has to wonder, allows someone to perform these atrocious acts? After all, these are not strangers; they are family and friends.

The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) announced today that the agency will launch a city-wide campaign to raise awareness about elder abuse – a form of abuse that involves victimization of an older person by a loved one – and to encourage all New Yorkers to report suspected abuse to 311.  This is a great step towards confronting one of society’s greatest moral crimes. However, we cannot confront elder abuse without also confronting age discrimination.

Ageism and Elder AbuseJust as racism is the underlying systemic cause of the injustices suffered by people of color, and just as sexism is the underlying systemic cause of the injustices suffered by women (rape is a big one here), ageism is one of the main underlying causes of elder abuse. Elder abuse is made easier when we look at the old people in our society as being “other” than us. After all, if they are not us, it is easier to allow ourselves to be blind to the humanity of the oldest and most vulnerable among us.

Ageism may not be the sole cause of elder abuse, but it sure does make elder abuse easier to justify Living in an age segregated society that worships youth, it is not that difficult to make the connection between ageism and elder abuse. After all, if old people are not considered part of our world of humanity, they are dehumanized. “Why do they have to use the subway when they are so slow climbing the stairs; don’t they have any consideration for the rest of us?” “They are such a burden on society.” “Why would grandma need her money anyway? She’s only going to die soon, so we may as well put that money to use now. Why wait?

We are all aging from the moment we are born, and we seem to accept this reality until we become old ourselves. Once someone is classified as old, they are no longer like us. After all, we are young; they are old. They are no longer relevant to our ever-growing and changing society. They are finished contributing to our culture; they are now living off our culture. All they do is take while the rest of us are constantly giving. But, what can an old person really give to a society, especially when they stop adding to our gross national profit? (Which they really never do as long as we understand healthcare is a commodity.)

I also suggest that as families live further and further apart, the young are not always privileged to have the first-hand experience seeing the aging process at work. When the call comes that grandpa, who lives 500 miles away, fell and broke his hip, we are surprised. Our mind’s picture of grandpa is of the strong athletic old guy who taught us how to throw a ball when we were 7 years old. We haven’t allowed ourselves to see him as he really is, no different than the ancient old man who lives upstairs from us who can’t take care of himself. We would really rather not think of OUR grandfather or father as being one of them…those old people. Once grandma and grandpa, or mom and dad for that matter, show signs of ageing, we’re outta’ there. It’s too frightening for us to identify with these old people. “I’m never going to be like that!” Yet, if we are lucky, we will all be as old as grandpa some day.

Why is it necessary to address ageism while we fight elder abuse? Here’s a story that best illustrates the answer.


Once upon a time there was a small village on the edge of a river. The people there were good and life in the village was good.

One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. The villager quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The people of the village gathered around. The cleaned and fed the baby and made him a cradle so she would be comfortable.

The next day this same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help, and both babies were rescued from the swift waters. Again the villagers gathered around. They cleaned and fed these 2 new babies and made them cradles so they would be warm and comfortable.

The following day four babies were seen caught in the turbulent current. And then eight, then more, and still more!

The villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could resist the swift waters and rescue babies. Rescue squads were soon working 24 hours a day. And each day the number of helpless babies floating down the river increased. The villagers organized themselves efficiently. The rescue squads were now rescuing many children each day. The villagers felt very proud of what they were doing to save the lives of all the babies floating down the river. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their good work. And life in the village continued on that basis.

The entire village was now dedicated to saving the babies.

One day, the leader of the village suggested that perhaps they should go up river to see where the babies were coming from. “How can we do that?”, cried the villagers, for now there was not one person in the village who was not involved with rescuing and caring for the babies. “If we don’t find out why the babies are floating down the river, we will soon become unable to rescue all the babies, and some of them will surely drown.”

The villagers realized that their leader was right. And, so, they took one villager from each team of baby rescuers to organize an expedition upstream to find out where the babies were coming from.

This is what organizing and social action is about…Not only to provide hands on help to those in need, but to find out what the systemic cause of the problem is. The Radical Age Movement believes that AGEISM is a major root cause of the elder abuse that so many older adults in our communities are faced with. If we really want to ameliorate elder abuse, it is our job to go “up the river” and eliminate the excessive ageism that is endemic to our culture.

Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.
April 22, 2016

When Did I Get Old: A Conversation Between 2 Friends

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.                                                                                           February 1, 2016

Women relaxing with coffee Source: 86489260

”Do you really want to know what’s bothering me?” “When,” asks my friend Karen, “did I become old?”

I am so taken aback that this question would come from my 70 year old creative, caring, smart, attractive, and always busy friend who always looks so stylish.

We are both 70 years old.  At first I’m not sure if this is a real question or just a rhetorical point that Karen is about to make.  I wonder if she really wants an answer.  I reply, “Well, for one thing, we are old.”  “I know that,” Karen responded. “Yet, up until recently I didn’t feel old, and now I do.”  “When did this happen?”  In the silence following Karen’s remark, I can tell that she is serious and is really looking for an answer.

“What are we talking about here, Karen?” I ask.  “I’m not sure,” she replies.  “It seems that wherever I go, I’m the old lady in the room.  If I go to the gym, everyone looks 30 to me.  When I show up for an appointment, I can just tell that they expected a younger person.  I fear every single day that I will lose my job.   And, when I’m doing something that requires the least amount of physical agility, there is always someone who wants to help me even though I’m capable of doing it myself.  The only good I can see in ageing is that I no longer have a problem getting a seat on the subway. There is always some younger person who offers me her seat.  Just the other day I asked my son to show me how to do something on my computer.  His response to me was, “Here, mom, let me do it for you.  It’s really difficult to learn these things at your age.”  “He made me so angry!”

It’s Karen’s environment that is making her feel old.  Karen, just like the rest of us, is internalizing the messages that are being projected onto her by the society we live in.  Let’s face it.  It’s the actions of others and the messages we see in the media that often make us feel old.  And, in today’s society this is not difficult to imagine.  Just the word “old” is loaded with covert meanings.  Let’s be real here. In our post modern culture, young equals good, while old equals bad.  And, yet, everyone wants to live to be very old.  “It’s a great blessing to be granted the status of being old”, I say.  “Sure,” says Karen, “as long as your hair isn’t grey.  What do you think?  Should I dye it?”

Age discrimination can be dangerous.  Every day our youth-centric culture bombards us with messages that tell us we can look ‘better’, which is covert language for ‘younger’. Do we really believe these ad headlines:  “How Science Can Make 60 Feel Like 40” or “Wrinkles Amazingly Disappear Overnight”?  Somebody does because these ads run over and over again, and the manufacturers and distributors are laughing all the way to the bank.  What is at stake here are feelings of irrelevancy and marginalization.  No wonder so many people, both women and men, are buying into cosmetic surgery.  This is not vanity.  It is an attempt to stay relevant.

We are segregated.  We are marginalized.  We are oppressed.  And all this can easily become internalized as feelings of worthlessness.  Becca Levy, Ph.D., a psychologist and doctor at Yale University, has done quite a bit of research in this area.  Her results demonstrate that older people who are subject to negative stereotypes of ‘old’ are not only mentally but also physically less resilient than those who see ‘old’ as a positive stage of life.  Older people who internalize the negative stereotypes are more likely to shorten their life span.

This is an ongoing conversation between me and Karen.  I’m interested in asking my friend what ‘old’ feels like to her.  As Ashton Applewhite writes in her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, “the question is not how old we feel but how we feel about ‘old’ –or about not just being young anymore.”

Stay tuned for Part II.





Ageism in Medicine – 1/20/16 Event

Ageism in Medicine

Wed, Jan. 20, 2016
6:30 pm – 8 pm
Senior Planet Exploration Center
127 W 25 St (bet. 6th & 7th Ave)
New York, NY
Did you know that…

Ageism in Medicine 1-20-16Older people are often treated with less urgency than younger patients?  This “ageist” attitude is being recognized as a form of discrimination similar to sexism and racism.

On Jan. 20, 2016, we learned about Ageism in Medicine from Dr. Ronald Adelman, Medical Director, Irving Wright Center for Aging and Co-Chief of the Division of Geriatrics Medicine and Gerontology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

This event was co-sponsored by the Radical Age Movement and Senior Planet.

How Ageism Robs Us Of Our Dignity – 12/14/15 Event

The Dance of Marginality
How Ageism Robs Us Of Our Dignity

Mon, Dec. 14, 2015
6:45 PM – 7:45 PM

Activist and esteemed speaker Alice Fisher led a wonderful talk about ways to challenge and defeat ageism in and out of our communities.

Alice Fisher, MSW, is the founder of the Radical Age Movement, dedicated to confronting and eradicating age discrimination and its impact on older adults.

SAGE logo
Event location:
SAGE Center Midtown
305 Seventh Avenue (near W 27 St.)
15th Floor
Great Room A
New York, NY 10001


At the End of Life So Many Questions


At the End of Life: So Many Questions
by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W
November 1, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the front page story in the Sunday NY Times was about George Bell who was found dead in his apartment after the many days that he lay there alone. He was a hoarder and was found decomposing among his many possessions and in filth.

The horror of the situation is experienced from a distance for most of us. Surely that could never happen to anyone in MY family. And, yet, it did.

My 92 year old mother-in-law had been living independently in Florida, and for the past couple of years her advancing frailty became increasingly noticeable to us. The last time we visited we implored her to think about moving up to New York where most of her family is located. Met with her usual fierce resistance, we let it go one more time.

A couple of weeks ago we received a call from mom. She had fallen in her own home and lay on the floor for hours before anyone found her. Ironically, she was found by a messenger delivering a walker she had ordered. As a result of the fall, she had ripped the very thin layer of skin that covered her legs. There was a lot of blood, and in his wisdom the messenger called for an ambulance. When the hospital finished checking her out and bandaged her legs, they told her she could go home. She asked them to call her neighbor who picked her up and brought her home. Having had no response when this neighbor asked her to phone us in the past, this time her neighbor insisted that mom call us in her presence.

Mom had no advocate at the hospital, which I assume is the reason they took no tests and no notice of her deteriorating condition…not even a call to her doctor. There was no follow up and no instructions about how to care for her wounds, which I subsequently discovered had to be redressed daily. There were no arrangements made for a visiting nurse to attend to this, although it had to be obvious that this was not something she could do on her own.

I was soon to find out that this was just one of many times she had fallen in the past months. Each time her neighbor implored her to call her children, and each time mom promised she would. When she would see her neighbor, mom would assure her that she had phoned her sons. She never called us. And when we called her, she told us that everything was good. Between her children, grandchildren, and great grand children, she received calls almost daily. None of us suspected that anything was wrong. She never asked for help.

This day, however, her astute neighbor gave her no choice but to make that call. As mom began relating the story, still insisting that she was okay, we noticed instantly that her speech was slurred. On arrival at her home the next evening, the front door was unlocked, which was completely out of character, and I was instantly assaulted by the odor of urine and feces the moment I stepped into the entryway.

To my complete shock, I found a wasted away 85 pound person sitting in filth in a filthy house. She bore only a slight resemblance to the woman I’ve known for over 50 years. Under normal circumstances, she would have been mortified to be found in this condition. She was coherent but foggy, and she could not remember much of how she got this way. She just wanted to be left alone to sleep.

Of all the possible scenarios the family talked about before I left, this was not one we expected to find. I knew instantly that I had to get her back to New York with me. I told her that my mission was to take her home to her family. Her immediate response was, “No you’re not!” She could no longer walk unaided; and even with the walker it was most difficult. There was not enough strength in her arms to enable her to pull herself up to use the walker. She could no longer bathe or toilet herself. Wearing pull up diapers, the effort to get to the bathroom was too much for her, so she just sat in the same diaper all day.

How can this have happened? She could not have found herself in this condition overnight. Where were her neighbors? Where were her friends? (Her closest friend said to me, “I’ve suggested many times that she get a walker, and your mother-in-law’s response was ‘Don’t EVER say that word to me again!’”) Where was her doctor who she had seen only a week earlier? (He told her that her feet and hands were swollen because she probably had too much salt in her diet and to go home and rest with her feet up.) What about the hospital where she was taken after this last fall?* They took no tests and would not consider admitting her? The biggest question is “Why didn’t she ask for help?”

She was certainly complicit in her own demise, having ignored the advice of friends and neighbors, never asking her family for help, not eating, and accepting diagnoses from incompetent doctors and hospital staff without question. Was her denial so deep, or did she stop eating and not ask for help purposely? I don’t think we will ever know.

What if she never called us? What if the man delivering the walker hadn’t found her? She was so precipitously hanging on to life I have no doubt that if we hadn’t received the phone call and acted so quickly, she would have been found in the same condition as Mr. Bell…D.O.A.

One lesson from this tragic story is that a phone call is not a good enough way to check on an elderly person, particularly when that person is frail.

What about the bigger picture? Why didn’t she ask for help? Why didn’t her friends or neighbors contact us? We are a society that has moved so far toward valuing independence and individuality, we forget or don’t want to admit that nobody gets through life successfully without any help. Add to this the fear of being politically incorrect if we infringe on an individual’s privacy and independence by sending for help, even if it means protecting a life.

Whether help comes from mentors or teachers, from parents, friends, family, or neighbors, or from the government in the form of “entitlements”, everyone needs help at one time or another. And it is not only those who are ill, dying, or living in poverty who need help. Everyone needs help to survive in our society. We cannot all pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We seem to have collective amnesia when it comes to community caring.

The experience of bathing and diapering a frail elderly person, as I had to do for mom, sends a very clear message that a frail elderly person can require no less help than a newborn baby. We accept the premise that newborns need help coming into this world, while we often don’t acknowledge the help many of us need as we near our time to leave this world. I have to question the role of ageism in this distorted view of independence. Why don’t we have any system of national long term care?

Words in our lexicon that have taken on dubious meaning, include; interdependence, help, individuality, interference, old, frail, weak, and even tired. Asking for help needs to be considered a strength, not a weakness. Making it to one’s eighth or ninth decade needs to be considered an achievement, not a failure.

We need to confront age discrimination in all its forms; by the healthcare system, by our legislators, by the work force, by the media, by our own families, as well as the internalized ageism adopted by the elderly members of our society. All of these forms of ageism came into play for my mother-in-law.

Mom is now in New York with her family nearby. After a lengthy hospital stay, she is now in a long term care facility where she is receiving the 24/7 care she needs as she nears the end of her life. The family expects no miracles, we are just happy that she can leave the world with the dignity she deserves.

*Upon my arrival in Florida and with the help of extended family, I did take her back to the same hospital where she was taken when she fell a couple of days earlier. Interestingly, the medical staff now took all kinds of tests, showed us how to re-dress her wounded legs with instructions to perform this task daily. We did not have to ask for the tests or medical attention. They did what they should have done when she was brought in two days earlier. This time mom was not alone. We were there as her advocates and witnesses. I did ask them to admit her…pleaded is a more accurate description. The hospital refused. In New York, not only was she admitted to the hospital, she was found to have a major infection that was spreading throughout her body. It would seem that none of the medical personnel in Florida, not her doctor, nor the hospital staff, deemed this test necessary.


What is The Radical Age Movement?

Multi-ethnic multi-generation group of people from young children to 95 years old.

People are living longer, and yet we as a society don’t know how to make the best use of these extra years.  And, because of our fears and negative stereotypes about ageing, we’re not just ignoring the potential value–we’re often making things worse.

We need new social visions that will inspire and support people to grow and participate actively throughout their entire lives.  No age-segregation or pitting generation against generation–we want a society that works for us all.  We can’t leave it to ‘experts’ to tell us how to age ‘well’ or ‘successfully’ or to an ageing industrial complex that sees older adults as a dependent group or growing market of consumers.

It’s up to us.  It’s time for a Radical Age Movement, a grassroots nationwide effort that challenges traditional notions of ageing and introduces new ideas for building co-creative and interdependent communities.

Working together, we can:

  • Challenge ageism – in ourselves, social practices, policies, and institutions;
  • Create new language and models that embrace the full life journey;
  • Create new paradigms in society so that adults can participate fully consistent with their capabilities and ambitions at all stages of life;
  • Celebrate the contributions of older adults toward innovating, changing and repairing the world;
  • Create a more compassionate and interdependent society that supports the well-being of people of all ages;
  • Inspire and help develop cross-generational communities where people of all ages enjoy the gifts and capacities they have to offer;
  • Bring dying and death out of the closet.

Through conversation, consciousness raising, mainstream and social media, presentations, and social action, The Radical Age Movement seeks to build a movement dedicated to confronting ageism in all its forms whether it be discrimination in the work place or marginalization of older or younger people in decision making and purposeful participation in all aspects of civic and community life.

Ageism and The Dance of Marginality

by Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W.

“I know I’m going to get older. I can handle that.  I even know that I am going to die.  What bothers me the most, though, is the thought of becoming irrelevant.”  This statement was made by a 69 year old man who is a member of my consciousness raising group.

Old people are becoming less and less a minority in our country.  Quite to the contrary; today, approximately 18 per cent of people living in the United States are 60 years old and older. By 2050, people over 60 will make up over 25 per cent of the population…hardly a small minority.  When we marginalize a group of people, we are pushing them to the edge of humanity and according them lesser importance.  Their needs and desires are then ignored.  When ageism is in action, this is exactly what happens.  Ageist language and media portrayals of old people encourage this marginalization.

Ageism can be very subtle, or as one of my colleagues describes it, “slow-drip” oppression.  It creeps up on us, sometimes without our ever knowing we are being oppressed until we find ourselves in the outer margins of society.

Nobody wants to be pushed to the edge of society.  Yet, older adults teeter on this edge…always dancing on the line between inclusion and exclusion.  In today’s society pride in age is hard to find.  It’s no wonder that older people often hide their true age.  Stop for a moment, and ask yourself, “why?”  Many of us tend to think of this practice as vanity, but consider that the true answer may be fear…fear of becoming irrelevant.  So, what do we do?  We drink the “Kool-Aid” dispersed by the media and the anti-aging industry; the message is, If you don’t look young enough, you too will be marginalized.  Not only is the advertising deceptive, it is detrimental to our overall health.

Not wanting to be relegated to the outer margins, we support the anti-ageing industrial complex, spending hard-earned money on anti-aging products, medical and non-medical procedures, and cosmetic or plastic surgery.  When we do this, are we just satisfying our own vanity or are we hoping to buy a few more years of relevancy?  The dance of marginality seems to start younger and younger these days, with people in their forties and some even in their thirties seeking out a magic bullet that will make them seem to appear younger than their true age.  For those of us who are older, however, one day you are a vital contributing member of society and only a few wrinkles later, you are dancing on the margins again, trying to figure out how to get back to the other side before you are turned into a trivial appendage, maybe even a burden, to the current social order.

Ageism in itself can cause a more rapid decline of our physical and mental health as we edge  closer to the end of our lives.  Researchers have proven that older people who are constantly subjected to negative stereotypes of their age cohort often internalize these messages.  As a result of this internalized ageism, their own self esteem is affected; and this leads to both physical and mental health issues.  In addition, recent research has shown that those who accept their age and feel the wonderful combination of beauty and wisdom in their own selves are mentally and physically healthier than those who feel the pressure of having to conceal their true age.  Many of us just keep on dancing.

Who is doing all this dancing?  First and foremost are the “invisibles.”  The “invisibles” are healthy people between the ages of 60 and 80 who are not ready to “retire” in the way that traditional retirement has been socially constructed.  This cohort is the most skillful at the dance of marginality; they get in a lot of rehearsal time.  They know that if they don’t enter the dance contest, they will automatically lose. And, they can lose a lot.  Mostly, they can lose their financial security and, with that, their dignity.

You may have noticed that the age of the traditional concept of old has been pushed back quite a bit, with people living 10, 15, and some even 20 years longer than previous generations. In many ways the invisibles are in the prime of their lives.  Yet, they are constantly maneuvering to remain inclusive members of society. Most catastrophic is the cold shoulder they bear from American workforce.  If they are not still in their career jobs, they find themselves traveling a road that leads them closer and closer to the margins of society.

A lovely 85 year old woman came to visit me in my office one day.  She was carrying a rather large umbrella.  “Is it raining?,” I asked.  “No,” she replied; I just refuse to be seen using a cane.”  Even at 85, she is still dancing.  To appear completely autonomous is her goal.  Afraid to admit that she may need some help, she struggles to keep up the appearance for fear that she will not be perceived as the smart woman she is.  The way our society is constructed, it takes more courage to ask for help than it does to manage on our own regardless of the consequences. It is the American way, to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and rely only on yourself to get where you’re going.   Another octogenarian told me “if I show the slightest sign of  not being able to live independently, my children will whisk me into the nearest assisted living facility.”  She knows this, and so she dare not let her age show.  She, too, keeps on dancing.

Fear seems to be the main reason why so many of us are caught up in this dance of marginality. There are other times and other places where older adults have been embraced by society.  For so many, this is no longer true.  Old people are often segregated, put aside, or discarded completely. They are often treated as if they are diseased. We need to start changing the way we view and interact with the older adults around us. Old age is not contagious.

The ageing process, including the end of life, is part of the course of the lifespan.  Ageing is not a disease to be treated; it is a gift to be accepted.  It is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Older adults should not feel as though they have to “sing for their dinner,” nor should any of us have to “dance for our dignity.”

How I REALLY Feel About Growing Older

by Jane Gross, Author & Journalist

The woman on the standing-room-only bus on Madison Ave. could be 50, 75 or anywhere in between. Likely as not, she colors her hair. If she has a Medicare card it’s tucked safely in her wallet.

She is unburdened by packages, fit, healthy and not leaning on a cane. In other words, she is doing fine, thank you very much, hanging onto the pole.

Then one day, and it seems to happen overnight, other passengers are gallantly urging her to take their seats. The appropriate reaction is appreciation for an all-too-rare random act of kindness. But a large, if unscientific, poll of women of a certain age suggests otherwise.

What we want to do, it shames me to say, is deck this generous stranger. It’s a primal scream of sorts because we aren’t who we used to be and never will be again.

Soon we’ll be a year older, and then another and another on the inexorable march from young to old to dead. If we no longer have a job and want one, our business card may say “consultant,” this generation’s euphemism for unemployed. If we once had a big fancy position and people recognize our names, flattery vies with desolation. In our head, a little voice says, “Yeah, I’m proud. But that was ‘then,’ this is ‘now’ and ‘then’ was better.”

The enormity of the Baby Boom generation, accustomed to setting the agenda, makes the question of “How old is old?” salient to pollsters, marketers and just plain folks. Evidence abounds that “old” is in the eye of the beholder. A recent Marist poll shows that 45-year-olds think 60 is old, while those in their 70s and 80s think it’s young.

A report by the Pew Research Center says that few people use gray hair and retirement as benchmarks of old age, but rather the inability to live independently or drive. (In the lingua franca of gerontology, this is the divide between the young-old and the old-old, a recent distinction.)

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, in a column largely about the $4.6 trillion (cq: T as in trillion) in economic activity generated by those over 50, asks, “Do you become a senior at 50 when you qualify for AARP discounts? Or in your 60s when you begin collecting social security?” This matters to marketers, eager not to insult potential customers and leads to politically-correct language, more patronizing than the words themselves.

And not only patronizing but beside the point. Do 65-year-olds, with a lifetime of wisdom and experience, find involuntary unemployment less troubling if they are called “seniors” or if they are counted among the “gray tsunami?” More likely they fume at being told they are “over-qualified” when they really are too expensive, in salary and especially medical benefits. Where those benefits are concerned the employers are factually correct, although it likely requires fleets of $450-an-hour lawyers to keep them out of court for age discrimination.

Which brings us to how much time so many of us spend at the doctor, although we’re not sick. Cataracts? Everyone loses vision to stiffening lenses at around 60. Slight hearing loss? Yup, and with it the annoying habit of asking “What? What?” more with every passing day. We also go to lots of funerals, the expected ones as our parents die and the tragic ones of our contemporaries. Even an indifferent or secular Jew, like myself, learns to say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, rather than mumble through it.

Maybe we should be grateful for unemployment, since it’s hard to imagine how working people fit this in their schedules, along with other tasks like applying for a senior MetroCard (which requires a passport picture, a notary’s stamp, pages of questions and then often gets lost in the mail) or a STAR property tax discount (paper copy of last year’s tax return with all schedules and attachments, proof of age from a government document and, in cooperative apartments, the number of shares and contact information for the management company).

Then, there’s the galling if well-intended happy talk about re-inventing yourself, usually presented in listicles (yes, we know what those are). Pick a day at random and look at one of the many websites that promise to help you make the most out of life’s second half. The latest to land in my inbox includes “Three Questions to Help You Find Your Purpose” and “Five Ways to Infuse Meaning in Your Second Life.”

Is three better than five or vice versa? Maybe just a sense of humor would do the trick.

Take the ubiquitous experience of walking from one room to another, a few steps away. That’s where you left your glasses, but by the time you get there you can’t remember why you came. Standing befuddled in the doorway, you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?”

It’s an interesting way to frame the question: Both practical and existential. The existential version is laugh-out-loud funny. And while enjoying the joke, the glasses show up on the night table, their appointed place.

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post,

What The Radical Age Movement Is and What It’s Not

My background in community organizing informed the founding The Radical Age Movement.  Community Organizers look at the world through a holistic lens.  We see the connections between systemic and personal issues.  While others are busy feeding the hungry, community organizers look to see WHY there are so many hungry Americans.  In today’s world, we need both kinds of activists.  We need people on the ground to give immediate aid to those in need, and we need others to try to find the cause of the need and to, hopefully, eradicate it.

Here’s a parable, author unknown, with a little adaptation by me that many of us who do community work are familiar with.


Once upon a time there was a small village on the edge of a river. The people there were all social work case workers, with the exception of one lone community organizer. Life in the village was good. One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. The villager quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The next day this same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help, and both babies were rescued from the swift waters. And the following day four babies were seen caught in the turbulent current. And then eight, then more, and still more!

The villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could resist the swift waters and rescue babies. Rescue squads were soon working 24 hours a day. And each day the number of helpless babies floating down the river increased. The villagers organized themselves efficiently. The rescue squads were now snatching many children each day. While not all the babies, now very numerous, could be saved, the villagers felt they were doing well to save as many as they could each day. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their good work. And life in the village continued on that basis.

One day, however, the community organizer raised the question, “But where are all these babies coming from? Don’t you think we should go up river and find out where they are coming from?”  And so, the community organizer put together a team to head upstream to find out why these babies are being thrown into the river in the first place!”

We know that there are so many issues that affect older adults in our country; i.e., social security, Medicare, affordable housing, food insecurity, just to name a few.  We also know that there are many wonderful organizations which are addressing these specific issues.  We are not one of those organizations.

As The Radical Age Movement, we are the team that is heading upstream to find out WHY there are so many issues facing older adults in our society.

We are determined to get at the root causes of why older adults are not receiving the services they need…why their quality of life is constantly undermined by our government, our medical establishment, our workforce, the media, and in some cases, even by our own families.  We believe that the underlying cause for all these troubling concerns is AGEISM.

Simply put, ageism is prejudice  expressed toward anyone because of their age.  Although we can often recognize prejudice against young people, in this movement we are looking at prejudice expressed against older people.  Because we have all grown up in this extremely youth-oriented society, most of us harbor our own ageist tendencies.  Yet, while we fight racism, sexism, classism, etc., there is very little advocacy to address this prejudice.  When people are ageist, they are setting themselves up for prejudice against their own future selves.

Ultimately, we need new social visions that will inspire and support people to grow and participate actively throughout their entire lives.  No age segregation or pitting generation against generation—we want a society that works for all. We can’t leave it to experts to tell us how to age ‘well’ or ‘successfully’ or to an aging industrial complex that sees older adults as a dependent group or growing market of consumers.

To accomplish this, we must first expose the ageism that lies beneath and allows the exploitation of and prejudice against people merely because of their age.  This is what The Radical Age Movement is about.






What is Ageism?


By Sheila Roher, MPH

Ageism refers to discriminatory or prejudiced behavior and attitudes towards people based solely on age.  Ageism causes the systematic mistreatment and marginalization of people based on age alone, just as racism and sexism does so based on categories of skin color and gender.


Dr. Robert Butler, the first Director of the National Institute on Aging, coined the term in 1969 at a time when our growing recognition of racism and sexism was fueling social change.  But he first recognized decades earlier when, as a young and idealistic medical student, he was horrified to witness his fellow residents and students routinely refer to older people as “geezers” and “old witches” and trivialize their very real needs. Since then, many activists and researchers have documented the pervasive presence of ageist stereotypes in social attitudes, practices, and policies.

Age-based stereotypes: what are they?

The most common ageist stereotypes are negative, reflecting the ageist assumptions that all or most older adults are demented, weak, incompetent, disabled, or cranky.

  • How often have you seen someone speak to an elderly person as they would to a child? Or speak loudly assuming that all older adults have hearing impairments? Or assume that if a young adult loses forgets something, they are simply forgetful but label the same behavior in an older person as ‘senile’?

A few stereotypes are superficially positive, such as the “cuddly and cute little old lady” stereotype. But these stereotypes also disempower older adults because they discourage people from treating them as capable adults with the usual human range of complex capacities, attitudes, and needs.

The price we all pay for ageism

Ageism—which permeates our social practices, behaviors, polities, and attitudes—hurts all of usFrom an individual perspective, these beliefs and assumptions can ‘get under our skin’ and create the very outcomes we fear.

  • A study by Yale researcher Becca Levy and colleagues followed several hundred older adults for more than two decades. Researchers found that people who had internalized more negative attitudes towards aging were significantly more likely to suffer impairments and need nursing home care, and died on average 7-1/2 years earlier than people with more negative attitudes towards aging.

From a societal perspective, ageism causes us to accept discriminatory practices as ‘natural’:

  • Just as we ‘assumed’ (with lots of social training and cues) that housing and employment should be based on skin color, we accept that older people should be segregated in special housing (to “help” them) and fail to protest hiring practices discriminate against older adults.

From a generational perspective, ageism places enormous pressures on young people to achieve everything in the first half of their adulthood (and somehow save enough to fund a forty-year retirement) and prevents the full participation, potential for growth, and engagement of older adults in all aspects of culture.

Ageism prevents us from developing an affirmative vision for a full human life and a vital multigenerational society.

How do we change it?

Individually and culturally, we need to:

  1. Recognize ageism (in ourselves as well as in social practices and policies) by raising our own awareness and consciousness;
  2. Challenge ageist assumptions and stereotypes through education, advocacy, and protest;
  3. Develop new social maps that embrace our full human journey, including the second half of adulthood.



Ageism in Medicine: Do seniors get the same medical care as younger patients?

By Joanna Leefer, Senior Care Advisor

Older people are often treated with less urgency than younger patients. This “ageist” attitude is being recognized as a form of discrimination similar to sexism and racism. Here are some ways to recognize this behavior and how you can change it.

An older man walked into his doctor’s office. “Doc,” he said, “my right knee is killing me. The pain is shooting through my leg like a knife.” “Sir, you are 86 years old; you must accept the fact that you will experience pain. It’s part of the aging process.” The older man looked the doctor in the eye and responded, “I don’t understand Doctor, my left knee is 86 years old too and it has never bothered me. “

This is a common conversation between physicians and their older patients far too often. Many physicians dismiss senior’s complaints as a “normal” part of aging and feel they don’t need to treat them with the same urgency as they would a younger person’s complaints.

Studies show that many physicians hold preconceived stereotypical opinions of the elderly. They assume aches and pains are a normal part of aging and do not treat it with seriousness or compassion. Other studies indicate that doctors often spend less time with older people, minimize their difficulties and often do not take care of their condition as intently as they do younger patients because they are “getting on in years” and will die soon anyway.

Another generalization commonly held by medical professionals about older patients is that they all should be treated the same. This is despite the fact that the term “seniors” spans from the age of 55 to over 90 years old. There is little acceptance that a 55-year old person is different than a person who is 90+. There is also little regard that many seniors are more fit than younger counterparts; that many of them still are physically active, and participate in strenuous activities such as swimming, running, and tennis. This misconception often results in seniors not being considered for new and innovative treatments or for organ transplants even if they are healthier than younger candidates.

Other common evidence of this dismissive attitude can be seen in how often geriatric patients are not offered early appoints because their needs are not considered urgent or as important as a younger person’s. Other studies show that seniors are given less time with their doctors and the physician spends less time exploring reasons for ailments because they are old and are expected to tolerate their age. Treating patients based on their age means the doctor might miss a significant, treatable situation.

Another example of doctor’s attitudes towards seniors is evident when an older patient is accompanied by an adult child. In such cases, the doctor often address his questions and comments to the adult child rather than to the patient and refer to the patient in the third person rather than addressing him directly. This behavior negates the patient and relegates him to an inferior role, almost like a person returning to childhood.

Fortunately, some doctors are beginning to question this behavior. Dr. Robert Butler, a pioneer in geriatric care and the first Director of the National Institute on Aging coined the term ageism to describe the systematic stereotyping of people over a certain age. In his book, Why Survive Being Old in America, published in 1969, Dr. Butler compared this behavior to attitudes such as racism and sexism. He offered examples of how older people are routinely undervalued in all areas of life and compares this treatment to discrimination against older people.

Since Dr. Butler’s writings more and more doctors are reconsidering their treatment toward senior patients. Some hospitals such as New York Presbyterian are beginning to offer training to doctors to make them more aware of these attitudes and how to work against them.

One big step is the acknowledgement that seniors are not one homogenous group. A 55-year-old person is quite different than one who is 95 years old and should be treated accordingly. Medical facilities are now dividing the geriatric population into three broad age categories, the young old, the middle old, and the old old. Each grouping has its own distinct medical and social needs and treatment. Younger seniors in the 50 to 65 year old category are healthier and living longer than ever before. Older patients, on the other hand, often have psychological issues that impact them and should not be disregarded. Some medical facilities are teaching doctors to become more sensitive to major issues impacting seniors including personal losses, such as loss of job status, loss of friends, family members and spouses, social isolation, and sensory losses such as hearing loss, loss of eye sight, and cognitive loss.

Doctors are being taught to take into considerations some of these sensory losses by sitting closer to patients, talking to them slowly and clearly without shouting, making sure the room is well lit and written information is presented in large print. Finally doctors are becoming more aware of the richness of the experience they can gain from listening to their older patients. Doctors are learning to understand that older patients are entitled to the same respect and treatment as younger patients.

There is much that we as family members of seniors or seniors ourselves can do to make sure geriatric patients get the proper medical attention

1.Demand the doctor gives each patient as much time as necessary. Don’t let the doctor rush you.

2. Ask plenty of questions; make sure all your concerns are discussed thoroughly

3. Don’t settle for platitudes; insist the doctor take your complaint seriously. Ask yourself, would he give the same answer to a younger patient?

4. Make sure you are seen in a timely manner. If the office won’t give you a convenient appointment, consider going someplace else.

5. Insist the doctor talk directly to you. Do not let yourself be addressed in the third person. You might be older but your mind is still good.

Ageist attitudes would be more understandable in the early 20th century when the average life expectancy was 61 years old. Now that a person can live into her 90’s or even 100, this attitude about an individual’s care seems ludicrous.

as seen in the Community Newspaper Group, June 2-6, 2014

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On Grandparenting in a Changing Society

by Alice Fisher, M.S.W.

I have been a grandmother for over 17 years. It is a role that I covet, yet circumstances in our constantly changing society present challenges that I could have never anticipated.

I revered my grandparents. Before we moved to Long Island when I was 7 years old, we lived in Brooklyn as did my grandparents, not to mention all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. At that time, my grandparents often came to visit us by bus. I would wait for them across the avenue from the bus stop, hardly able to contain my excitement when the bus pulled in and Grandma and Grandpa stepped off. Whenever I was sick or mom needed to go somewhere, it was always my grandparents who took over. I have to stop here to say that these were my maternal grands. My dad’s parents also came to visit, but not as often. His was an extremely dysfunctional family, and even as young as three or four this didn’t escape my sense of who they were. Throughout the rest of my childhood and adolescence I spent an abundance of time with my grandparents. Sometimes I went to stay with them, and I considered it a great vacation. Other times they came to stay with us, and these were extremely special times that live in my memory. When I was 15 years old, my grandfather passed away and my grandmother came to live with us. To this day, my sister and I consider it one of the greatest gifts we ever received.

As the mother of three sons, this is probably as good as any place to begin…being the grandmother-in-law. Not long after our first granddaughter was born, I was having lunch with an old friend who had also recently become a grandmother. “What”, she exclaimed, “is this mother-in-law shit?” “Nobody ever prepared me for this role. What do you do with it?” I don’t remember my response, but her feelings were certainly not unfamiliar to me.

Those of us who step into the role of grandparent-in-law learn quickly how to become invisible when the situation calls for it. It is difficult enough at this stage of life to confront becoming invisible in society as aging women. So, we attempt to make a cake from whatever crumbs of the grandmother-grandchild relationship we can find. We learn very fast not to offer any of the wisdom we’ve accumulated from our own experience of being parents. We often expend a good amount of energy stifling our voices although we would love to share. We are haunted by that voice within that is constantly saying, “Don’t open your mouth. Don’t say a word. Find something else to do.” Maybe now is the time to finish the last chapter of that book you’ve been reading. Many new moms find that becoming a new mom is a pathway to developing a stronger connection to their own mothers. This is not so for in-law grandmothers who are often perceived as the “other”. And, as the other, we search to find our role in the family unit.

In all fairness, however, these are not universal truths.

In my own family, I have one son and daughter-in-law who work very hard to make us part of their children’s lives although we live in different states. My husband and I feel very much an important and connected part of their family. Although it’s not the natural relationship we would have if we lived close by, we have worked reciprocally to make this happen. When distance separates families, it takes intentional effort to knit together a strong relationship. Another son and daughter-in-law do not see us as an integral part of their family. We are the grandparents who fly in once or twice a year with presents in our suitcase and then leave. We are the tooth-fairy grandparents… a lovely fantasy not based on reality. Their photos decorate the side of our refrigerator. I often refer to them as my refrigerator family. One of the greatest pleasures of being a grandparent is the opportunity to be a mentor of sorts to our grandchildren without the responsibility of parenting. It is, believe me, impossible to mentor a refrigerator family.

In many situations, our own concept of grandparenting cannot become reality. Many find there is no role for us at all. The concept of generativity seems to be lost on our children. They often don’t see the value of allowing us to pass down to them and their children’s generation the wisdom that living a life has imprinted on us.

Another issue that challenges our ideal of grandparenting is geographical distance. It is not unusual for today’s multigenerational families to find themselves living in different cities, states, or countries. My four beautiful granddaughters live in other states. Some of my friends have commented, “At least they live in the same country”. Without intentional effort, being a frequent flying grandparent does not allow grandparents and grandchildren to grow a strong relationship. Visits are sometimes too long, sometimes too short, and always too far apart. Many of us just don’t have the opportunity to be part of our grandchildren’s lives in the same significant way that our own grandparents played a role in shaping who we are. We are often at the mercy of our own grown children who treat us as “the other”. They do not permit us the opportunity to grandparent our own grandchildren.

I belong to a consciousness raising group where we discuss issues of ageing and attempt to define some roles for young seniors…a new stage of life in this era of longevity. A role that comes up often is the role of grandparent. It seems that when it comes to grandparenting, it can at times be feast or famine. The role varies. Some of the grandparents in our group, those who live geographically near their children and play an active role in the lives of their grandchildren, complain about the lack of boundaries. Their adult children assume they are always available to them without regard for the private lives of grandma and grandpa. Yet, there are other grandparents in the room who feel estranged from the process of grandparenting. When adult children do not permit their parents to grandparent, a hole develops within that is indeed difficult to fill.

Not long ago, I was asked to give a presentation on empowerment for a group of women who reside in an assisted living residence. It was heartbreaking to hear so many of them say that they don’t know their grandchildren, and their grandchildren don’t know them. What, I wonder, has caused this change in society? Where did the reverence for the wisdom of an older generation go?

I would be remiss not to mention the great number of grandparents who would consider it a privilege to be available to help care for grandchildren, particularly those whose parents are struggling in this economy. Yet, they are unable to provide the time as they themselves are remaining in the workforce as long as possible in the attempt to prepare for their own future financial needs.

Today’s grandparents often find ourselves navigating the uncharted waters of grandparenting at the same time as we are exploring this new uncharted stage of life. Some of us, if we are fortunate, are still in the workforce by choice or achieving new goals that we never had time for when we were raising our own families. In this new age of longevity, it is only when we leave our career jobs or our family roles change that we come to experience the void of a society that has no role for us. We need to meet the challenge of this void and create a society that sees and values us.

And then there is my friend Carol who lives only a bus or taxi ride, or even a healthy walk, from her granddaughter, Abby. She has her special day every week when she picks Abby up from school and they spend the afternoon and evening together.

Several pieces of information that crossed my path recently refer to the cognitive health benefits for older adults who are involved with their grandchildren. A study, published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society, finds “post-menopausal women who spend time taking care of grandkids lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders” . “However, too much time with grandchildren—five or more days a week—appeared to make grandma more likely to lose her marbles”. Adding to this, my associate Sheila Roher, MPH, has been conducting research focus groups around the topic of aging and has noted that the older men in her groups who are involved with their grandchildren seem to have greater life satisfaction.

So, Carol is not only giving Abby her time, she may also be actively protecting her own brain health. How wonderful for both of them. For Abby to have this special gift of time with her grandmother is a gift that will stay with her forever. While Abby, who may be too young to be aware, is also giving a very meaningful gift to her grandmother.