by Roxanne Tellier
I’m not a big fan of this ‘aging’ stuff. But unfortunately, dealing with all the things that can go wrong as our bodies mature beats the snot out of the alternative.
Sometimes the drama of politics has to take a number and wait for my attention. This was one of those weeks. I had some routine cataract surgery that didn’t go as well as planned, and it took a lot of strong-arming to get that rectified.
I’ve long had the reputation of being the loudmouthed rebel, who takes no sh*t or prisoners, either for herself, or for those she loves. Not sure if it’s the Irish or the French in me, but that’s just the way I’ve always been. If you come for my people, you’d better come prepared for a fight.
Trouble is, that kind of white knighting gets a little harder every year. After a while you start to pick your battles more carefully, and less often. It takes a lot of energy to mount a successful attack against authority, and energy isn’t as readily available when you’re already down a quart due to health issues.
I’ve always been aware and concerned about the treatment of seniors. You know, it’s only in my lifetime that Canada has had a social safety net. We didn’t even have a proper pension plan until 1965. Some would say we still don’t, especially if they’re trying to stretch out those few pension dollars to cover living in a modern world.
Our societies idolize youth and youth culture. When we’re young, we cannot imagine what it would be like to be old. Those ideas carry their own seeds of dissatisfaction; realizing that we’re aging means that we have become what we once disdained. This can lead to depression and poor self-esteem.
I’ve always been attuned to how our society can unwittingly ignore the needs of seniors, especially those without a significant income. If you’re not a productive member in a capitalist society, then you are often perceived as less worthy, since you are no longer part of the work force, nor likely to be putting a lot of your income into the economy, beyond your own basic needs.
We make a lot of assumptions as well, about what seniors are entitled to receive. That cataract surgery I mentioned? You better have a couple of thousand put aside if you’re hoping to see through those aging eyes; neither the surgery nor the expensive eye drops are covered by OHIP or the senior drug plan.
Seniors often feel invisible when they have to interact with others. Is it apathy or discrimination that leaves some to be unattended in stores, or has cashiers failing to realize that old hands can’t bag their own groceries as quickly as the hands of younger people?
Public transportation, with its unpredictability, and often with lurching movements, can be dangerous for old bones. Interactions with people in governmental or health offices can be authoritarian hell holes, when bored or disinterested employees fail to hear or respond to the queries of those who are already a little confused by how these entities work.
I’ve also seen some alarming prejudice against seniors, when even the slightest bit of advantage is accorded them. The TTC had to resort to handing out special buttons that said, “Please offer me a seat” to remind the able bodied riders of simple courtesy on transit. And at my local Loblaws and Metro, I’ve seen white haired seniors on walkers who dared to shop outside of senior hours be told to ‘get to the back of the line.’
The effect of the pandemic and ensuing yearlong lockdown has exposed a lot of anger in those who believe that things could get back to normal, if only the able bodied didn’t have to ‘coddle’ the old and vulnerable.
When Sweden (and the trump administration) talked about relying on ‘herd immunity’ to combat COVID-19’s damage to the economy, they were twisting a scientific concept to fit an unspoken prejudice against the elderly and the vulnerable. True ‘herd immunity’ happens when about 70 to 90% of the population have either had a disease, or have been vaccinated against that disease.
While proponents of this theory always hastened to say that vulnerable citizens would be isolated and protected, that was belied by the proportion of victims who succumbed to the virus while in long term homes, ostensibly as isolated and protected as could be. What Sweden, and White House coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas were proposing was to simply let the virus run free, effectively sacrificing those whom they considered a drain on society, in order to keep their economies running smoothly.
And that’s all too reminiscent of the dystopic 1973 film, “Soylent Green,” in which the protein that kept the citizens alive came from the bodies of those making a final sacrifice, in lieu of being a functioning cog in their society.
Ageism is now thought to be the most common form of prejudice. You can’t discriminate against people of other colours or creeds, but too often, older people are fair game.
We boomers now live in a world where the population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups. In a study conducted at the University of Alberta in 2019, researchers found that discrimination against older people is a growing problem that will require a social awakening, akin to the gay rights movement. It was recommended that Canada enact anti-ageism legislation, as Britain did several years ago with its Equality Act.
“There’s a big personal impact. Children see older people being disrespected and grow up thinking they’re useless and then they find themselves turning 60 or 65. We don’t expect or encourage healthy aging; everybody who hits 65 thinks it’s all downhill from here.
“If they think they’re useless and boring, how negative is that for them and their family? They don’t exercise, they don’t volunteer, they don’t keep working if they want to, because they feel this discrimination. They don’t go out and find a new mate if their spouse dies because they think ‘I’m next.’ There’s both a societal and personal impact to internalized ageism.”
In reviewing all existing studies on the topic, Wilson discovered that 48 to 91 per cent of all older people surveyed experienced ageism, and 50 to 98 per cent of all younger people admitted to having discriminatory thoughts or behaviours toward older people.
“We have a rapidly aging population in Canada that will jump from 19 per cent of the current population to 26 per cent in 11 years, but we’re afraid of that fact. Based on ageism, we think they’re a drain on society, and that’s where a lot of the myths and long-standing prejudices arise.”
Yeah, yeah. #NotAllOlderPeople. Everyone’s mileage may vary, based on a number of factors, including our personal circumstances, health, and finances.
Life’s funny – things can turn on a dime. The person enjoying good health, emotional support, and a healthy bank balance today can suffer misadventures that turn their reality on its head, tomorrow. That’s the thing about life – no one gets out alive.
While much of how we see the world has to do with our own attitude, it really does help when we feel like we’re equal and respected within our communities.
In truth, getting old is mandatory, but feeling old is optional. I hope to keep my sh*tkickers polished and ready to go when needed, whether it’s to stand up to discrimination against me, or against you.
Just .. take it easy on those ‘little old lady’ jokes, mmmkay?