It’s official. I’m a senior citizen – 65 years old. How the hell did that happen?
Evidently, I’m not the only senior so let’s talk practicalities. In my head, I’m still in my forties – capable in everyday life, adept at certain skills, good at my job, no major health problems, plenty of energy. In reality, I retired early, quitting in a blaze of glory, as in “talk to the hand.” Now I get to kvetch about whatever I want. Becoming a senior citizen is one of those things, not because I just got there but because of the attitude of anyone younger than 40-ish. Here are some things to ponder.
There are lots of us! According to a Statistics Canada 2016 census report, there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors who for the first time outnumber the 5.8 million children in Canada. This unprecedented occurrence hasn’t happened since Canada’s founding in 1867, which some of us may be old enough to recall. The current situation reflects an historic increase in the number of aging Baby Boomers over 65. There has been a 20% jump in seniors since 2011, a much greater increase than the 5% growth experienced by the population as a whole and the biggest increase in 70 years. Further, there are more people (4.9 million) approaching retirement than beginning to enter the work force (4.3 million). This will cause the imbalance to grow. By 2031, about 23% of Canadians could be seniors. I’ll only be 78 by then. Whoopie!
This phenomenon has freaked out statisticians. Because old people generally need more healthcare, it creates “increasing demands on government spending,” says economics professor Dr. Frances Woolley. Further, if the young’uns don’t find jobs, they won’t pay taxes and that screws up the amount of revenue going into government coffers. The result is a strain on the balance sheet. Woolley calls this a “slow-motion train wreck.” Demographer André Lebel suggests “seniors should stay in the labor force to counteract some of the effects of the aging population.” Are you kidding! We finally get to leave the rat race, sleep in late, and drink more vodka but you want us to keep working so young people don’t have to fret so much. Hahahahaha!
While these statistics are attention-grabbing, they don’t make me feel guilty about hanging in there for a long time. Age has nothing to do with rocking the boat and I hope to rock it for many years to come. What gets in the way of me enjoying my “golden” years is the self-importance of those who haven’t gotten this far yet, specifically all those alphabet generations. Sadly, I have to admit that as a now-senior Boomer I’ve got a few gripes of my own
Experience not needed: I’d love to write grants, conduct research, edit copy, consult on healthcare programs. I even printed up business cards in case people need my expertise. Despite having a Ph.D. in Public Health, it seems there’s an expiration date on one’s ability to perform capably. Here are some job options for seniors that I found online: pet sitter, minute taker (?), sales clerk (been there, done that), telemarketer, senior companion (redundant). Shoot me now!
Subway etiquette: It’s a jungle out there! At first, young and even middle-aged people (mostly women, only rarely men) would offer me a seat. In any case, I was horrified. I don’t look old enough to need to sit down, do I? Now I’m insulted that no one respects my seniority. Once in a while, someone who looks my age waves me over to take their place. I usually smile and decline. Schizophrenic much?
Exercise “to stay young”: I hate gardening and have a black thumb. My boobs are too big for jogging. Stretches, knee bends, leg twirling, and spinning a big ball – oy! I occasionally walk the dog and my husband but only if it’s not too cold. I love swimming and aqua fitness but it’s no fun having to get in a pool then go out into the cold winter air. Not really pleasant.
Fashion magazines and clothing styles: Most clothes marketed for women our age are dreadful. Polyester pants, butterfly-print blouses, bedazzled cardigans, pastel sweat suits. The now defunct More magazine was targeted to “older, well-heeled women of substance over 40.” The fashions they featured were modeled by slim, youngish actresses. Impractical for normal women of any age. A press release for the new digital version is “aimed at a much younger audience… with content by Millennials for Millennials” (their words, not mine). I guess older gals don’t deserve a magazine of our own.
Judgement of young people: It’s no secret that anyone under the age of 40 thinks anyone over the age of 40 is a member of the Walking Dead Club. Most assume we can’t turn on a computer, don’t know who Kanye is, and only wear polyester. As if! I’m not saying I want to dance hip hop or, on the other hand, live stream my colonoscopy but I would like to be acknowledged as an intelligent person who can still learn and enjoy new things.
Here’s some surprising news. There are upsides to being retired and senior. All those pills we take to stay alive? Here in Canada, we get large reductions on prescriptions. Both Canada and the U.S. offer discounts on public transit, at movies theaters, in hotels and restaurants. The list goes on. I admit I originally hated the idea of asking for discounts but now I’m happy to save so I can spend more. There are also intangible perks to aging. I don’t have to do homework so I can read what I want, like the entire James Bond collection. I can stay up all night and watch 86 seasons of Game of Thrones. And here’s the best deal: I don’t have to buy tampons or birth control pills anymore. But my favorite thing to do is ride the grocery cart to the car after I’ve done my shopping. Not kidding!
Interestingly, the proliferation of seniors has really freaked out the Gens. In a Zoomer magazine article entitled “Yes, Ageism Is Bad for Your Health,” a study on age stereotypes in social networks found 84 FB sites about older people but not by older people; these sites were created and managed mostly by 20-somethings. Here’s the scary part: about 75% of the posts excoriated (their word) older individuals, 25% infantilized them, and 40% want seniors banned from public activities like shopping. Worse yet, anyone over 69 should face a firing squad and older folks should just hurry up and die, of natural causes, of course. FB has an anti-discrimination policy that says it does not tolerate hate speech. To wit, “It is a serious violation of our terms to single out individuals based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease.” Astonishingly, age was not on their list, meaning a social platform used by 2 billion people can foster ageism as much as they like. These brats just need to grow up and join the rest of humanity.
Such contempt produces a Seniors vs Juniors conflict. We know firsthand how these hateful stances make us feel – angry, insulted, sad, threatened, disenfranchised. Unfortunately, ageism has even spread to the point of being rampant among older people. And in an irony worthy of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, ageism makes people age more quickly. Subjects with the most negative views of aging die about 7.6 years sooner than those with a positive outlook and being ageist influenced lifespan more than gender and socioeconomic status. A Wall Street Journal reporter quoted in Time Goes By seems to believe that the term boomer “is a synonym for all old people.” TBG noted that given how far we have not come in relation to racism, respectful dialogue will not happen if old people themselves deny that ageism exists. Further, the adage “age is just a number” is not accurate if you can’t get a job, are denied medical care, and are dismissed and ignored due to your age. It’s true: there are real-life consequences that negativity to aging has on the individual, such as memory loss, physical function, and inability to recover from illness.
Do these vitriolic attitudes have a blow-back effect on the purveyors of ageism? You bet! Zoomer also looked at how negativity to aging affected the young. They not only dislike older people; those under 40 don’t think of themselves as eventually getting older. This prevents them from developing habits that would sustain them in older life, such as saving for retirement. Such beliefs also put them at risk for heart disease up to 40 years later. Imaging a life of pain, loneliness, and confinement is hard on the heart. To the young, old people can seem like a different species – crochety, frail, out to lunch. Ageism becomes a camouflage, a reaction to the fear of vulnerability inherent in later years, shuffling toward the grave. This allows the young to hold seniors at a contemptible distance even as they become them, producing a disconnect between young people and their future selves.
Let’s think about what aging really means. It’s not a disease any more than puberty or menopause are. Trying to hide the signs of aging, like wrinkles, bags under your eyes, or mottled skin, is like trying to hide who you really are. Think of all those Hollywood stars who’ve had plastic surgery, some successfully, others not so much. Why do it? Because plastic surgeons need money for their kids to go college; more significantly, because aging is not necessarily graceful? Anti-aging creams and procedures don’t keep us from getting older. Maybe it’s time to abandon the term “anti-aging,” which is essentially not displaying the signs of aging on one’s face. Besides, if someone’s going to judge me based on my looks, I have a few words for them: Kiss my happy little ass!
On another note, the young can’t figure out what old folks do with their lives (TGB). This issue is disparaging, assuming that old people don’t have the wit, curiosity, and interests to fill the day like they once did on the job. One study suggests old people sleep a lot more than their younger selves. That’s actually true for me; I don’t have to get up early for work so why shouldn’t I sleep in? A 2015 survey pushed the notion that seniors sleep, watch TV, do home maintenance, work part time, prepare and eat meals, shop, volunteer, read, and exercise. There was nothing about hobbies, passions, sports, travel, or studying. Wow, what a fun bunch we are.
Aging is something we should be proud of and I’m beginning to feel it. We have the medical advances to make our senior selves healthy so why not take advantage of them. I’d love to have the energy I had 40 years ago but you have to remember that most generations before us didn’t live past 50. I’ve been lucky. When I was growing up, we lived with my grandparents who were young at heart and very active. Maybe that’s easing my worries about becoming a senior citizen. Even if I haven’t enjoyed every moment of hitting 65, I’m going to conjure up some of the “younger” me to carry on for a while.
News flash for the young!! Now that we don’t have to clock into work, we can stay up very late reading 1,000 page-long books, surfing the internet, catching up on the news, or watching six Netflix movies in one shot. We can have an active social life with friends, dine out, go to movies during the day, chat with friends on Facebook and email, start a blog – and there are lots of us out there in the blogosphere. Most importantly, we will fervently embrace the freedom of not being required to live on other people’s schedules, we’ll laugh a lot at everything, spend all of our money travelling, and take no notice of what others say or think about us. The gray hairs are a force to be reckoned with. Bottom line – we’re not going away. Remember this: there has never been a population of female seniors with this level of education, money, mobility, and personal power. We might seem like doddering old fools but those who think we’re senile freeloaders better watch out. We might surpass you with FB likes and blog followers!
Video of old lady dancing
Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple. No matter how you feel, get up, get dressed and show up.
Written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH
Young At Heart —The swing set crew.
(Source: Viola Ng via Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0)