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Elderly as Insult

Richard Quinn

“HELP, I’VE FALLEN and I can’t get up.”

It wasn’t too many years ago that I viewed that commercial as humorous. No more. A few days ago, my wife slipped on a curb and fell. No serious injury, just a cut on her lip and a scraped leg. But she couldn’t get up. Thankfully, my sons were there to help. I couldn’t do it on my own. My wife’s arthritis makes it difficult for her to walk long distances or climb stairs, hence our move to a one-floor condo.

I still play golf a couple of times a week during warmer weather, and I hit the ball reasonably well for my age. I easily pick the ball off the green, but reaching to the bottom of the cup is challenging.

I like to drive my car. I find it relaxing. Given that we can’t travel to Europe, we’re planning another road trip, this time to Florida. After driving several hours, getting out of the car is a mini-project. There’s a general stiffness that takes a few minutes to wear off.

For all of the above, there is one thing in common—aging. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I reached age 75, that the aging thing started to kick in. Now it’s a daily reality. I’m raring to go at 5:30 a.m., but by 3:30 p.m. a short nap is no longer a joke but a necessity. Well, not a necessity, but—if I stop moving—a fact. It’s just automatic: I sit, I sleep.

Don’t get me wrong, we try to keep active. We both track our steps every day—I love my Apple Watch. We usually log two miles or more. While I was quarantined—both times—I walked two miles each day inside our condo. The view was a bit boring, I’ll admit.

There’s no way to escape aging. Well, there is a way, but not a desirable one.

What bugs me more than the minor physical decline is the vibe I get from others. I can tell from the way they talk to me and offer to help that they’re thinking “senior citizen.” Elderly—oh, how I hate that word. How easy it is for people, especially salespeople, to look at you and conclude you fit the senior stereotype: low income, living on a fixed income, in need of discounts.

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I know I look old, but do I look poor as well? Sometimes that perception is insulting. You’re spoken to as if you can’t afford the purchase being considered. I get a bit of unspoken satisfaction in knowing that my income is higher than any salesperson with such an attitude.

The fact is, most seniors are doing okay financially, often better than the general perception. The median income for seniors is little different from that of younger Americans. Seniors with a perceived low income are likely to have been lower-income all their life. Many seniors tell me that they live comfortably on less than $40,000 a year in retirement.

My one money concern is that something will interrupt our plans for leaving a legacy to our children and grandchildren. I also think about making our finances easier to manage. To that end, I am in the process—finally—of consolidating our accounts with one financial organization.

Yes, there are the aches and pains, the occasional need for assistance, and the annoying attitudes. Still, those of us who have earned the senior badge and are still able to enjoy life—and who are financially secure—are very fortunate indeed.

I remember that every time I see someone—including my sister—in a wheelchair or struggling with a walker. Or when I think about my friends and colleagues who were unable to live to enjoy the elderly “insult.”

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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SanLouisKid
SanLouisKid
11 months ago

Congratulations on being published on MarketWatch. The older you get the better you get… I was reminded of this quote by George Bush, Sr.: “I have long thought that the aging process could be slowed down if it had to work its way through Congress.” / My father spent time detailing his aging process for me. Not to complain, but apparently to “coach” me on what was going to happen. It is still a surprise. The Benjamin Button Process has great appeal to me, in the meantime I’m adding grab bars to various doors and our shower.

UofODuck
UofODuck
11 months ago

Richard: We all imagine that somehow, magically, we’ll grow old gracefully with few physical limitations and all of our marble intact. Of course, the realty is quite different and as several of your readers have noted, many of their age cohorts didn’t make it even this far. Based on my ancestors, I’m hopeful that I will retain my intellect, but physical decline seems inevitable. We can’t control much of our future, but we are able to decide what our attitude about aging will be. Personally, I am determined to maintain a positive outlook and enjoy what life I have for as long as possible.

BenefitJack
BenefitJack
11 months ago

If you, like me, are almost 70 and still providing/seeking gainful employment (not out of financial need but the desire to continue contributing), those actions, and others I’ve encountered may be ageism. https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-discrimination-in-america.html

For comparison, for me, 40+ years ago, it was wonderment. In September, I had moved to a small town in Ohio farm country. I immediately joined a local bike club. My first club ride was to be a 25 miler, west to east and back. I hadn’t been on my Sears 10 speed lead sled for over five years. We arose to strong winds (20+ mph) from the south. All there, including some in their 60’s, decided to do a “tailwind special”, from the south. We piled the bikes in, drove south, took them out and headed north, 73 miles!

At 65 miles, we had the last stop for refreshments. The club leader came over and asked me how I was doing. I replied something like “dead”. The club would split up at that point, four went to pick up another car to retrieve the vehicles left behind. Others, including two 65+ year old women, would take the rest of us to our cars (I had to be led, I had no idea where I was). I mentioned that everyone else looked great and that ‘I would do my best to keep up with the elderly ladies’. Well, those “elderly ladies” heard about my comment and put the pedal down and nearly left me behind. It WAS painful.

Found out each had done over 2,500 miles that summer. And, for weeks after, a young woman in the bike club, who would someday become my wife, heard the story, over and over and over, about the young idiot from the big city who dared call them “elderly” – they sure showed him.

DrLefty
DrLefty
11 months ago

I am sorry to hear about your wife’s fall and hope you’ve recovered well from your bout with COVID.

We turned 60 in 2020, and when we emerged back into the world in 2021, we discovered that we were now old enough for lifetime passes for the local bus system and “senior” tickets to the local indy movie theater. These are both nice discoveries, but it did catch us off guard. Is 61 “senior”? We’re still working and our moms are in their early 80s, and we think of THEM as senior. But here we are. It’s an interesting in-between stage, and our relatives and neighbors in our condo community give us an up-close look at what’s coming in the not-too-distant future.

Boss Hogg
Boss Hogg
11 months ago

I’m a senior. Maybe it’s time to associate more with like-minded seniors. Our area is served by an active volunteer-based local senior organization that engages neighbors in a variety of ways — assistance, education, social activities — to empower older people to have meaningful and purposeful lives. I steer clear. No particular reason. Do I have a bias against seniors? Would those seniors appreciate my participation? Can I help as well as be helped? Maybe it’s time for me to get more involved.

Last edited 11 months ago by Boss Hogg
Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
11 months ago

To borrow a quote from the past, “I feel your pain.” I now make more grunting noise picking up a tennis ball than I do hitting it. I don’t mind people thinking I am of minimal means; I’ve been sporting thrift shop chic for years. What gets me is the smug smile hiding, “Life is different now, your wisdom is passe” sentiment from my kids (who often circle back later on to do what I advised them to do). Nice piece.

parkslope
parkslope
11 months ago

The Stereotype Content Model (Cuddy and Fiske) has shown that competence and warmth are two of the most pervasive attitudes towards members of other groups. Older folks are stereotyped as high on warmth and low on competence (as are those with physical disabilities and, to a lesser degree, women). In turn, the perceived combination of warmth and incompetence elicits paternalistic attitudes such as paying Paul Wolgemuth’s grocery bill (see his comment below).

https://www.hbs.edu/ris/Publication%20Files/cuddy%20norton%20fiske%20this%20old%20stereotype_5579f153-487e-4399-bb59-a286e10e0638.pdf

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
11 months ago

I turn 70 next month and whenever I start feeling “old” I just look for a recent Rolling Stones concert on YouTube and take in Mick Jagger, now 78, doing his inimitable thing. Inspirational to say the least.

evan rayers
evan rayers
11 months ago

Your commentaries are outstanding.
Just to add a little levity to your OP RichQ, no doubt you remember this one.
comment image
“It’s nice to have a lot of money, but you know, you don’t want to keep it around forever. I prefer buying things. Otherwise, it’s a little like saving sex for your old age.”― Warren Buffett

You shouldn’t care what others perceive, human nature suggests we all do the best we can when we want to.
What more can one do?

Good luck & Best wishes to all……..

wtfwjtd
wtfwjtd
11 months ago

For me, “humorous” isn’t the word that immediately came to mind; something more akin to “exaggeration” would be more like it. I don’t feel that way any more though, in my nearly 60 trips around the sun I’ve seen the accuracy of that scenario play out far too often, and don’t quickly dismiss it so lightly any longer. I’ve come to realize as well, how some of the things we did as a younger person can come back to haunt us as we grow older; that broken arm bone, or shoulder injury while playing softball, for example. You thought it was long since healed and forgotten, but…why is my shoulder so unnaturally stiff now, and why does my arm hurt so much?
Finances isn’t the only area of life that what we did when we were younger can have an outsized impact on our lives when we get older. It seems the name “Humble Dollar” is no accident, after all.

Autumn S
Autumn S
11 months ago

Excellent post, Mr. Quinn. Thank you. When I stretch in the morning to warm up my joints so I can get out of bed and walk, I think of many of my former high school classmates who didn’t live long enough to get old. I’m lucky.

Mike Wyant
Mike Wyant
11 months ago

Possibly give pickleball a try. I recently took it up at 67. It’s a great sport that is accessible to all ages. I’ve played 80+ year olds who can give the younger ” kids” a run for their money. It’s also a great social sport. You will meet people of all ages and all walks of life. Also a very strategic sport that is as much mental as physical.

William Perry
William Perry
11 months ago

This is another Humble Dollar article you penned that I enjoyed and relate to. I noticed in the the recent “Hits” blog that you had written 5 of the 30 most viewed over the last few years. Congradulations. I spent the morning yesterday rereading all thirty articles and see a theme and purpose that comes with life experience that the view after 70+ years will impart if we are wise enought to learn and generous enough to share.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  William Perry

Thank you

stelea99
stelea99
11 months ago

Am 75, took a little fall a week ago while on my daily 4 mile walk. Minor injuries, including a black eye that looks much worse than it is. Think I am going to get some hiking poles so that the inevitable next higher sidewalk joint I find with my toe doesn’t send me falling again.

Personally, I don’t like the word elderly as I don’t think of myself that way. However, in my experience of dealing with my parents, and their generational relatives, there is a point where any serious illness or accident can create a sort of cascade of health issues after which you can become elderly.

I am afraid though, that the term aging gracefully, might be an oxymoron.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  stelea99

I think you are right. But I think it’s important not to give in to thinking we are elderly. I know some people who act old at 65 and others you would never guess are 80. I play golf with a 90 year old with a great golf swing, but he tires after nine holes.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
11 months ago

Thanks for the great article Dick. All in all, it sounds like you and your wife are doing well. The people I really feel for are those impacted by some form of early dementia. This can destroy all your retirement plans, tax your finances, and dominate your time. I’ve seen it in fiend’s parents, and have now reached the age where I’ve seen it colleagues. It’s so sad.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Indeed it is sad. I recently learned my former boss, a great mentor I owe a great deal to is very bad with Alzheimer’s. What a dynamic guy he was, it’s hard to believe.

Last edited 11 months ago by R Quinn
Guest
Guest
11 months ago

Mr. Quinn – I like that you have an unspoken satisfaction when salespeople treat you as though you’re poor! It’s that exact same satisfaction I get driving my 27 year old car around town knowing I could buy 2022 models all day long. A friend reminded me that “motion is lotion”. We need to keep moving to reduce the stiffness and soreness that comes with our typical lack of movement as we age. So keep at it and many thanks for your frequent doses of wisdom.

Last edited 11 months ago by Guest
R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  Guest

I once went in a Gucci store looking for my wife’s Christmas present and after seeing me walking around a clerk came up to me and asked if I was in the right store implying it was pricy. It sure was and I would never pay those prices even today.

Paul Wolgemuth
Paul Wolgemuth
11 months ago

As a 77 year old I can relate to the feeling.

A few weeks ago at the grocery store check out, my wife and I realized neither of us had a credit card. As we were deciding what to do, a young lady behind us stepped up and said “Let me take care of that” and she paid our bill. After expressing our appreciation, our thought was, “Do we really look needy or that we don’t have money to pay?”

Although she refused to allow any repayment we assured her that a contribution would be made our local food bank in appreciation of her thoughtfulness.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wolgemuth

I wouldn’t assume she thinks you look needy. For a few years now there have been many people doing “random acts of kindness” or “paying it forward”. I think she would have done it for anyone in your situation . And you quite thoughtfully “paid it forward’ by donating to the food bank.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wolgemuth

Great story

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
11 months ago

Aging presents its challenges. I am 77 and find I have to adapt to my limitations, although I exercise every day to maintain my physical ability, and grudgingly adjust when I have to. Overall, I feel blessed to be where I am, as many people my age are far less capable.

I have noticed people treat me differently because of my age, but that is ok as they are showing respect for their elders.

R Quinn
R Quinn
11 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Pinkard

A little respect is nice, just don’t make me feel older than I am.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
11 months ago

Some things get better with age…many thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Last edited 11 months ago by Mik Cajon

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