Author Topic: Snarky assumptions about aging  (Read 3990 times)

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Raintree

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Snarky assumptions about aging
« on: November 09, 2012, 03:25:38 AM »
A trend I've encountered recently when discussing things like city planning, the aging population, transportation, hospitals and such, is for some people (who are still young and healthy) to pipe up with something along the lines of "well if people would only eat healthier and exercise, they wouldn't have these problems into their old age."

I came across this attitude when discussing the problem of hospitals being filled to overflowing with elderly people who need medical intervention but the system doesn't support the sheer volume. And oftentimes, an elderly person stays in hospital needlessly because they have nobody to care for them at home and there is a shortage of respite homes for them to go to. (There was an article in the paper about this). I was discussing it on Facebook when several people (30's to 40's) posted with an indignant attitude about how if only everyone would eat healthy and exercise, they wouldn't be getting sick and immobile in their old age, and dying of heart disease, stroke and cancer. I maintain that you may stay healthy longer but eventually old age is going to get you, no matter what, and that it's probably going to be one of those three things that kills you, even if it's later in life.

Then yesterday on a forum some people were discussing transportation planning and accessibility issues. Someone pointed out that many older people are no longer able to drive, cannot walk far, and therefore face issues with isolation. Stairs were also mentioned somewhere in there.

Someone who I know to be about 50 years old, retorted,

"I eat a healthy diet, walk every where, and do not use prescription medications; therefore, I plan on being able to use stairs, walk on hilly ground, and drive my car well into old age."

Don't you think this is a rather premature assumption? As well as kind of a rude attitude towards those who do find themselves with mobility issues and health problems as they age? I just find it really rude to get on one's high horse about eating healthy blah blah blah when discussing the problems of the aged. Besides, what someone considers healthy now may not match what was considered healthy 50 years ago, and 50 years from now the definition of "eating healthy" will likely be different again.

TurtleDove

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2012, 03:31:31 AM »
I don't think any comparisons should be made but I don't have a problem with people taking care of themselves. There is absolutely merit to putting in effort to maintain health. I'm not sure what you are looking for here.

Amava

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2012, 03:37:22 AM »
I think people who say such things are speaking out of fear. They are afraid of deteriorating, and therefore desperately trying to convince themselves that it won't, it can't happen to them. They are trying to reassure themselves that it is a matter they have in their own hands and under their own control.

It's a similar mechanism as victim-blaming with crimes and accidents. Something scary happens to someone, and people try to find fault with the victim, to convince themselves that they are not at risk because they are smarter, or healthier, or take more precautions, or whatever.

Raintree

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2012, 03:45:39 AM »
I don't think any comparisons should be made but I don't have a problem with people taking care of themselves. There is absolutely merit to putting in effort to maintain health. I'm not sure what you are looking for here.

I agree with you, and I also fall into the category of someone who eats healthy, exercises, doesn't smoke, and generally looks after myself. But there's no way I'm looking at an 80 or 90 year old on heart medications or who needs a hip replacement and is in pain from arthritic joints, and saying, "I guess he/she didn't look after himself. This won't happen to me because I exercise and eat healthy." And the comments about "this won't happen to me, and they should have taken better care of themselves" come across to me as victim-blaming. I work with a lot of elderly people and a many of them ate well and were VERY active, and they still got elderly and decrepit. Oh and a lot of this is old sports injuries too, leading to early arthritis; nobody is immune.

I guess the issue I have with the "well I guess they should have.." attitude is, "Well why are you making the assumption that they didn't?" I find these comments incredibly rude when made about people who are nearing the ends of their lives and deserve a little compassion.

girlysprite

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2012, 04:16:54 AM »
We live in a society where many people believe, or try to believe, that you can make your own success or failure, and the outcome of whatever is 100% your responsibility. So let's say that you have a heart attack when you're 50? Well, than you must have done something wrong! Of course, no one lives a perfect life, so you can always find a cause. By the way, it also passes the fact that we didn't find this key to a perfect life yet, and it varies from person to person.

On top of this, people really underestimate what really old age does with you. I have several grandparents who are over 80, and none of them are very mobile and superhealthy anymore. They are ok for their age, but they face the problems as you described in your post. Again, people like to think that they can prevent it, but they fool themselves.

Iris

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2012, 04:31:34 AM »
I think people who say such things are speaking out of fear. They are afraid of deteriorating, and therefore desperately trying to convince themselves that it won't, it can't happen to them. They are trying to reassure themselves that it is a matter they have in their own hands and under their own control.

It's a similar mechanism as victim-blaming with crimes and accidents. Something scary happens to someone, and people try to find fault with the victim, to convince themselves that they are not at risk because they are smarter, or healthier, or take more precautions, or whatever.

This. Since they are likely speaking out of fear I don't think there is any easy way to shut them down. They are more likely to get defensive and argue with you even if you make a fairly innocuous statement. I would just bean dip.
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Emmy

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2012, 05:42:32 AM »
It's easy to say that when you are younger and in good health.  Eating right and exercising may help keep people healthier longer in general, but it won't make a person immortal or ward off age related problems forever.  I agree that it probably is fear and the desire to control the situation as much as possible. 

camlan

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2012, 06:34:24 AM »
They have no cure for arthritis. There's nothing you can do to prevent it. If you are going to get it, you are going to get it. There's things you can do to help, but you can't decide that you simply won't get it.

I've seen several relatives virtually crippled by arthritis. Can't move their fingers. Standing up becomes painful. Walking unassisted is impossible. These were people who ate right and stayed healthy.

Taking care of yourself can minimize the effects of aging. But it can't stop them completely.

Let's also remember that medicine, even cutting edge medicine, 50 or 60 years ago gave people completely different advice than today. So someone who is 70 may have done things to stay healthy that young people today would scoff at. Science is continually discovering new things, and to blame someone in their 60s for not doing something we only found out about 5 years ago is silly.

And there's a growing trend for people to find something/someone to blame if they get sick. Can't just catch a cold these days. Have to go through every person you've met in the past week to determine who gave you the cold. Got cancer? It must be something you did/ate/wore/sat on.

So I agree with the OP--don't blame the elderly for being, well, elderly.
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Just Lori

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2012, 06:53:34 AM »
Yes, when I was a 107-pound 25-year-old, I just knew I'd never put on weight and look like my mother.  Twenty years later, I'm on a 1200-calorie-a-day diet to postpone what might be inevitable.

Mirror mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all...

Yes, these assumptions can be irritating, but I think this optimism is a valuable part of human nature.  We all need to live our young years assuming that we're in control of our health and our healthy choices are going to pay off.  But we also need to be sensitive to the needs of those who aren't enjoying good health, for whatever reason.  Their lives have value as well. 

TootsNYC

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2012, 07:50:12 AM »
I think another reason you object inside when people say this is that the unspoken subtext often seems to be, "I shouldn't have to be inconvenienced or pay money for them because they didn't."

Which carries the message, "I don't want to be bothered with you--I don't want to help you." And that's really a harsh stance.

So even though these people aren't saying this explicitly, that sentiment floats along the edge of the conversation.

Yvaine

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2012, 07:50:25 AM »
Let's also remember that medicine, even cutting edge medicine, 50 or 60 years ago gave people completely different advice than today. So someone who is 70 may have done things to stay healthy that young people today would scoff at. Science is continually discovering new things, and to blame someone in their 60s for not doing something we only found out about 5 years ago is silly.

That, and we're also seeing more of the effects of aging in the population than previous generations might have seen, simply because more people are living long enough to get old in the first place. In first world countries, fewer people are dying young of things like infectious diseases and industrial accidents and malnutrition. So they live long enough to get the heart attack, stroke, or cancer. In the past, everyone would of course have known some elderly people, but right now what we're seeing is a generation that is really huge population-wise and who have been really healthy all their lives starting to become seniors and experience the effects of aging. It's a pretty big shift in the world.

Corvid

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2012, 07:53:14 AM »
when several people (30's to 40's) posted with an indignant attitude about how if only everyone would eat healthy and exercise, they wouldn't be getting sick and immobile in their old age, and dying of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

<snip>

"I eat a healthy diet, walk every where, and do not use prescription medications; therefore, I plan on being able to use stairs, walk on hilly ground, and drive my car well into old age."

Yes, he or she plans, but sometimes life does not go as we plan.  Yes, diet and exercise helps, but the human body comes with built-in obsolescence and no matter how well you maintain it, it's going to wear out and start to fail.  Do I need to mention the possibility of illnesses that aren't prevented with diet and exercise or the effects of accidents that the healthiest of us may suffer?  Diet and exercise won't save you from physical issues caused by, say, a car accident.  Do I need to mention that even children can suffer debilitating health crises?  Quite often good health is truly a case of "there but for the grace of God go I" and people would do well to be a little grateful and humble about their own good health and a little compassionate about the sufferings of others.

CrochetFanatic

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2012, 07:53:40 AM »
Eating healthy and exercising might help, but what about factors like heredity?  Some people are more predisposed to certain diseases because there is a history of it on one or both sides of the family.  Then there are accidental injuries, doctor's mistakes, etc.  There are too many wild cards in play.  People might feel immortal when they're 18 or so, and want to hold on to that for as long as possible.  That might account for the comments.  It's easy enough to be judgmental when you feel good about what you're doing, but anyone can be blindsided by a surprise health issue.

WillyNilly

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2012, 08:27:47 AM »
I would wager to be actually most Americans are not in fact eating healthier diet then their previous generations. I won't go into too much detail but suffice to say a 2012 carrot and a 1962 carrot are not the same nutrient and nature-wise... and the 2012 isn't the better one. As our world, our nation, our economy and chemical knowledge have changed, its changed things around us. A few decades ago margarine was the "healthier" choice. "Organic" vegetables are a modern reaction to change. Dr's used to smoke *in* hospitals. People a generation ago, much like people today or people 100 years ago all do the best they can, but the reality is, is that we *still* don't know the perfect lifestyle - and even if did, no one is perfect.

I think the issue has a lot to do with fear. And selfishness. People want to think it won't happen to them because they can't bear the thought. Plus, in a bad economic climate such as ours its overwhelming to think of caring for people who aren't [currently] contributing - everyone is scrambling just to manage and aren't feeling generous. Then to top it off the *current* health crisis is one related to lifestyle (obesity epidemic) so its its in the forefront of people's minds that health is directly linked to lifestyle - which is true, but one has to remember "lifestyle" is more then just diet & exercise. Taking all estrogen BCP, insulating one's home with asbestos, smoking, lead paint, mercury dental fillings, these are all very real parts of our history that are contributing health factors that have nothing to do with diet & exercise. And if we think about what we didn't know in the past, we must assume there's much we have yet to learn. Heck "nutrition" as a science is only about 100 years old. It used to just be "food".
« Last Edit: November 09, 2012, 09:37:26 AM by WillyNilly »

blue2000

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Re: Snarky assumptions about aging
« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2012, 08:34:05 AM »
I think another reason you object inside when people say this is that the unspoken subtext often seems to be, "I shouldn't have to be inconvenienced or pay money for them because they didn't."

Which carries the message, "I don't want to be bothered with you--I don't want to help you." And that's really a harsh stance.

So even though these people aren't saying this explicitly, that sentiment floats along the edge of the conversation.

I agree. I think it is absolutely true that some things can be avoided, but why say that to a 90-yr-old?? They don't have a time machine. They can't change the past. And someone who was poor as dirt and had little health care for most of their young years couldn't do much even with a time machine. Were they supposed to steal that organic produce and the gym membership so they would be healthier in the future??

It kind of smacks of elitism - the idea that Little Miss Healthy is 'better' than those sick people simply because they made different choices in life.
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