Aldersgate on Ageism
Anne Behrend: Hi. I’m Anne Behrend, and you’re listening to Aldersgate OnAir.
Mike Peacock: Welcome back, friends, to Aldersgate OnAir. Thanks for joining us again today, as we have an enlightening and informative conversation to share with you about an important but sensitive topic. That topic is ageism.
Ageism is a quietism in America. In reality, it often doesn’t get addressed as often as other -isms though its prevalence is widely acknowledged. In fact, AARP research uncovered that advertising targeted at older adults is pervasively ageist and that 9 out of 10 people over 50 find advertising messages to be missing the mark.
Our mission during this episode is to explore what constitutes ageism, why ageist assumptions are made, and how to better educate people on ways to avoid ageist thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors. Part of the Aldersgate mission is to call attention to ageism and help people see through the filters.
Since Aldersgate’s Maria Hagadorn and Brooks Shelley are both loud and proud about tackling ageism head-on, we’ve asked them back on the show to discuss it. But wait. There’s more. We’ve got another special guest for you, Aldersgate resident Anne Behrend. You’re going to hear some really insightful things from Anne today as she shares her thoughts on Ageism and the remarkable way that she is currently making the most of her time during the COVID-19 outbreak. Stick around for another adventure. You won’t be sorry.
Now, please welcome to Aldersgate OnAir, Maria Hagadorn, Brooks Shelley, and Anne Behrend. Thank you all so much for joining us today.
Maria Hagadorn: Glad to be here.
Brooks Shelley: Thanks for having me.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s your show, right?
Mike: Maria and Brooks, your commitment to a comprehensive Life Plan Community that provides a variety of services to people over 62 make you both authorities on ageism. You’re exposed to this -ism on a daily basis and we’re excited to talk to you about it. First, a question we like to ask people. How old are each of you and how old do you feel on the inside? Maria?
Maria: I’m 35 and I guess it just depends on my mood. Sometimes I feel like an old soul and I feel much older and then sometimes I feel like I stopped maturing at 18.
Mike: [Laughter] All right. Brooks, how about you?
Brooks: I am 53 and, like Maria, it depends on my mood but I also feel like I’m younger than she is.
Mike: Yeah? Well, I’ve talked to you so, yeah, I can kind of believe that.
Brooks: [Laughter] Is that an immature statement?
Mike: I’m refusing to answer that question. Anne, we’re going to get to you in a second on that question. How long have both of you been focused on ageism? When did you become aware of the disparity? I’m sure you each have a different perspective on this. Maria?
Maria: I’ve only been in this industry a little over a year, but what really sparked my interest in coming into doing this work was, probably about three years ago, visiting a family member at an assisted living facility and thinking to myself, “Wow. What an amazing life this man has lived. He served in our military and led a family. Now we should really be celebrating these people for what they’ve contributed to our world and what it is today, and all that they’ve done, and we should be doing more to do that.”
That’s when I really first started to think about it in a different perspective. That’s what started my journey, which led me here to Aldersgate.
Mike: Okay. Brooks, how about you?
Brooks: I guess we all face ageism at an early age trying to figure out when our older brothers and sisters could go do things that we weren’t allowed to do because we were too young or not mature enough. Like Maria, I really didn’t focus on it as much until I got here. I came here just overwhelmed one night. I was here for a board meeting, an officer board, and came out and had never seen Aldersgate before. I’d heard about it. I live three minutes away.
Two hours after the meeting was done, I was still here talking to one of the residents. She was…. She was a spitfire. Her name was Cansas with a C. She was quite clear to tell you that it’s Cansas with a C.
Brooks: She and I had some of the most qualified conversations I’ve ever had. From that moment on, I realized there’s a story, multiple stories, and everyone around us, we don’t’ take the time often to find out.
Mike: Oh, okay. Well, Anne, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s really exciting to talk to somebody who is right there in the thick of all of it, hanging out with Brooks and Maria all the time here. I’d like to get your perspective on this. How long have you lived at Aldersgate? Tell us a little bit about yourself and, for the sake of our ageism discussion, how old are you and how old do you feel inside?
Anne: Well, I am actually 88 years old, but I have to say, on the inside, I still feel like I’m about 19. Sometimes, when I go in to brush my teeth, let’s say, and glance in the mirror, I think, “Uh-oh. There’s a mistake somewhere,” because I don’t look 19 anymore. But anyway, that’s the way I feel.
I came to Aldersgate about four years ago because my husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I did not care for the – they told me eventually he’d have to go in a facility and I didn’t care for the facilities in the town where we were. Also, we have family here.
I visited Aldersgate and it just didn’t take any time at all to know that this was the place and it was. It turned out to be exactly as I hoped. It was a good decision.
Mike: Have you ever experienced ageism? If so, when did you first feel it and when did you first feel it was actually having an impact on you?
Anne: Yeah, I do experience it. One of the lovely things about living in a place like Aldersgate, all of your friends are more or less your age. We do not feel any – in the least bit do we look down on each other because of our age. We just enjoy each other’s talents and personalities. We don’t think about anybody else’s age.
However, when I go out and maybe someone helping me at a drugstore or a grocery store will call me honey or sweetheart or dear. That is an athame to me. I can’t stand that because that’s what you call two-year-olds. That’s just a common dislike among people my age.
I know the people mean to be kind and warmhearted, but I always want to say to them, “Do you call everybody that or just people our age?” Other than that, I really don’t. I don’t.
Anne: I feel just like a person like anybody else. I happen to be 88.
Mike: Eighty-eight years young, right?
Mike: In your opinion, then, what do you think is the cause of that? Why do people use those phrases or words or approach you or others in that fashion?
Anne: Well, I think that our society, our whole society, is based on the idea of you must be successful and, in order to be successful, you have to have three things: money, good looks, and youth. If you don’t have those three things, you aren’t going to live up to the iconic people in the movies, on television, in sports, and so I personally think that’s where it comes from.
Other cultures, it’s very, very different, as you well know. Older people are revered and looked to for wisdom and so forth. But our society is not that way. That’s my opinion.
Mike: That’s a very insightful statement. I’m excited to hear that that’s your perspective. I agree. I think that’s fantastic that you are recognizing that there are those differences between where we are and where other people may be. That’s pretty awesome.
Back to Maria and Brooks there, what do you guys believe is the root of ageism in this country?
Maria: It’s funny because I think the exact same thing as what Anne said. We’re so similar. Our society puts so much emphasis and value on work and, especially our country, that you are useful while you’re working. Then once you’re no longer working or if you are not working, then your value is not the same.
I think that is so backward because so many societies have it the other way where all of what you’ve accomplished in your life and experienced, whether it’s work, family, anything that you’ve experienced just adds to your value and to really understand and appreciate that wisdom that you have at your age and to really honor and value the age and everything that comes with that.
Mike: Yeah, for sure.
Brooks: I agree with Maria completely. We seem so focused on value and diminishing value as people age whereas Eastern cultures seem to have it right that you are actually more valued as you age and as you have experiences that can be utilized and learned from, but our media especially promotes youth and vitality. The notion that if you aren’t young then you aren’t vital is completely in opposition.
Every night when you watch TV, you see, “Put this cream on to retain your youth and look your best.” Well, that’s insulting. Every wrinkle that I’ve got comes from several stories—some good, some bad—but there’s a story there. It should be valued.
We did a play not too long ago where a local gerontologist interviewed seven of our elders and ended up doing a stage production based on the stories that were received. It took seven different people from seven different demographics that all ended up here and had a bouncing common thread of their stories and how it was interrelated and their commonalities were highlighted over their differences.
We had everyone from a Rosie the Riveter to a retired college professor who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King to a housemaker to you name it. It was across the board. Until you actually sat back and listened to the experiences, you really couldn’t see and appreciate the person for them versus the person that you see.
Mike: Yeah. You brought up a topic that I’ve talked about many times with people, which is the media and I guess the stuff that comes out of the fancy glowing rectangle that is your television that tells you what you should look like, how you should behave, what you should be perceived as, and it often paints a very not realistic picture of how people actually are. That leads to other rabbit holes of people feeling like they’re not up to par, which clearly is not the case. That’s definitely a great callout.
Anne: It starts influencing people in that way when they’re quite young watching television, watching sports, whatever. They want to emulate what they’re seeing and that just grows inside of them as time goes on.
Mike: Anne, the philosophy of positive aging says that we should embrace age and not look away from it but, rather, approach it with anticipation for being a really good time in life. Do you agree with that statement?
Anne: I think it’s a little bit of looking through rose-colored glasses – a little. I do think there is a lot about this kind of life that’s great but I don’t think a whole lot of people actually look forward to it.
Mike: Okay. [Laughter]
Anne: It might be a pleasant surprise when you get there. When Maria mentioned working, I absolutely loved every day that I got up and went to work. Loved being a teacher.
When I had to retire because of my husband’s illness, I thought, well, I had a feeling for a short period of time, “Well, I’m not anybody anymore.” But that didn’t last long at all because there are many, many other things to do besides a job that we’ve been doing for a certain length of time. I do find that there are many good things about it but I’m not sure too many of us looked forward to it before we got here.
Mike: [Laughter] Fair enough. Fair enough. In your opinion, is there somebody that you look up to? Is there somebody who you think is doing well with this, an iconic person? Anybody come to your mind?
Anne: Yeah, just some everyday people that I think are getting the most out of every day of their lives, as much as they can, and then, if you want a famous person, I think of the Dalai Lama. He’s moving along in years and seems to be just getting more all the time out of life.
Then there’s my own grandmother who continued to play the piano publicly and do all kinds of things until she was well into her 90s. There are more. Those are just the ones that come to mind right away.
Mike: That’s amazing. As a person who embraces this time in life, how do you spend your time? We’re especially interested in your thoughts on making the most of this particular period during COVID and the social isolation elements.
Mike: What are you doing? How are you making the best of it?
Anne: Well, where I live in a retirement community, we are locked down and can’t go anywhere, nor can we have visitors, so we do find things to occupy our time. Our staff here is wonderful about coming up with various activities and so forth.
I personally love to read. I like to cook, although I get marvelous meals here whenever I want them. I’ve been taking courses from an organization called edX. These are courses taught by really terrific schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT – all kinds of topics. I just finished one today on Handel’s Messiah and the Baroque Era, which I just loved. It was wonderful.
We go out and walk. We go for long walks. Talk on the phone quite a bit to our families. Really, I have to say, I do occasionally, of course, get lonely for my family but I don’t get bored.
Mike: You actually touched on something that I kind of wanted to bring up as well, which is the continuing education portion of things. As we’re going to talk about ageism for a second, people don’t always think that, as you get older, you want to continue that education. There’s kind of that stigma that going to school and going to college is like a “young person’s game.” But clearly, that’s not the case because you can continue education throughout your entire life, whether or not it’s for a professional reason or personal enrichment.
For you, it sounds like this is really more of a personal enrichment thing, so then I’m curious. The idea of pursuing further, I guess, education for pleasure, what got you interested in that?
Anne: Once I turned on going to school, which took until I was a junior in college, before then I’d been just having a great time socially. [Laughter] Anyway, once I turned on to putting a little effort into it and seeing what I could learn, I just loved going to school and learning. I had not finished college because my husband was a year ahead of me and we married when he graduated, but I went back, kept going back, and enjoyed it all.
Mike: You ended up getting your master’s degree, correct?
Anne: Well, actually, I got my master’s, but my last degree was my doctorate when I was 81 years old. I tell you that so that other people might be encouraged. It’s never too late.
Mike: It’s never too late.
Anne: I had a great time doing it and, you know, it’s just another one of those things that I was fortunate in the opportunity and being able to do it.
Mike: The classes that you’re currently taking, who is offering those? Was it through Harvard?
Anne: Actually, it’s an organization called edX, edx.org.
Anne: You can go online and they have hundreds of courses in every kind of topic. Yes, Harvard is one of the schools, but there are many more. The beauty of it is they’re free.
This is something that’s been going on for several years now and I’ve taken quite a few courses from them. They’re just terrific.
Mike: What’s the next course you plan on taking?
Anne: I’m trying to decide now whether it’s going to be 18th Century Opera or 19th Century Opera.
Mike: Tough choice. I guess you have to take both.
Anne: Yeah. [Laughter] I think I will. I’m into music these days.
Mike: Well, that’s great. I’m into music as well, so that’s why we’re such good friends, right?
Anne: Absolutely. For sure.
Mike: Maria and Brooks, the same questions, I guess, for you. How do you guys spend your time, what are you doing during this, and what are your thoughts to make the best of the situation right now?
Maria: For me, during this situation, I think it’s really not – I’m in a really unique situation because I still get to come to work. Seeing on social media, people, my friends, listening to them talk about how they’re at home, they don’t get to leave the house, and they are trying to balance homeschool with work.
Even my husband is working at home with the kids at home. He’s begging me. He wants to be the one who is going to the grocery store on the weekends just to get out of the house.
I still get to have the luxury of a routine, of getting up and coming to work. It’s really different here because the residents aren’t out like they normally are, but I’m just really happy to be able to be here, contribute, and serve in the best way that I possibly can.
Mike: Okay. Yeah, that’s awesome. Brooks, how about you?
Brooks: Maria said it perfectly. We are blessed to be able to have a routine and come to work even though it is different from seeing the usual activity and vitality of everyone out and mingling.
It’s a very social group. It’s a very social setting. Having to sequester and go into isolation and then try to help everybody stay connected has proven to be an interesting experiment for us.
We are relying on technology quite a bit and creating things that we can have fun at a distance with. In a group that’s typically a bunch of huggers, that’s kind of hard to do.
Brooks: It is interesting to me, as well, and Maria hit it, of social media and all the folks that are stuck at home, watching the comments of isolation and stir craziness. Back to our ageism comment, as a society, that’s what we do to our elders. We isolate them.
Brooks: If we can take anything away from this entire episode in history, it’s to maybe have a little bit more understanding of, you don’t have to isolate people just to cope, just to move on, just to maintain a lifestyle. Encourage engagement and just not isolate as much.
It is a proven fact, and we can quote all the reports we want to, that isolation leads to depression and multiple other things. We are constantly looking for new and different and fun ways to get everybody engaged, including our team members.
Its’ a really tough time right now for caregivers and healthcare workers to remain motivated and still be able to go home to their families and feel like they’re safe going home with their families and that they’re providing for their families as well as providing the care to others. Hats off to all of them.
Mike: Yeah. You guys all touched on one thing that I think doesn’t often get brought up as it relates to ageism, but y’all are very forward-thinking in regard to using technology as a mechanism to keep those communications open. I think there’s a preconceived notion out there that our elders don’t understand technology, they don’t want to use it, they’re not familiar with it and, hence, they resist it. I don’t see that as being the case, especially at Aldersgate.
Anne, how do you feel about that? You seem to be pretty connected technologically. You guys all have tablets and things like that. You mentioned that you’re talking on the phone quite a bit. How do you feel about that?
Anne: Well, I think, when I was teaching, I had to learn computers and I’m delighted that I did. I’m anything but an expert, but I certainly can use a computer, an iPhone, an iPad, my Kindle, and Facetime. That’s very important right now to get together with your family and good friends who are far away.
But if I may, I want to comment on something Brooks said that the staff here is trying to make things as normal and fun and interesting as they can be. They are succeeding. This is one fantastic staff. I mean it. They all go way above and beyond.
We, meaning the residents, we get out. I walk, as I think I already said I walk with a friend every day for an hour. We stay six feet apart. We wear masks, but we’re out there pounding the pavement. Then we get together and sit six feet apart and talk in small groups.
We aren’t totally isolated. We can get out and we do have a good time. Brooks, Maria, and the rest of the staff come up with ideas for us that I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years and we’ve had a great time with them, so we’re lucky. We are very fortunate to be here.
Mike: Oh, that’s so awesome to hear. Brooks and Maria, what are your thoughts on technology and how important it is right now?
Maria: For me and my team here in the sales and market side of things, it’s extremely important because, as soon as we started to put these restrictions in place, we had to really shift gears quickly to be able to continue to engage with prospects who either were in the process of learning about Aldersgate or new people that we haven’t reached yet.
It’s so important for us and this team here to be able to have in-person interactions—people come in for appointments and tours, people who come for events—because to make a decision like you do to come and move to a community like ours, you want to be able to see and walk around and touch. We had to shift and pivot quickly.
One of the ways that we did that, or the main way that we’ve done that, is through technology. We shifted to virtual events immediately. We started doing virtual appointments and having our sales counselors walk through the common areas or tour a cottage or an apartment that they’re interested in using Facetime, using Zoom, using Skype. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose the momentum that we had because we can’t have people here physically.
For us, it was a huge shift that we had to make quickly. Also, for the prospects that we’ve been engaging with, they also had to quickly learn if they didn’t already have those resources to be able to do that. The great thing is, our team here will do a call, talk through it with them, the prospects, and show them how to use it. I would say the majority of them have been really receptive to doing that.
Mike: Oh, it’s amazing. Brooks, I would like to know, then, what is your perspective as you provide everybody, the residents, with the technology? Do you feel like it’s being used consistently? Has it been received well? Are you having to have major training episodes to get people involved in this or has it just been really an easy integration?
Brooks: It has been an interesting experiment as well. We provide each of our residents with iPads when they enter the community. We’ve used an internal app called Wellzesta that has the calendar on it, the menus on it. We can put links for things.
We have intentionally tried to up the usage of that, especially during this time, and utilize that. It has been remarkably well embraced by the residents.
The Facetime aspect, especially in some of our care areas, with family members that really wanted to come and visit but they can’t, the Facetime app has really made a huge difference. I was actually trying to help one gentleman with it and just show him because he never used Facetime, and he got logged on, started talking to his granddaughter, looked at me, and said, “Well, shit!”
Brooks: That moment of realization was everything.
Brooks: He was so delighted to see her.
Like Miss Anne said, we are thinking of ways to provide different items and different interesting things that would appeal to just about anybody. We’re putting virtual tours out on the Internet, from the Internet, and putting them out there for our residents to click through and see museums and places of the world that they’ve never been or may never go, places that most of us may not be allowed like in the pyramids. Each day, we put more and more and more out there to the point that, when I get home from work in the evening, some of the times I’ll log onto them just to take the tour because it was interesting to me and I didn’t have time to go through it earlier.
Mike: Yeah. In all of your opinions, then, it seems that the common theme is that technology is once again not just a “young person’s game.” This is really fully integratable for everybody to use.
Anne: Yes, there are a few people my age who never have been exposed, or very little, and they will just ask, quite often, for a little bit of help from a peer. Just show them a couple of things and they’ve got it, they’re delighted to have it, and it ends up working just fine.
Mike: Love it. Maria, I wanted to ask you this. The conversation about ageism often focuses on externalized ageism, meaning what we see as ageism out in the world. I’m curious about the concept of internalized ageism. What do you think about this idea that the worst kind of ageism is the kind that we impose upon ourselves?
Maria: Well, I thought this was an interesting question because we’re all our own worst critics, right?
Maria: Kind of like what Anne had said earlier, I know I’m 35 but I look in the mirror sometimes and I think to myself, “Wow, when did that happen?”
Maria: You look at a picture from, you know—
Anne: Try it in 50 more years, Maria.
Maria: [Laughter] I know, but I think that when you’re younger, like in your teenage years and in your 20s, you feel invincible like you’re never going to age. Forty is so far away and 30 is so far away. Then you get to 30 and you’re like, “Okay, 30 is really young now.” But then I look in the mirror and I’m like, “Wait a minute. That wasn’t there before. That wrinkle wasn’t here before.”
I know I’m only 35, but it’s just this slow criticism that you have when you look in the mirror and start to notice things are different. I think it just goes back to that we’re so hard on ourselves and to take that on.
Then also, just to be at my age, especially now being here, seeing and talking to residents, some of the things that I heard really early on were talking about how people have spent their lives. My favorite thing is to listen to people talk about their families, their careers, the places that they’ve traveled, and the things that they’ve done. For me, it almost is like, “Okay, wow. I need to make sure I get everything in. How do I get everything in, in my life, that I want to do?”
I have a relationship with my grandmother. She and I are very close. She is 93. She says, “I still have so much I want to do. I want to make sure that I give you girls all my recipes.” I think that we put that pressure on ourselves. I think I do, at least. I put this pressure on myself to make sure that I’m tracking along so that when I am living in a community like this, I can look back and say about all the wonderful things I’ve done in my life.
Mike: Wow. That’s fantastic. Brooks, a follow-up question about that then. What do you think the role that Aldersgate can play in both internalized and externalized ageism?
Brooks: Aldersgate can play a role. That’s a great question. Aldersgate can play a role in helping others see what they want to see and achieve what they want to achieve. We make an intentional exercise of exposing people to things that they typically wouldn’t have seen before. Our diversity, inclusion, and equity work brings a lot of different diverse thoughts, people, and feelings into play that most people typically wouldn’t, and from other cultures where aging is viewed differently.
Part of my role is to go to the external community and bring them in, so to speak, but now that’s changed. We typically host outside groups to come in and hold their board meetings here, especially our eastside neighbors and any type of immigrant, refugee, or minority group, we want them here. We can’t do that now and that exposure is lacking right now on our campus.
We’re again using technology to make the most of those relationships that we’ve built and make sure that those intergenerational aspects are still achieved through whether it’s mentoring with our elders, with young school children, or with the immigrant after school that we have on our campus or the middle schools. Just getting that intergenerational aspect of actually honoring your elders for who they are and all that they’ve achieved. The same can be said in reverse. I think our elders get as much from the kids that they’re tutoring as the kids do from our elders.
Mike: That’s a great perspective. Well, I think we’ve tackled quite a bit on this topic today and it’s definitely a hot button for a lot of people but I think it’s important to discuss. I want to thank all of you for discussing this with me today. Are there any other comments or thoughts that you wanted to put out today regarding this topic?
Maria: I have one more. When I started here a little over a year ago, I had a conversation with a resident. She was telling me about all the things she had scheduled for that day. I said, “Wow. I think you have a busier day than I do and you’re retired. You’re supposed to be retired.”
She said, “Yes, the difference is now I get to fill my day with all the things that I want to do and what’s important to me.” I just thought to myself, what an amazing outlook to have that now you have this time to choose how you spend it. She was doing amazing things, volunteering, helping with the reading program with the schools, and I just thought that is something to really look forward to.
Mike: Yeah. Oh, that’s really cool, for sure.
Brooks: One thing to that same point, Maria, we have noticed that just the name “retirement community” isn’t accurate anymore. We have people here that are still working. My mother is 86 and she still works every day. People enjoy their work. They draw a lot of energy from it.
We have folks that are here that aren’t retired. They just enjoy being here with the home maintenance and a sense of community. They can go do their thing. They’re perfectly fine, but they are programming their lives and doing what they want to in the order that they want to, which is such a beautiful thing.
Mike: Yeah, that’s a great thing that you brought up, which is the terminology that we often use is so outdated and, for whatever reason, it’s just stuck with us. The reality is, we’re probably looking at having to reidentify how we view things just based off the times are a-changing.
Anne: I was going to say exactly what Maria said, and that is, she talked about how she keeps thinking she’s got to do this, she’s got to do this because she wants to get it all fit in. I can remember wanting to and being able to do ten things at once but the beauty, one of the beauties of being the age that I am now is exactly what your friend said, Maria. I am now doing things because I want to. I’m taking courses on the Messiah, on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, on anything else I’m interested in. I’m doing volunteer work that makes me feel that I’m not just helping. They’re helping me too.
In other words, life changes from “I’ve got to be here at this time. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that,” to, “Isn’t it wonderful that I can now have time to do this and that and whatever gives me tremendous pleasure?” and maybe help somebody else just a little bit too.
Mike: Anne, thank you for joining us today and giving us a really, really, really amazing perspective from the inside on ageism and what that really means. Brooks and Maria, thanks to both of you for joining us today to kind of engage everybody on this topic. This has been an absolutely awesome conversation and I look forward to talking to you all again very soon on Aldersgate OnAir. Thank you so much.
Brooks: Thank you, Michael.
Maria: Thank you.
Mike: Thanks, of course, to all of you out there in radioland for hanging out with us once again. Don’t forget, we’re still looking for your comments, ideas, thoughts, and questions. Send those emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to include those tidbits of wisdom to make the show as epic as humanly possible. Until next time, stay safe and we’ll talk to you soon on Aldersgate OnAir.