The corrosive psychological effect of ageism on the self-image of the elderly has already been alluded to, but there are some physical effects that need to be addressed as well. Depending on how important the superficial physical appearance/ beauty has been and to what extent the inner qualities/sense of selfworth have been developed, the effects of the physical aging of the body vary greatly in the elderly. Some of the leading sources of concern are the following:
The human body loses muscle tone as it begins to age, but this can be lessened with sensible exercise. FATMany older Americans are greatly overweight, but this can be lessened with sensible dieting while still satisfying nutritional needs.
/GRAYINGBalding is predominately a male problem and the result of genetic inheritance. It becomes a traumatic issue if the man is trying to maintain a youthful image especially for work. Hair loss can be counteracted by the use of hair pieces“rugs.” Hair color change usually bothers women more than men. Color change is due to actual loss of pigment cells and is therefore biologically irreversible. Hair color/length/texture is many times equated with sexuality and becomes of paramount importance in maintaining a youthful image. The fact that this is “a nation which spends more than 45 billion in 1970 on various cosmetics and hair dyes and only $1.86 billion on Old Age Assistance,’’ (Smith, p 59) says something about our priorities. Graying hair can be changed by the use of hair dyes.
skin tissue loses its elasticity along with some degree of atrophy of the facial muscles as the body ages. Limiting exposure to sunlight, which accelerates the process, helps to reduce wrinkling. It is said that luckily failing eyesight often accompanies the appearance of balding, graying and wrinkling so that they can not be seen as well. The elderly need to care about their selfimage, both physical and mental, if their lives are to truly have worth and not merely be existence. Adolescents are frequently either criticized because they spend too little or too much time, effort, and money on how they look, while at the same time they give little attention to what goes on in their bodies and minds. We fail to realize that both the young and the old need to feel good about the outside “packaging” as well as the inner “mental contents.”
I have always been intrigued by people’s preoccupation with kittens, but their disregard for the same cat when it reaches maturity. Kittens personify youth, playfulness and innocence. Americans have difficulty dealing with their own mortality and find it easier to think only in terms of youth, because to do otherwise means they must deal with impending old age and their own death. Old age is viewed by many as a time of plowing under. The harvest of middle age has been reaped and the elderly have only to lie barren. This is not true! There are many successful and productive senior citizens who achieve much in the sunset years of their lives. A student exercise is included on researching the accomplishments of both renowed and local elderly who have made significant contributions to society in their golden years.
What It Feels Like To Be ElderlySensory Deprivation
This activity is designed to raise the sensitivity of the participants by having them simulate elderly sensory deprivation by desensitizing their senses.
Sunglasses/3D movie glasses filmed over with white poster paint to simulate cataract condition which limits vision.
Ear plugs/cotton to simulate hearing loss.
Elmer’s Glue covering and dried on fingertips to simulate reduced sense of touch.
: Students will go through as much of a “normal” day with their reduced senses in an attempt to feel the frustrations felt by the elderly when they experience sensory loss. Students should pay attention to their feelings and report back to the class how they felt and what happened to them. In the follow up discussion it should be noted, if the students do not bring it up themselves, that they were able to “try” this experience, the elderly can not quit.
What It Feels Like To Be ElderlyLimited Mobility
This activity is designed to raise the sensitivity of the participants by having them simulate limited/decreased mobility.
Masking tape placed on all/most of the finger/and other joints to simulate the difficulties that arise with arthritis.
Walkers and wheelchairs to demonstrate the difficulty in getting around with these aids.
: Students will go through as much of a “normal” day with limited mobility in an attempt to feel the frustrations felt by the elderly when they experience mobility loss. Student should be encouraged to make note of handicapped access to buildings that the elderly would need to use. They should also modify their step climbing by not skipping stairs. BOTH feet must touch EACH stair when going up and down stairs. Have students note how big a step up/down is required to enter/ exit from a bus. How easy of a feat would this be for a person with reduced mobility? How long do buses wait for the elderly to be seated before they start up?
What It Feels Like To Be ElderlyAttitudes
This activity is designed to raise sensitivity of the participants by having them masquerade as elderly to gain first hand reactions and attitudes toward the elderly.
Wigs, clothing and makeup
: Students will dress up as senior citizens and simulate activities done by the elderly. For example, use public transportation, shop and attend local amusement centers. They will then report back to the class on treatment they received.
The Elderly in AdvertisementsMagazines
: Magazines, particularly women’s magazines such as “Woman’s Day,” or “Family Circle.”
Magazine advertisements are a widely utilized means of promoting a vast range of products to the buying public. Have students look over several different magazines bearing in mind the following questions:
What is the average age of the women and men used in most advertisements?
Are these individuals usually “good looking,” “slim” and “sexy?”
Is the implied message in these ads one of success, wealth and importance surrounding the individuals in these ads? How is this shown? Give specific examples of how this accomplished.
Now find examples of ads that contain older people.
Are these elderly people enjoying themselves? Functioning in competent roles? Appear to be successful, wealthy or important? Are they good looking, slim or sexy?
Are the products these older people are endorsing positive in nature and not negative or in a painful vain? Give specific examples to show your results.
Spinoff ActivityCreate Your Own Elderly Advertisement
Students will create their own ads that present the elderly in a positive light.
The Elderly on TelevisionShows and Advertisements
The importance of television within our society is undeniable. Television stations transmit programs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long. This programming is frequently interrupted by numerous commercials. Have students analyze TV commercials bearing in mind the following questions:
What is the average age of the potential buyer for most products promoted on commercials?
What is the average age of the people used in most TV commercials?
Now find examples of TV commercials that are designed to sell products to the elderly.
What are the products being promoted in these commercials? Are these products of a “positive” nature?
Describe the individuals used in these commercials.
Spinoff ActivityCreate Your Own Elderly TV Commercial
Students will redesign commercials in a more positive light.
Have students analyze TV shows that have elderly on them.
What is the average age of the major characters on TV show? If there is a villain or victim, what is their age? Are the elderly depicted as oldfashioned, ill, inflexible, feeble and generally out of step with life?
The Development of the Elderly as a Political Force **
Senior citizens are a definite voting block of constituents that could be mobilized to exert political pressure.
This project entails a combination of researching and projecting. Students must find out about what has and has not been done for and to the elderly and then must make certain decisions about what can be done in the future. The class may be broken into smaller groups to facilitate more detailed research and then they can collectively contribute their findings to form a class strategy on how to mobilize the elderly as a viable political force to be reckoned with. Possible topics of research to formulate a platform:
PERIOD OF EARLY SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Look at post World War II social legislation, New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, Great Society, along with the advances made by civil rights and women’s rights groups to understand the social conscious climate that indicated dissatisfaction and was translated into political pressure.
PERIOD OF AGITATION AND AWAKENING
Look at those individuals such as Margaret Kahn who vocally expressed concerns as well as the praises of the elderly.
PERIOD OF ORGANIZATION
Look at the American Association of Retired Persons, the National Council of Senior Citizens and the Gray Panthers.
PERIOD OF ESTABLISHMENT OF IDEOLOGY AND GOALS
Look at what the organizations that represent the elderly are fighting for.
Look at what these organizations and others are actually doing to draw attention to and to fight against ageism.
RESPONSE AND EFFECTIVENESS
Look at what the response of the general public and the government has been so far.
Look at the concrete accomplishments obtained for the elderlySocial Security, Medicare and age discrimination laws.
Look at what has to be done and how the movement can be helped.
Spinoff ActivityPut Your Research To Work!
This is an election year. Students can be encouraged to become politically active on the elderly issue and to get the elderly out and active around the local issues that will affect them.
** This lesson is adapted from
Scholastic SOCIOLOGY The Search for Social Patterns
Teacher’s Resource Manual, Larry Krieger, Scholastic Book Services, New York, 1980.
You’re Not Getting Older, You’re Getting Better!
Kids need heroes and heroines. They are that make for inspiration. They are the models and rulers by which youngsters fashion, shape, mold and measure their lives after. The younger generation needs to be aware that the years after forty are not totally fruitless. That life is not over after forty! There are a multitude of elderly individuals whose accomplishments are as varied as they are different. There are many local, as well as world renowned celebrities and unsung heroes who are living productive and useful lives way after the halfcentury mark.
Have students research some of the suggested successful senior citizens and encourage them to interview family and friends who they feel have made significant contributions to be included on the honor roll of the elderly.
Examples of local elderly:
Armand Zimmermann, former English teacher, Branford High School.
Tom Emerson, retired Dean of the Yale Law School, civil rights expert.
Richard C. Lee, former mayor of New Haven.
Examples of famous elderly: George Burns, Coco Chanel, Cecil B. DeMille, Thomas Edison, Gandhi, Jory Graham, Justice Holmes, Archibald MacLeish, Margaret Mead, Golda Meir, Michelangelo, Claude Monet, Anna Mary Moses, Pablo Picasso, Helena Rubinstein, Artur Rubinstein, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Casey Stengel, Leo Tolstoi, Giuseppe Verdi, John Wayne, Mae West, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Portrayal of the Elderly in Children’s Stories
: Access to a library Have students research the negative portrayal of the elderly in children’s literature. Cite the actual passages.
NonEnglish Speaking Awareness of Assistance Available to the Elderly
: Literature on the Social Security System
Have students check literature on services available to see if it is printed in any other language than English. Have students translate any available literature on services available to the elderly into different languages—Spanish, Portuguese. Check on whether literature is distributed to the nonEnglish speaking population in a meaningful manner. If it is not, brain-storm on how to get the information into the hands of the people who need it.
The Social Security System
: Information on the Social Security System.
Students should research the Social Security system from its establishment in 1936 to the present including all changes. Have students interview the elderly who are receiving benefits about the latest revisions and get their reactions to the latest changes. The following is a possible information sheet that students could use in interviewing.
The 1983 Social Security Compromise was signed on April 20,1983 in an attempt to bailout the financially troubled system. Some of the important effects of this compromise are as follows:
July increases are delayed. Cost of living increases are delayed until January 1984 and will occur in January thereafter. Increases will be based on the lower of wages or prices instead of prices as is currently the practice.
Incentives to retire later. A 3 % a year delayed credit will go up to 8% over the 19902008 period. The “earning test” that reduces benefits $1 for every $2 earned will be changed to a $1 cut for every $3 earned.
Medicare fee structure. Hospital bills will be paid on fixed fees in advance rather than paying “reasonable” checkout charges.
Retirement age to rise. The 65 retirement will be raised to 67 in two ways. First, those born from 1938 on will be affected by a twomonthayear increase to 66 from 20032009. Secondly, those born from 1955 on would be affected by a 2monthayear increase from 20212027. Workers could retire at 62, but would receive lower benefits.
Selfemployed tax climbs. An increase from threequarters of the combined employeremployee rate to full rate will occur for selfemployed workers as of January.
Payroll tax to go up. The payroll tax now at 6.7% each for employer and employee will rise to 7% in 1984, 7.05% in 1985, 7.15% in 1986, 7.51% in 1988, and 7.65% in 1990. 7) Payments may be taxed. Total adjusted gross incomes above $25,000 for singles and $32,000 for couples will be taxed on half the benefits.