Put on the empathy suit, Casablanca memories and Pavarotti gives James Brown a squishy look
(no. 19) Helping people understand the future state of their bodies (if they're lucky). By Stephen P. Williams
But first, this: Even couples who lack retirement funds will be surprised at how rich they are in retirement time. This is why you should plan how you’re going to adapt to all the free hours you’ll be able to spend together. (Many couples over 50 just get divorced.)
Fish for Life
Born in water that has collected in an elephant’s footprint, the African Killifish jumps to ponds and streams, finally laying eggs in a riverbank. Scientists love to study these fish to learn more about aging.
African Killifish live short lives of 4-6 months before heading to heaven or hell or wherever they go when they die. But they have the curious ability to delay this inevitability for months in the first place. The fish can suspend their embryonic development in a process called diapause, which scientists believe may be a response to drought, or other factors. The suspension doesn’t seem to affect their later development. Researchers are studying this diapause for clues as to how to “pause” the aging of various cells in adult humans, and slow the physical effects of growing older.
Those effects in the extreme, as we all know, include darkened vision, the need to rotate our whole bodies, rather than just our necks, to see to the side, stiff, achy joints, weak muscles and a host of other depredations that often appear in old age. By old age, I mean people in their late 70s and up.
If you’re now 80 years old, this song came out when you were an infant.
Many of these limitations inspire pejoratives like “crazy old coot,” “shuffling senior,” “Tin Man-walking old dude,” and more. Youths come up on an old person who is easily startled, and they laugh at how nuts the guy looks. They get stuck behind a shuffling older woman on a long flight of subway stairs and curse that she’s not young enough to just summon a Lyft on her phone and avoid the trains altogether. And perhaps most common, they roll their eyes when an older person is struggling with the credit card machine at the local drugstore. Given all their weird behaviors, it’s easy to imagine that old people are just being a pain in the ass when they get in our way. But that’s false. They’re just not as physically or mentally agile as they once were.
As I’ve progressed in years, I’ve become much more empathetic to older people — after all, I am becoming one. I rarely pass an aged panhandler without coughing up some bills, because the thought of being broke or homeless late in life is scary to me. Empathy towards the aging people we come in contact with is a good thing, because it makes our lives less angry and makes them worry much less about being slow or difficult.
The MIT AgeLab created an “empathy suit” called Agnes, with all the restrictions an 80 year old might face, to help younger people experience what it’s like to be truly old. Agnes forces its wearers to move and see and hear like a person in their 80s. Pretty startling, judging by the video, below.
Above, youngs put on suits that turn them into olds. They learn a lot in the process.
Empathy towards older people will be really helpful as America increasingly ages out. The chart, below, shows that by 2034 there will be more people over age 35 than there will be children under 18.
Courtesy of Census.gov
That shift is huge, historically, as illustrated by the chart below.
Just like the population described, the hourglass shape on the left has become a lumpy mass, on the right. Courtesy of Census.gov.
We are all going to be bumping into a lot of olds in the coming years. Seemingly clueless people will be blocking the aisle in the Geritol section, struggling with the checkout scanner, and leaning in close to make out the paintings at the museum. Try to understand that they aren’t intentionally trying to irritate you. They’re just having a little trouble with their peripheral vision, balance and cognition. Welcome to Oldville, and have some sympathy!
African Killifish are useful for studying aging.
The craziest old thing I’ve seen today
More news for singers and sinners, old and young
79 is light years younger than 80, or so we think
As transparent a trick as it is, we generally find more value in something that costs $4.99 rather than $5.00, or, God forbid, $5.01. This report shows that doctors also fall prey to this trick. They are more willing to perform heart surgery on 79 year olds than on 80 year olds, who on their birthday are often deemed too old for the procedure.
I can’t emphasize this enough
What we say when we talk about old
This diagram plots the use of aging terms in medical literature from 1950 to 2015. The vertical axis shows the percentage of use for each term, and the horizontal axis lists the years. “Elderly” has remained pretty strong, though it’s in decline. “Old” has been pretty consistent. But so far in the 21st century, “older” has become the term of record. I prefer the term “olds,” though no one else seems to. Here is the study
Last week I celebrated my 62nd birthday with my younger brother, Peter, who was born on my fifth birthday. It was a lovely celebration, and I felt young. He looked fantastic, but I noticed he had a few crows feet. Well, today when I saw this photo I realized I also have them. I guess that’s how time goes. Photograph by Konstancja Maleszyńska
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