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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

“I must confess, I was dumb.”

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Do you recognize those as the words spoken by Senator Bernie Sanders following his recent heart attack?

Here is Sanders’ statement in a fuller context:  "Thank God, I have a lot of energy, and during this campaign I've been doing, in some cases, three or four rallies a day all over the state, Iowa, New Hampshire, wherever. And yet I, in the last month or two, just was more fatigued than I usually have been. And I should have listened to those symptoms."

Sanders said this is what he has learned from this cardiac episode and he wants to see that other people learn it too.  “I should have listened to those symptoms.”  Very wise words of advice.

Because we – all of us – have internalized the negative and false ageist message that old age is synonymous with illness, aches and pains and decline, we can fall into the trap of accepting any “symptom” as just old age creeping up on us, as something we just have to live with. This mindset fits in with the model of the body as a machine with many parts. Our body, this false theory says, is going to fall apart just like an old car.  In reality, some parts do wear out.  We can replace hip and knee joints; we can replace the teeth that are typically good for sixty years or so. Beyond that, our bodies are awesome in the ability to heal, to regenerate, to form new neural paths in adapting to some loss in order to continue function.  Listen to your body and respect what it is telling you.

Senator Sanders’ has given us a powerful public lesson.  Listen to your body. If there is something different going on and it persists, seek advice. Do NOT assume it is just part of growing older.

Let Senator Sanders’ experience be a valuable lesson for all of us.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Fall and the Seasons of Our Lives

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

This morning I turned the heat on in the house for the first time this season to take the chill off, as we say. Fall has finally come. The trees have lost a few of their leaves. The lawn is sparse with them, fallen before they revealed the fullness of their fall colors.

How many times have you and I read a person of high regard in religious circles, or heard a retreat director speak and compare our lives with the four seasons of the year.  Here we are in the fall of the year, and for me and some of my readers, the fall of our lives.  The typical rendition of this life/season analogy is that just as the leaves fall from the trees and die, the challenge we face in the Fall of our lives is to let go.

Now there is nothing inappropriate with the concept that in our lives we must let go in multiple dimensions of life.  Actually, we live through letting go throughout our life, not just in our later years. Initially, in experiencing birth, we “let go” of the unique and deeply intimate relationship with our mother in her womb.  I resist the typical understanding of “letting go” that is associated with Fall and the falling of leaves because it sends the message that the Fall of our life is defined, is circumscribed by loss and the subsequent challenge (as in ageist Aging and Spirituality lectures) to let go. Nothing is further from the truth. We experience the potential for growth and development throughout our life cycle – not just Spring and Summer but Fall and Winter also! The field of gerontology has confirmed this via a growing field of research. Fall is a time of fullness and richness!

Actually, nature gives us a similar positive message.  Those Fall leaves --- they do more than just fall from the tree and die. They spread awe and wonder, delight and joy as millions of people around the world view their majestic colors.  Those pigments have been a part of each leaf all its life. It is only in the Fall with the declining hours of daily sunlight and lower temperatures that the chlorophyll breaks down and disappears revealing the colors that have always been there!!  It is only within the later stage of its life cycle that the glorious colors become visible.  Think about that! Beauty, continued growth and development becomes possible and visible precisely because of our aging.

Another image of Fall as a time of richness and fullness was made obvious to me during a prayer  at a gathering focusing on aging. The prayer was a kind of litany about Fall. This one line has stayed with me and I smile every time I think of it:

"It is fall. Our barns are full."

Thursday, August 1, 2019

How a sense of advocacy makes life better for residents of our communities

Jill Vitale-Aussem is not only President and CEO of the Eden Alternative, she has authored a recently-published book entitled  Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift (© 2019 Health Professions Press, Inc.)  I look forward to purchasing my copy of Jill's book this weekend when I am at the Pioneer Network Conference in Louisville, KY.

What I offer here is a link to an excerpt from Jill's book that is worthy of your time in reading.  She begins by noting that when prospective residents are looking at a community, the bulk of conversations is what the community can offer to the prospective resident. There is never a conversation addressing what the resident brings to the community.  Person-directed living is predicated on Knowing the Person; the all-too-often ignored part of what the resident brings needs to become operational. How can we facilitate purpose and meaning in the lives of our residents if we do not know each person we serve?

The story in this excerpt revolves around a series of thefts in an Assisted Living Community. It has a happy ending because of the sensitive insights and strong sense of advocacy the administrator exhibited.

Read the story  here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Free Webinar from Pioneer Network featuring Ashton Applewhite

For my readers who may not know who Ashton Applewhite is, she is an author and a leading figure internationally in the movement to raise consciousness about ageism and to end it!

On Tuesday, June 25 at 2:00 EST, Ashton will be a guest for the Pioneer Network webinar.  It is free, but registration is required.  You can register here

If you are not available to listen at the presentation time, your registration will allow you to access the webinar at a later time.

I encourage my readers to go for it!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Francis speaks of imagination and creativity as elements of effective love

“Those who love use their imagination to discover solutions where others see problems. Those who love help others according to their needs and with creativity, not according to preconceived ideas or common conceptions.” - Pope Francis, February 14, 2019

Often I have mused that as Sisters we assume the following false logic: “We love our old Sisters.”  That is an undoubtedly true statement and feeling. But the assumption goes on, “So, of course, we take good care of them.”

Unfragmented, the whole thought is this: “We love our old Sisters. So, of course, we take good care of them.” Love is essential, but it must be proactive if it is to be sufficient. Pope Francis speaks of this directly in his Valentine’s Day message.

In our society, where ageism is so pervasive that we do not recognize it, ageist stereotypes clearly seep through convent walls. This ageism impacts how we view aging, old people (including ourselves), and what is the norm for an appropriate environment and services for these old people (commonly referenced as “they” or “them”). Francis’ statement speaks to the heart of how Sisters can and must approach and implement programs for their elders who need supportive services.

Love drives us to use our imagination to look at what happens and how it happens in our retirement centers with new eyes, with imagination that can envision what can be for our Sisters, not just what has always been.

Francis calls for creativity necessary to meet the needs of our Sisters according to their needs, not according to preconceived ideas, or common conceptions.  Do ageist views of what old age is bind us to preconceived ideas, and blind us to new visions of what creativity could open for our Sisters, and therefore for the world?

Francis is calling for an active love which will transform the present culture of how we view aging and aging services.  In the field of aging services, we call this Culture Change! This movement is a few decades old, and has bold, courageous leaders across the country carrying it’s message forward. It inspires me to know that among this number is a handful of Congregations of women religious whose leaders have listened to and responded to their instinctive knowledge that there can be more for our Sisters in their later years. These superiors have taken seriously their pastoral and canonical mandate to facilitate and nurture the highest possible quality of life for their elders. It is a part of completing the mission for each individual Sister who has committed and spent her life in service to the Church through her particular Religious Institute.

This ministry of service to our own members is merely another facet in the jewel of the works of Mercy which has defined Sisters’ ministry of service as a response to the signs of the times since we first came to the United States as missionaries.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"The Ugly Truth About Ageism: It's a Prejudice Targeting Our Future Selves"

  ©   Imelda Maurer, cdp  September 17, 2018

This blog title is that of an article in The Guardian recently.  I certainly cannot improve on the concepts or the writing, so I include just a few paragraphs from an informative and thought-provoking piece. The entire article can be accessed here.

"We love the elders in our lives and we all hope to grow old, so why does this personal interest not translate into public policy?"  (My own editorializing here ---  it could read, 'why does our love for our elders so rarely translate into environments, policies, procedures, programs and practices that make this love and respect  visible and self-evident to our elders as well as to any observers or visitors to these communities?')

"You see them in most aged-care facilities, seated on pastel-colored lounges, being babysat by a TV they are mostly not watching. Some are asleep, some are sedated, some are cognitively impaired. Seeing them like this, it’s hard to remember they were once young, vital and independent. What’s harder is thinking that it might one day be you."

"So why have we failed to do better by our elderly needing care? Why do we settle for conditions that leave many of them bored, lonely and poorly fed in a way we would never tolerate for ourselves?"

"One underlying cause could be deeply entrenched ageism. It often begins with the language we use. According to writer Ashton Applewhite, if we diminish our regard for the senior members of our society verbally, we are likely to do the same when it comes to the way we frame policy – removing their dignity and sense of agency in condescending generalizations that assume vulnerability and dependence instead of resilience and independence."

"Unlike other prejudices such as racism and sexism, which are manifestations of fear of the other, ageism is unique in targeting our future selves."

 “No prejudice is rational,” says Applewhite. “But with ageism, we have internalised it. We have been complicit in our own marginalisation and it will require active consciousness-raising to correct that, just as the women’s movement did."

Are we ready to engage in active consciousness-raising around issues of ageism?  For my readers who are women religious, there is an urgent call here for us to engage on this issue for the social justice issue that it is! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Culture Change: Let's Not Make it a Cliché

Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Reissued September 5, 2018

There is a wonderful revolution taking place in (albeit all too few) nursing homes across the country. As long as there are parents who say to their children, ‘Promise me you’ll never put me in a nursing home,” or any of us groan to think that we may spend our last days in a medical institution that is foreign to any feel or sense of “home” with all its deep and deeply personal implications, then there is need for this revolution, this transformation, to spread.

It goes by several names: Culture Change; Transformative Nursing Homes: Resident-Centered Care; Person-Centered Care; Green House Model; Household  Model, Wellspring

What all these terms have in common is a philosophy that holds to the following values and attitudes:

          The resident is put back into the driver’s seat, making as many choices about his/her daily life as possible. One implication is that activities and care revolve around the resident as much as           possible, as contrasted with an institutional model where schedule and staff convenience take precedence.

           It is an environment that honors the culture of aging as life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful.

          The place has the feel and look of HOME. Just two evidences of change in the environment:
            No medical carts rumbling down the hallways.
            No centralized  nurses' station

Although the culture is not transformed by merely instituting programs, or doing away with a centralized nursing station, studies have shown that in communities where the culture has transformed to a resident-first culture, certain practices/programs are present. That information can be used as somewhat of an evaluation of how far along on the journey of culture change a community has come. It is accessible at this link:  .
Once on that page, scroll down to the "Artifacts of Culture Change Downloadable Version".

Culture change is a deep, challenging transformation of attitudes and values which is dependent on strong, knowledgeable leadership. The leader must have a deep belief in these transformative values and the leadership ability to shape staff so that these values permeate every cell of their being. Anything short of this is not transformative change and the result will not be ‘culture change.’

The win-win part of culture change is that this transformative mode of operation costs no more than traditional, institutional care. In fact, there are many reasons why the cost is probably lower. That’s a topic for another day.

Steve Shields, CEO of a transformative community in Manhattan, KS speaks of what made it possible for him and his staff to move forward in their journey of transformative change. He is quoted in Beth Baker's book, Old Age in a New Age:  When Action Pact consultants first introduced the concepts of culture change, "The vision was painted so strongly and in front of everybody that it became holy. Truly."

I spoke with Steve about that quote and asked him what he meant by saying that culture change is ‘holy.’ He said simply and straightforwardly, “It is holy because it liberates our elders and returns hope to them.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Interpreting What We See

Sometimes the very field we are in as caregivers or advocates under one broad definition or another can lend a bias to our observations that is not always in the best interests of those we love and serve. Our conclusions may not reflect what  choices they may rightfully make or want to make.
We may think we know better because of our professional background, or because of our position or status. We may be acting from a conscious desire to keep the ones we love and serve safe from making poor decisions.
Sonya’s experience described below and what she took from it spoke to me strongly of just one example of implicit bias that exists in all good people. It was her Facbook entry posted earlier this morning

It happened again today. Blue the Elder Dog (Chief Executive of Cuteness and Herding for Sonya Barsness Consulting) and I went for a walk. He walked very slowly and wobbily, breathing heavily. He didn't make it around the block. I picked him up and carried him into the house. As I sat processing this, he came up to me and started barking, nudging his ball towards me. 
And it hit me - he is reserving his energy for what is important to him.
How often do we make assumptions about what our beloveds need and want? Do we notice what brings them to life?
And so we played.
Blue the Elder Dog has been promoted to Senior Chief Executive of Wisdom.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"I just wanted a little sun."

A couple of Sundays ago our St. Louis region was under a heat wave advisory. After returning from an early morning Mass, I changed clothes and went out to water the flowers before it got too hot.

I saw my neighbor whose back yard is just catty-corner from my own. Rita was sitting in the shade on her patio. I waved and she waved back. I've always liked and appreciated my friendship with Rita for her warmth, intelligence and her almost-92-years of life experience.

"Did you give up on the air conditioning?" I asked.

"No, I just wanted a little sun."

I wished her a nice day and got on with my watering. Working in the yard always provides an ambiance for thoughtful reflection.

How simple a thing, and how satisfying, this going out and sitting on the patio because you want a little sun.  How nice that Rita can do that – just step outside and find your favorite chair. Get up and go in when you've had enough sun. One can do that when one lives at home. 

Coincidentally, the following day or so, Penny Cook, Executive Director of the Pioneer Network, posted a piece on Facebook about transforming the culture of aging. She noted that with all of the changes that we have seen, we still have far to go.  One such item Penny mentioned was this: "We continue to build communities without easily accessible areas for people to independently spend time outside."

The present, traditional system of aging services which too many people - who don't live there - are satisfied with because  "they get good care there"  needs to be turned on its head so that getting good physical care is no longer enough.  It must be QUALITY OF LIFE that is the benchmark standard resulting from choice, dignity, autonomy, privacy, relationships. 

It would include easy outdoor access so that all the Ritas who live there could spend time outside independently-- just getting a little sun.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Diminishment" is a terrible word to use to descrie older adults.

'The winter season of our prayer life is a mixture of blessing and diminishment that also describes the winter season of our life.' Those are words from the Retreat Director I heard just this morning.

This prayerful woman has been leading a group of almost 50 Sisters in a retreat whose theme has been "The Seasons of Our Life". Of course I cringed when I heard her use that "D" word. It was another instance of how all of us are exposed to the prejudices of ageism, how we internalize them, absorb them absent any evaluation, and in cases like this, further propagate these internalized prejudices to other victims.

What pained me most in hearing that "D" word used as allegedly describing later life was for my other Sisters gathered there, all of us clearly in the second half of life. At a subconscious level, at least, taking such words in without evaluating them results in a sense of "being less"; it may also generate unexamined feelings of shame for being "diminished", for being old.

The GOOD NEWS, the whole truth about the aging process is waiting to be preached!  The solid data from the fields of gerontology and of the psychology of aging MUST be used as the grounding for a spirituality for all of us in the second half or second third of life. This grounding is the only approach that will provide a spirituality of aging that holds integrity.

Without a marriage of sound gerontological and psychological data with a paired grounding  in  Scripture, we are left with messages about aging and spirituality that, at their worst, are harmful to our self-concept of our future selves  (and therefore harmful to our well-being along several dimensions), and, at best, offer only pious piffle.

Where is that person who is going to preach the GOOD NEWS, that is, the WHOLE TRUTH to my sisters?

Monday, May 21, 2018

About the 'Yikes' in a Previous Post

In my last post, I stated that I had been asked to be assessed for the right to hold and use my driver's license solely because I had reached a certain chronological age. I responded with "YIKES!"

Many of my peers don't react visibly that way. For whatever reason. Here is why I did.

Let me share the following story told to me by a Latina woman.  She grew up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950's. Each year on the first day of school, the Mexican children – only the Mexican children – were taken from the classroom to have their heads checked for lice.

Let that settle in.

Racism blatant enough to cause an audible gasp. How could such a thing happen?  It doesn't happen today because, thank God, society is sensitized to the prejudice of judging others on the sole basis of ethnicity.

School officials in El Paso did not set out to ostracize or alienate their Mexican students, I feel sure. They were seeking the common good. The presence of head lice is a public health issue and the schools have a responsibility to ensure a safe, healthy environment.  The way they attempted to ensure this common good, however, was racist, based, quite obviously, on the premise that lice infestation is more likely among Mexicans. Epidemiology tells us such assumptions are patently false. So to act in the way these school officials did, was simply racist.

The laudable goal of assuring a healthy environment should be sought. It just has to be done in a way that is not racist, in a way that does not denigrate any class of persons because of their ethnicity.

The connection with requiring a driving test on based on age?  I hope it is obvious. To make assumptions about anything, or to demand certain procedures to be followed, based solely on chronological age is ageist.

Do we want to keep drivers and all those whom they might encounter when they are behind the wheel safe?  Of course we all do. We just have to do it in a way that is not ageist. Can we do that? Of course we can! When there is an awareness of how vicious and self-harming ageism is to all of us, we will look for another way.

I hope it is soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Don't Say 'Still'"

I just blurted it out.  It wasn't angry or belligerent; it was just an instinctive and immediate response delivered with certitude and confidence.  The setting: a representative of an insurance company testing my 75+ year-old cognitive skills prior to a driving test required for me to keep my driver's license.  That aspect of my story is for another day. Let me just say here that the required test had nothing to do with my perfect driving record. It was purely age-based. YIKES!

This personable woman was giving me the results of a simple cognitive test and explained that my score meant I could still --- and I interrupted her right there. "Don't say 'still'. When you use that word it implies that I surpass expectations for a certain capability expected for someone my chronological age."  The examiner responded very positively, saying she had never thought of that meaning in use of the word "still" and she clearly caught my meaning immediately. She went on to say that she was presenting a training for employees of an adult day care center that evening at a local site her employer insured. The topic was customer service and she would use this new knowledge with her class.

When I found a geriatrician here in the St. Louis area soon after my relocation here, she asked me three questions on my first visit:

1. Have you fallen within the last six months?  Good question. Persons over the age of 65 are at risk for serious consequence when a fall is sustained.

2. Do you live independently at home? Good question. It gives some general indication of the level of my physical/cognitive functions.

3.  Do you still drive?  OH NO! My geriatrician flunked on that question.  Still?  The implication is that someone of my chronological age may surely have lost the complex interplay of skills that driving requires.

Not to be repetitious, but we use the word "still" when we are describing something seen as beyond the time line society determines.  If you smile when you see this picture below, you get it. Bring it to your level of consciousness when dealing with what society has told all of us about aging and older adults.

For the most part, what we absorb from our culture about what aging is and what to expect as a result of the aging process is so false and so detrimental to each one of us.  It's way past time to start learning the real facts about aging and life in our later years!  In fact, the more you know the whole story about aging, the better aging looks!

Monday, March 12, 2018


This poem was written by Sister Janet Thielges, OSB and posted on her monastery's website.   It speaks for itself and can serve as a wake-up call about some of our unconscious assumptions or biases.

Life in a Wheel Chair
I fell
and injured my back.
I can see, hear and talk
and my mind is as sharp as a whistle.

Bring on changes.
They minimize visits.
“Can anyone who can’t walk, talk?”
Seems not.

With companion. 
Person I knew came by. 
Greeted only my companion.
Ah well! 

A gent “gets” it.
“Did she fall?” asked a lady.
“Ask her. She can talk,” said the gent.
I’m real!

I smiled. 
It made my day. 
The wheelchair’s a helpful thing;
but I never stop being a person.
Thank you!

Janet Thielges, OSB

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How We Use Our Words

US News and World Report writes often about nursing home-related issues.  Angela Haupt is Assistant Managing Editor of Health at U.S. News and has written a series of such articles around "Activities" in nursing homes.  I read one such article this morning in which she noted pet therapy and therapeutic cooking in some nursing homes as examples of innovative "activities".  I responded to Angela and share that letter here.

Dear Angela, 

Thank you for your articles on some of the wonderful things happening in nursing homes to make life better for those who live there and who work there. Because our choice and use of words is so important, I am asking you to reconsider your use of the words "therapy" and "therapeutic" when referencing activities in a nursing home. When one refers to pet therapy or to therapeutic cooking, it medicalizes a normal human activity. 

If I may expand, a little -- when I sit down in the evening after a hard day's work, and my cat jumps into my lap, there is a rush of endorphins and my blood pressure goes down. I am content and serene and it shows on my face.  Yet, the next morning at work I never say to my peers that I engaged in pet therapy the previous evening (!)

The same is true for other activities. Sometimes I go into the kitchen and cook or bake something just for the pure pleasure and sense of relaxation it gives me. Yet,when I share those cookies, for example, I never share them as the result of "therapeutic cooking".

Medicalizing events in a nursing home reduces elders to their medical conditions.  I know that was never your intention, and that you most assuredly learned these terms in the very nursing homes that are engaged in these innovative enrichment events. Your pen is so powerful, Angela.  I trust that you will continue to use it to transform the culture of every nursing home in our country.  Thank you!

Imelda Maurer, LNHA

Proud to be a Guide at the 2018 Pioneer Network Conference in Denver. Want to know more? Ask me or check out the Pioneer Network website:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Karen Schoneman gifted me with a copy of her recently published book,"Working in the Light". It is a book of daily reflections, coming from the perspective that "as we move forward on our spiritual paths, we are light workers, letting God's light flow through us and out to where it is needed - in ourselves and in our world."

Last week one of the reflections was about the Tool Library in Berkeley, CA. How innovative to have a central source to borrow needed tools when they are no longer so commonly found in our own garage or our neighbor's -- if we even know our neighbors.

Karen ended her reflection with the suggestion that today we "applaud all those who are using the divine characteristics of imagination to see new solutions to problems and new ways to serve each other."

Today I applaud and thank God for all those individuals working with elders who have used and continue to use their imagination to see aging and supportive aging services in a new light. It is in this light of new understandings of aging that imagination can romp and dance like a child in the sunlight, bringing new solutions to failed and inadequate views of aging and aging services. 

This work is called transforming the culture. Culture Change.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

They are going to “let" my brother stay with him for two nights.

Take this as a case study.

Those words from Betty’s text jumped out at me and I instinctively dialed her cell phone number. Her father is in the nursing home. Some time ago he broke his ankle in a fall at home and was hospitalized for surgery. After surgery he moved to this nursing home for care and therapy with the expectation of returning to his own home.

The surgical incision didn’t heal. We’ll leave the finger-pointing aside here. The lawyers can do that. Suffice it to say that the picture I saw of the open incision made me gasp. Once again this 86-year-old man was hospitalized. This time, because of exacerbating chronic conditions, the surgery was an amputation of the affected leg below his knee.

Think about it. An older adult, living independently, falls and breaks his ankle. It results in surgery and subsequent nursing care that raises serious questions. Subsequently, this man who initially just broke his ankle ends up losing part of that lower limb.

Those of us who work with older adults, and/or who read about older adults being hospitalized, and,  under general anesthesia, know the dangers of delirium in such instances. Exacerbating factors are new environments. Carolyn’s dad’s situation fits the bill on all counts.

The family is close-knit and one of Betty’s brothers asked if he could stay overnight in his dad’s room because of his dad’s confusion. The nursing home’s response was, as Betty related in her text, “They are going to let (emphasis mine) my brother stay all night with my dad for a couple of nights.” Thus my instinctive phone call to Betty with a few words about nursing home regulations, and a few  about  staff or management using the word“let”.

What do we need to take from this?  Consumers (those who use the services of a health care institution) and their family members MUST know what the minimum standards of care are in a nursing home so that they can be advocates, either for themselves or for their family member.

Consumers must be encouraged by advocates to speak up for the rights of those nursing home residents, to trust and act on their instincts about whether something is amiss.

Those of us who are not yet in a nursing home cannot deny the possibility that we may one day find ourselves there.  Does not the motive of self-interest prod us to eliminate the status quo of traditional nursing homes and fight for a place called HOME?

Or do we think we won’t ever be old, or frail, or disabled.  Are we part of the American culture that views aging much like ethnicity?  Once Irish, always Irish; Once Italian, always Italian, Once young, always ------- ?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Old Age as described in the second book of the Macabees

The first reading for today's liturgy struck me so forcefully when I first read it that I just have to share it in this blog.

It's a reading from the second book of the Maccabees (2Mc 6: 18 – 31).  The passage tells the story of Eleazar and his faithful adherence to God's law. Eleazar is an old man; listen to how his age, and the markers of his age - his gray hair and his life experience - are seen as honorable by the writer. I include here only those relevant phrases from the entire reading that describe Eleazar in the context of his age, as "an older".

"Eleazar was a man of advanced age and noble appearance"

"Eleazar had a noble mind, worthy of his years, worthy of the distinction presented by his gray hair and his dignity, and worthy of the admirable life he had lived since childhood."

Eleazar chooses death rather than defy the law:
"If I dissimulated for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be scandalized by me, and I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age. If I therefore have the courage to give up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my years, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and gracefully for the sake of the holy law that we hear."

What new insights about the honor of life's later years might we gain by reflecting on Eleazar’s conviction that only when he shows himself ‘worthy of my years’ will he leave a worthy legacy?

Perhaps as an exercise probing our own internal ageism, we might ask ourselves, “How often is my first impression when seeing a person with gray hair that s/he is worthy of distinction by that very presence of gray. What makes me want to hide my gray hair?

"Eleazar had a noble mind worthy of his years."  Do we believe, really believe that wisdom resides within our elderly?  Is that conviction reflected in policies and daily practices? Or do we, in effect, segregate our elders in some ways from the larger community so that their presence and voice are not available?

Monday, October 30, 2017

How Early is Ageism Taught?

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

"Ageism is the last socially acceptable prejudice."  This is a quote I've used before in this blog, coming from Ashton Applewhite who states this realization as the motivation for her becoming an activist to fight this socially accepted prejudice.

A Facebook friend posted a link to a commercial from ToysRus.  Yes, an ageist ad regarding TOYS! For YOUNG CHILDREN!

If you want to see the 20-second ad, click here.

Here's one review at the ad's website:

Sally Hopkins
Is this meant to be funny? Ageism is rife in society and this commercial (if you can call it that) denigrates older people by making fun in using the entrenched symbols of ageing - loose/false teeth, grey hair, large glasses, a comfy cardigan and fear by younger people of older people (which isn't correct). Lift your game (pun intended) TOMY. You're demonizing people. This is a thinly veiled swipe at the fictional crone image that again is also much maligned.

The issue here is not a trivial one to be shrugged off.  Ageism is a prejudice that is harmful to the well-being of every older person as well as those who HOPE to live long enough to become 'an older person'. It is a justice and dignity issue.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"No Donuts for You!"

Recently I've been focusing my reading on topics around ageism.  Part of that reading involves being part of an online discussion group.  Lisa Kendall, LCSW-R, CSW-G is, among her other jobs, a lecturer in gerontology at Ithaca College.  Her online discussion leads up to Ashton Applewhite's presence on that campus next week as the Gerontology Institute's Distinguished Speaker.

Applewhite has written the book, THIS CHAIR ROCKS: A MANIFESTO AGAINST AGEISM. I know I have mentioned on my blog before. It merits mentioning again!  I urge my readers to find a copy and read it.

One of the resources suggested for this online book discussion group was an AARP-produced clip about 'what does old look like?' I found the video was in fact ageist, and made online comments to that effect. Ashton responded with her own, more thorough critique and I was more than delighted that she agreed with me. In her comments, Ashton referred to another short (2:14 minute) AARP video in which "an impressively straight-faced actress disguised as an employee—she deserves an Oscar—refuses to serve anyone over 40. It’s a provocative, hilarious, and bitingly effective social experiment."  The link is here. I hope you will look at it and think about its message.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The lie that 'old is bad and young is good' is so deeply held in our culture that we do not recognize it. Carter Williams, a renowned geriatric social worker, a deeply profound thinker and compassionate person revealed to a national audience her experiences that revealed her own internalized ageism.

Carter Catlett Williams, Geriatric Social Worker
Pioneer Network Co-Founder and Pioneer Network Conference Convener
Convener Address August 11, 2013

Carter reflects on her experiences after moving from her home of more than 40 years into a retirement community:

"But once I began to settle into my pleasing small apartment with this generous wall-to-wall window to the east and a view of the treetops, surprising – even shocking-feelings beset me. They were not in regard to physical accommodations or the warm welcome from staff and other tenants, but to the unbidden critical responses that rose in me about social aspects of my new environment. I had known several people who lived here and had visited good friends here for many years, so it was with amazement that I viewed the dining room on my first evening.

"Most everyone, it seems, depended on a walker to get around. Walkers encircled the large room, and at the conclusion of the meal, a procession of bent bodies slowly made its way to the elevator. It was a startling scene that suggested dependency and no sense of their own agency. And I felt emphatically that I didn't belong in it, nor did I want to be identified with it.

"Deep within I rejected the signs of dependence, and fostered the idea that I was different, and didn't belong with people in this condition. Prejudice I didn't know I had – in fact prided myself on not having – was laid there. How could I, a professional geriatric social worker of 40 years experience, harbor such thoughts? I was brought face-to-face with the cultural prejudices concerning old age that pervade our society and had to accept that deep down they had conditioned me along with everyone else. For now that I was joining THEM, the Infirm Old, I didn't like it. I was emphatic in wanting to set myself apart.

"The first conclusion I draw from this experience is that we don't know our innermost souls until we are stripped of our book learning, posturing and our unrecognized absorption of the culture around us that says a person with manifestation of physical aging is not a beautiful human being."

If a woman of Carter Williams' stature is not exempt from this prejudice, none of us, I believe, can feel free of this internalized lie. The good news, however, is that once a reality is named, it can be addressed. This is the happy challenge: acknowledge ageism wherever you see it: within yourself and within your everyday experiences with others.  Then challenge the lie that 'old is bad and young is good' with the good news of truth!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

So deeply embedded in our culture that we do not recognize it

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

I was surfing through Facebook not long ago and searched for a business associate from my past. This woman is about age 60.  I found her page and read one of her recent public posts which I copy here:

“Did a little shopping today. I'm always taken by how polite the clerks and other shoppers are -- greeting me, opening doors, young people letting me go ahead of them in line. I keep hoping it is not because they think I am old!”

Does your heart break like mine when you read this? Another woman, well-educated and in positions of authority and policy-making for many years, reveals her blindness to the lie, and her acceptance of that lie that ‘old is bad and young is good.’

One of the most serious consequences in acquiescing to this lie of the tenets of ageism is its impact on each person who believes it, and then lives with it. There is a lowered self-image along with, as research tells us, poorer physical, mental and social health outcomes in later life.  These consequences are a kind of poverty that we cannot abide!

There is a second consequence of not recognizing internalized ageism. If ‘old is bad’, I will do everything I can to avoid that label, and to unconsciously separate ‘them’ from me. The old become ‘the other’. We are not like ‘them’. I believe that this mindset of internalized ageism is a major reason why the culture of aging services continues in so many places to be so impersonal and so institutional.  With the blinders of ageism firmly in place, one cannot imagine how life might be different for those needing supportive services, how those in our care are not ‘them’, but ‘us’.

A renowned geriatric social worker, Carter Williams, addressed this very issue when she convened the Pioneer Network Conference in 2013. In my next entry I will share Carter's deeply honest and vulnerable remarks about her shocking recognition of her own internalized ageism.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Let's End Ageism"

At the Pioneer Network Conference in Chicago last week, our keynote speaker was Ashton Applewhite. Ashton has taken on the task of fighting the insidious and pervasive presence of ageism in our society because, as she says, "it is the last socially accepted prejudice". At the same time it is also the only prejudice that every human being is subject to if one has the gift of years.

Applewhite's book is entitled "This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto Against Ageism" and I highly recommend it.

Just this morning I saw an eleven-minute Ted Talk video given by Ashton this past April. You can access it here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"The Last Socially Accepted Prejudice"

©   Imelda Maurer, cdp

I've raised the topic of ageism several times on the blog. In fact it was my second entry back in 2007, titled, "I'm Not a Young Woman".  Ageism must be rebuffed for several reasons, not the least of which is rejecting by word and action the harmful, prejudicial concepts of ageism. For women religious, these actions are also aspects of our call to prophetic witness in which we strive to create, by our words and actions, that just and compassionate Kingdom of God  that the Gospels call us to live today.

In terms of changing the culture of aging services, I believe one of the major obstacles is the pervasive ageism of our society. The blinders of this prejudice prevent us from seeing aging beyond the negative myths.

If you do not know Ashton Applewhite and her work as a writer and activist against ageism, today is a good day because I'm going to introduce you to this woman and her work!

Only when the Pioneer Network (which is holding its annual conference next week in Chicago) announced that Ashton Applewhite will be our keynote speaker did I learn about Ashton. Her book, "This Chair Rocks:A Manifesto Against Ageism is a best seller and for good reason.  Publishers Weekly wrote a very positive review and can be accessed here.

Ms. Applewhite has several videos on YouTube. In one that I watched, Applewhite supports her activism around ageism, calling it "the last socially acceptable prejudice". You can access her YouTube videos easily here.

One last resource on this important topic: Lisa Kendall, LCSW at  Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY is leading a virtual book study of Applewhite's book! I've already signed up for it  and am eager to join the 50+ (so far!) individuals who are part of this online discussion.  Registration is open now; the actual book study begins Monday, August 14th. You can join this group by going to this site:

I look forward to discussing more of "This Chair Rocks" here on my blog also.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mission-Driven = Person-Directed

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

On March 21, 2017, I posted an entry about mission-driven workplaces as exemplified by correspondence from Melissa Angelo, HR Director for The Villa, a nursing home in Baden, PA, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden.

Shortly after that post, Melissa told me about some activities around Employee Appreciation Week and, at my request, sent me some pictures of one of their events.  Each "household" had a tri-fold poster display about how, as staff, their household lives out the Villa Mission Statement and Values.  I asked Angela if I could share it with my blog readers and was so happy she said, "Of course!"

The pictures do not permit easy reading of what employees wrote, but they are so worth reading that I have included some of them beneath the appropriate picture.


We treat our residents with a bushel of kindness and respect, a peck of good old home cooking lastly "a bushel and a pack and a hug around the neck."

Hospitality filled with a cup of Joe. 

A spoonful of love makes the medicine go down 

1 oz teamwork, 1 cup compassion, 2 cups of person centered care. Mix in love

Stir in goodness and positivity.

A sprinkle of care and compassion

A bundle of teamwork

This display reflected how employees saw living out the Villa Values of Respect, Quality, Stewardship, Community and Collaboration

"The Villa is a place where all staff truly strives to provide all the needs of each individual resident. Not just physical needs. We daily attempt to make sure each person feels safe, loved, and knows that they are valued. We want each soul to live there days to the fullest."

"Interacting with each resident as much as I can, stop to give a hug, sing a song, or just give them a smile, never be too busy to show them love."

"The mission statement means showing the residents that we care about them. We help them when they need help. We try to make them feel at home. We also get to know the families. And most of all we all work as a team to keep them safe."

"Our residents and their families become our family – and we share in their joy and grief."

"We make this place feel like the resident's home as much as possible. Let them eat when they want to eat. If they want to sleep in, they can. We treat them the way we treat our own mother and father, with dignity, respect, and honor."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Yesterday I posted the poem, “Light Within the Darkness”, suggesting that you ponder it before I offered my own thoughts on it. Here are those thoughts.

The writer counters the decline of the physical body with the ongoing development of the mind, spirit and soul. The consequence is “the radiance of the sage”, becoming the light within a dark world.

Recent advances in the study of the brain and adult development do indeed show that there is growth and development on multiple levels in the second half of life. The positive changes of life after fifty do provide for the blossoming of wisdom and generativity.  Indeed, the sages of the world can claim “radiance” in a dark world.

Why don’t we experience that that is so?  My first thought is to blame the pervasiveness of ageism.  Older adults are seen as ‘over the hill’, and ‘past their prime’. That does not make it so, of course. However this is what complicates the matter – self-perception in many cases.

Have you read Kennth Clark’s study done around 1940 with young Black children aged three to seven years? These youngsters were shown two dolls and asked to choose.  One doll was white with blond hair; the other doll was brown with black hair.  Overwhelmingly the young Black girls chose the Caucasian-featured dolls. Here is a quote about the study:

Some of the participants even employed aesthetic language in their unsolicited explanations for choosing the white doll. “Cause it’s white — it’s pretty,” said one child, or “cause he’s not colored like these — they the best looking cause they’re white.” The black dolls, on the other hand, were described as “ugly.”

The Black children in the study had internalized society’s racist views to their own detriment.  Because racism has at least been exposed, though not erased, it is probable that Kenneth Clark’s study would result in different conclusions today. 
I believe older adults are very prone to internalizing society’s prejudices of ageism.  Older adults who internalize this prejudice have their own self-esteem diminished. It is not surprising in a way. Every encounter offers the chance that we are seen, not as a person, an individual with a unique life story and accomplishments, but as an “old person” with all that our society believes about old people
Rise up, my good people! Our task is to confront this ageism from within and from without! Know and honor who you are and who you are becoming! Recognize the signs of ageism within yourself and confront them. Confront ageism wherever you see it.  The darkness of the world needs the brilliance of the sage!