Click HERE to return to the Home Page


  << Click to return to

Free Prize Drawings
10 second  
sign-up to quailfy
Articles Archive


finance & law  
Free Resources
  free legal advice    
  free maps & directions    
  free games    
    shop for  
gifts & products
  gifts for grandkids    
  product profiles    
Support Our Site
your Home Page
  Click on our sponsors'  

In Association with

What?... An Honest Look at Aging


by Charlotte Epstein

There’s a lot of talk these days about the growing size of the over-65 set, and how this increase in the number of old people will demand new services and more money. So far, almost no changes have been made to accommodate an old population; everyone seems to be waiting for the baby boomers to get old before serious consideration is given to problems of adapted housing, home care, nursing homes, and assisted care facilities. Certainly, no one is talking about problems of everyday interaction between old people and those who aren’t old yet.

Take, for example, the fact that many old people discover that their hearing is no longer as acute as it was twenty years ago. Most of them – after the first dismaying awareness that words often need to be repeated before their meaning registers – shrug philosophically and go on with their lives. So what if you have to ask that a word or a sentence be repeated. Young people also sometimes ask for a word they’ve missed; no one immediately suggests they need hearing aids.

I remember once a young man was fussing to adjust the sound on a television. “Let it go,” his hostess protested. “That’s the clearest you can get in this high-rise building.”

“Oh, you know,” he said to his wife as he continued to fiddle with the knobs, “With her hearing problem she can’t tell when there’s something wrong with the sound.”
That tore it for the old woman. She lit into him and convinced him – not that there was nothing wrong with her hearing – but that he would be well advised to stop attributing every acoustic problem to her slightly diminished hearing efficiency. To date, his conversations with her have been clear, articulate, and satisfying. His response to her occasional “What?” is an ungrudging repetition, and he never speaks about her in her presence in the third person, as if she were stone deaf.

I’ve seen people driven to get hearing aids – which, incidentally, don’t work well and cause more problems than they solve – because they’ve said “What?” once too often.

Once I saw a man remove his hearing aids before answering the phone. “Why?” I asked him.

“They don’t work on the phone,” he said.

“You can hear without them?”

“Oh yes,” he said.

Then why, I wondered, did he bother having those things in his ears?

It seemed that his children had insisted that he didn’t always hear what they were saying!

I suggest he didn’t always want to hear what they were saying. He’d never had any trouble hearing what his friends were saying!

At a "wine and conversation" party the other evening, I saw an attractive seventy-year-old woman almost whisper her conversation because the hearing aids prevented her from hearing herself talk, and she worried about speaking too loudly. At the same party, a man with a hearing aid kept fiddling with the damn thing in his ear, trying endlessly to adjust the sound. Another person, whose hearing was no more efficient than the woman's or the man's, participated in the conversation, occasionally asking for a word to be repeated, without fussing with a technology that was no way near efficient. "I've got a hearing aid," she told me once. "I never use it."

No one cares to stop for a second and repeat a word. Just as no one cares to write for old people (Newspapers and TV shows are aimed at a demographic that excludes anyone over fifty.), manufacture for them (Clothes are designed with no attempt to build on earlier styles, and show a little consideration for tastes that were formed in other times.) And if an old person finds the new styles attractive and dares to wear an uneven hem or an unconventional color combination, she is looked on as demented. Manufacturers advertise nothing to old people except medicines - as if they have no life separate from real or imagined infirmities.

I admit it – I’m old. And I’m furious about it. Not because old age can’t be as interesting, as productive, as comfortable as middle age or youth, but because younger people seem determined to make it dull, boring, and uncomfortable for us. There are admonitions not to go out of the house when it’s cold, when it rains, when it snows, when it’s hot. There are assurances that you no longer need to work so hard at whatever it is you want to do. And there is the constant insistence that you can’t hear what they’re saying – as if their words were pure gold and not to be wasted.

Let me tell the world that’s not yet old: If you want to say something to me, then look at me and say it. Looking at your feet when you speak, or mumbling into the distance won’t get an answer from me. The mindless interjections of teenagers, like “Y’know,” “Whatever,” “Y’know what I’m sayin’,” interspersed with an occasional phrase that makes sense, don’t constitute communication. The low-voiced exchanges by younger couples when they’re part of a small group are not acceptable social behavior. Even though their age peers in the group can hear what they’re saying and often become part of their conversations, the old person in the group sits mute and frustrated because the original exchanges were barely murmured.

In a group of old people, we speak to one another. If we can’t hear something, we ask for it to be repeated. The objective is to communicate intelligibly – with everyone included.

I will continue to say “What?” when I want something repeated – not like so many people who really don’t give a damn what you’re saying because they’re just waiting for you to shut up so they can say what they have to say. What an interesting idea: A growing population with sub-acute hearing may teach a new generation to articulate their words and speak in understandable sentences if they want to be taken seriously.

Maybe it’s time to get honest about this business of getting old: You die young or you get old. When you’re old you still go to restaurants, movies and theaters. Old people like to dress well, eat well, and drink. They socialize, enjoy nature, and laugh at jokes. And they say “What?” when they want a word repeated – because they care to know what others are saying to them.

Charlotte Epstein is 83 years old (as of January 2004) and the author of 18 books and several dozen articles and short stories. The author’s latest publication is a series of books for middle schoolers. The series is entitled GETTING ALONG WITH OTHERS and the first book in the series RESPECT is available in local bookstores or you can call 800.231.9774 or you can click here.


about us    
© 1995-2008 Reece R. Halpern. All rights reserved.