Years ago, I met a woman who was slim, attractive, and swimming laps in a pool. Then I learned she was 91 years old. Ninety-one! She became my role model for someone who is 90 years old, and I used that image in developing the amateur detectives in my mystery series featuring the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village.
Then I submitted drafts of my chapters to critique groups. My 90-year-olds needed to be feeble, they said. Blind, deaf, using a cane or walker, wheelchair-bound, dribbling Pablum. That’s what 90-year-olds did. I disagreed and started collecting articles about people who were 90 and older running marathons, dancing, winning tennis matches, writing books, working, even learning to read for the first time.
Feeble? No way. Recently I received an email from Larry Edwards, executive director of Ageless Authors, a nationwide organization of writers 65 and older. The organization holds contests and publishes anthologies of the works of people in this age group. In his email, Edwards comments on the many studies showing that people who participate in reading and writing books over their lifetime have a striking edge in memory and mental agility over those who never read or write. He adds that those who continue to read and write well into old age suffer 48 percent less memory loss, dementia and other mental impairment than those who don’t take part in these activities.
Ageless Authors promotes and encourages reading and writing as long as possible. For writers, the organization conducts writing contests, publishes anthologies of the best work of senior writers and helps many of those writers publish their own works. For people content to read good writing, the organization encourages people to volunteer as judges for these contests. Judges not only read and comprehend the subject matter , they evaluate its quality and are encouraged to suggest better ways to approach writing problems. Its website is www.agelessauthors.com
I qualify for Ageless Authors although I prefer to call myself a “perennial.” Through my critique groups, I learned how rampant the negative perceptions of older people are, and they are perpetuated in the media. Aware people today don’t target women or people of minority races, ethnicity or sexual orientation in their jokes, yet the elderly are still fair game for jokes that rely on the stereotypes.
As people grow older, they struggle against an undertow that pushes them toward the stereotypes whether they fit the image or not. That’s why I give inspirational talks to senior groups in which I cite the exploits of able, alert, and active 90- and 100-year-olds who are working, running marathons, winning tennis games, etc.
Many perennials are able, alert, and active but still have to fight the rampant discrimination against them. I’m trying to change this kind of victimization with my mysteries and my talks. I’m showing that senior citizens are people and that age is irrelevant. The role models ought to be able, alert, active people participating and contributing to their community.