Help Us Fight Ageism (With Quilting )

Aging is rejected as a pathological disorder in our society. There are some who even want it categorized as a disease. People who are unable to hide their aging are rejected. They are cloistered away into any number of facilities designed to separate them from the rest of us.

The pressure to "restrain" the natural process of aging is enormous. We have all sorts of devices that attempt to restrain aging: Botox for wrinkles, Spanx to smooth and corset our changing bodies, hair dye to cover the gray. These are all products advertised to restrain the outer signifiers of age. What of the internal changes? We have Luminosity to keep our memory sharp and we run quickly to the doctor for pills the minute anything in our status-quo changes.

The attempt to restrain aging starts innocently enough; what is wrong with wearing Spanx or dying your hair? It depends on why you are doing it. Are you rejecting aging? Are you trying to cultivate a frozen adulthood? The problem is that, while it starts with innocuous things like Spanx, the shift is insidious.

Our society is not kind to aging. In fact, it despises it and hides it. All the botox and all the Spanx will not halt the aging process. So what happens when you can't pass for young anymore? What happens when your brain stops working like the brain of a younger person? What happens when your intuition is stronger than your cognition? What happens when words, which we rely on so heavily for communication, no longer come easily? What if you had to express your needs another way?

In fact, one in three people will develop some form of memory loss -- Alzheimer's disease or other dementias -- before the end of their life. One in three of you. And when this happens in society as it is today, your new way of being and communicating is often deemed as a behavior problem.

Just as our society pressures you to eradicate wrinkles, it will work very hard to eradicate your new "behavior problems" if you are living with dementia. Not that long ago, you would have been restrained with actual physical restraints for exhibiting "behavior problems" associated with dementia. Today, you face the risk of "chemical restraints." These are off-label, powerful anti-psychotic drugs used to quiet your symptoms (to the outside world) but do nothing to meet your needs. Now, you still have to try to communicate your needs, but words are even harder to find and the channels of accepted communication are lost-if you fight for your needs to be met, you actually will be restrained physically. The restraint will have cutesy language like "buddy" or "hugger" or the word "safety" in its name. The name does not change what it is: a violent form of restraint on aging. According to the CDC, these drastic and inhumane measures are still used 10% of the time.

The villain is not the caring people who work in long term care; they are doing the best they can with the culture and with the tools provided for them. The villain is anti-aging and systemic rejection and restraining of aging personally and culturally. The restraint of aging needs to stop, and not just in its most horrific forms, but in the smaller more innocuous ways as well.

As children we welcomed the aging process excitedly, wondering when we would grow and what we would look like. We quickly lose this wonder as we become seduced by an anti-aging culture into disavowing, denying and resisting aging. We're pressured to see aging as a villain to be stopped, to be restrained.

It is time to redefine aging as natural, not pathological!

To raise awareness about this I have partnered with quilter Heidi Parkes and organizing a call to action tied to Dr. Bill Thomas' Age of Disruption Tour. Together we are going to create a quilt, something stereotypically made by elders for comfort, out of these objects of restraint. We could purchase these objects, but we live in a capitalistic society where that would only help the already profitable anti-aging industry. We are making a call for materials, any physical object that restrains aging. Get creative-this will be a fine art quilt meant for a wall, not a bed, so the materials do not have to be fabric or soft. They could be hair dye boxes, wander guards, restraint vests, pill bottles, etc. Look around your world. Search your soul.

How do you see aging being restrained? Mail objects to Heidi Parkes, 3159A N. Dousman St. Milwaukee, WI 53212. We will be collecting items until June 1st. The quilt will be crafted over the summer and displayed on the fall stops of the Age of Disruption Tour as well as on-line.

*The author of this article is a workshop facilitator on the Age of Disruption Tour