Photograph of 2012 GAP Ad Campaign that featured Maya Angelou



  1. Fear of the elderly.
  2. Fear of aging.

In the United States, we define “old” in a number of ways.

  1. Age 40 is the age at and beyond which a person may not be discriminated against in employment. (Age Discrimination in Employment Act–ADEA)
  2. Age 55 is the age at which low-income people might qualify for subsidized employment and learn new work skills. (Title V of the Older Americans Act)

  3. Age 60 is the age of eligibility for Older Americans Act services. Due to limited funding, however, services tend to be targeted to those aged who are most needy. (Older Americans Act of 1965)

  4. Age 62 is the age at which persons can take “early retirement.” (The Social Security Act)

  5. Age 65 has been the “traditional” age for full retirement. However, because of longer life  expectancy, the full retirement age is increasing for people born after 1938. Full pension now goes from 65 to 67, depending upon the year of your birth. (The Social Security Act)

  6. Age 70 is a mandatory retirement for the members of some professions.

Overlooked and Under-Served

Millions of our nation’s elderly do not receive of adequate mental health care.

Administrators often cut services for seniors on the basis that they are too old for services.

Primary care physicians have limited training in the care and management of geriatric patients.

Thus neither the patient nor the health care provider may recognize the symptoms of a mental health issue such as depression.

Elders often assume that complaints such as insomnia, changes in appetite, and mood fluctuations are the normal result of aging.

This assumption is often reinforced by their primary care physicians.

A 1990 study of elderly suicides in the Chicago area found that 20 percent of the suicide victims had seen their primary care physicians within 24 hours of their suicide, 41 percent within seven days, 84 percent within 30 days.

The lack of coordinated and comprehensive health care has a damaging impact on all age groups in the United States.

But for older adults who often have multiple needs, these fragmented health care systems are confusing.

Long waits and complex bureaucracies discourage elders from seeking treatment.

The Language of Gerontophobia

”old bags,” “old hags,” “old biddies,” “old birds,” “old fogies,” “old-fangled,” “old-fashioned,” “old geezers,” “old and decrepit,” “over the hill,” “blue hairs,” “golden oldies,” “vulnerable,” “frail,” “declining,” “dowdy,” “doddering,” “fuddy-duddies,” “out of touch,” “little old lady,” “old witch,” “old coot,” “codger,” and particularly to men the term, “dirty old man,” which implies that an older man who expresses his sexuality is unnatural perverse and unclean.

Although sex roles have changed, and we have more freedom of sexual expression since the 1960s, the stereotype that older people are physically unattractive, uninterested in sex, and incapable of achieving sexual arousal remains. (Hall, Selby & Vanclay, 1982).

Winn and Newton 1982, compared the sexual behavior of older adults in 106 cultures. They concluded that continuance of sexuality for elderly persons in many societies indicates that cultural factors may be critical determinants in their sexual behavior.

American culture restricts the sexuality of older adults.

Older residents in supported living facilities who display any form of sexual expression are often regarded by staff as having a behavioral problem and may be tranquilized (Brown, 1989).

Staff attitudes toward masturbation or sexual activity between unmarried residents are disapproving and repressive, and adult children may complain of “permissive” institutional attitudes toward their parents’ sexual expression (Datan & Rodeheaver, 1983; Robinson, 1983).

Gerontophobia in the LGBTQ Community

Wrinkle room: A gay bar or nightclub primarily frequented by older men.

Troll: As a noun–an older or physically unattractive man.

Chicken Hawk: An older gay man who pursues boys or very young men.

LGBTQ people in their fifties and sixties find themselves in the peculiar position of being shut out of the community they fought to create and helped to preserve during the worst days of the AIDS epidemic.

Gay and Lesbian seniors face many problems that most heterosexuals never have to face, such as nursing homes where gays aren’t welcome, and a refusal to accommodate same-sex partners.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimate — very roughly — that there are more than 3 million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans over 65, a figure they say will grow by a million in the next 25 years. San Francisco’s Department of Aging and Adult Services loosely puts the number of gay and lesbian seniors in the city at around 17,000.

Federal programs designed to help elderly Americans nationally are ineffective or even irrelevant for LGBT elders. Several studies of nursing home administrators, of Area Administration on Aging directors, and of health care providers document widespread homophobia among those who have chosen to work with America’s seniors.

Most LGBT elders do not benefit from services on which other seniors thrive.

Because of this, many older GLBTQ people go back into the closet.

Discussion: (Please feel free to answer these questions in your comments)

What is your perception of sexuality among older adults?

What should we do to protect ourselves from the stigma against aging?

How do you want to be treated in an assisted care facility?

What can you do to make life better for yourself and other citizens as you age?



(c) Rob Goldstein  2006-20215-2020



20 thoughts on “Gerontophobia

  1. Wow as usual I learned something new as it relates to the LGBT community from you. I was already familiar with the term but as I kept reading and saw the terms the LGBT community dealt with, it was enlightening. Proud of you Robert. You’re artistic and fearless. What I love most about you is you’re bravery stems from never wanting anyone else to experience demobilizing fear. Honored to know you.



    PS Check your Twitter messages😌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for leaving such a wonderful comment.

      Taking this stand feels more like an instinctive response than courage.

      It is true that I never want people to experience the immobilizing fear that comes with living under the tyranny of other people’s fear and hatred.

      To that extent GLBT people have everything in common with other people who experience discrimination and unprovoked aggression.

      I think most people want to have good lives, love, to feel needed and cared for and to be sheltered and fed…we all have the same basic needs–I don’t know why this fundamental truth is so obscure for so many people.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would never want to go to a care facility. I’m still a bit conservative when it comes to this, I love having my grandma around and she was the best nanny on earth. If I could raise my children that way, to accept me living just close enough, so that there’s no need for assisted care, that would be my biggest success in life.
    I don’t believe in seperation of generations. Nobody’s our past or future, we’re all our present and we never know who is going to live longer. My grandma might see more of our future than me, who can guarantee that I’ll live tomorrow? If we could only understand each other a bit more and be more supportive, accept the aging as well as the youth, everything would be easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve made an excellent point…I’ve been thinking along these lines and working on a piece of writing that isn’t finished, but I will a part of it with you:

      “The most insidious aspect of ageism is that all of us can end it now by simply accepting the fact that aging is an unavoidable feature of the human condition. Ageism is a trap that we make for ourselves. We spend our lives behaving as if it won’t happen and then treat ourselves like losers when it does happen.

      If you think only failures need help then you will feel like a failure when you inevitably need help.

      The operating word here is inevitable.

      Instead of considering the future and creating livable cities in which we can age, we pretend that we’ll never need them, and perpetuate the misery that we always have the power to end.“

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, there are so many new pieces of information here — things I’d never considered.
    I don’t view anyone’s sexuality as my concern, really, regardless of age. Sorta, if it’s not happening in my bedroom, it’s not my business. I have heard of people gettin it on in their advanced years and people who gave it up as well. Suppose once again, I only care about when I stop the sexing lol.
    I cannot imagine nursing homes don’t like serving LGTB, but on second thought, it seems like it’d be obvious. Discrimination is everywhere.
    Lots to muddle here. Great post, obviously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the generation that started the Gay Lib movement will be fighting homophobia until our dying day.

      It was once all pervasive, much like the stigma against mental illness is today.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. People fear aging. Fear often becomes aggression and hostility. Our grandchildren are the seniors of 20160. We will be doing them a favor by challenging the ageism promoted by our media.,,20356118,00.html


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