Caring Currents

If Only All Our Parents Could Be Art Linkletter

Last updated: Mar 14, 2009

Vintage Ad #630: Art Linkletter, Tea Snob
Image by jbcurio used under the creative commons attribution license.

Let's face it: Some people are easier to take care of than others as they age "“ simply because of their outlook. A sunny, grateful relative softens the challenges of sorting insurance papers and escorts to doctor appointments. Contrast that kind of feedback with what you get from those who won't accept help because they're in denial about their limitations, or who complain endlessly. That's another layer of stress to an already-stressful situation.

This week I read that Art Linkletter --- remember him, one of the first great television personalities ("House Party," "Kids Say the Darndest Things") --- is heading up Team Grandparent, a new Social Security-reform lobby. He's 96. In a Wall Street Journal profile, he offered commentary and jokes on everything from past successes to the Obama administration and Bernie Madoff. Sharp.

His everyday health wasn't discussed, other than a "remarkable recovery" from a mild stroke last year. Likely he needs some help at home, being 96. What's clear is that he has a key factor that shapes both health and what caregiving is like for the people who love you: Attitude.

Made me think of a new [study] (;xy=5049854) in the March Psychological Science, which shows that people who view old age in negative terms when they are under 50 tend to have higher rates of heart disease when they're over 60, which can't be explained by family history, smoking, depression, or high cholesterol. The authors suggest that people internalize negative stereotypes of old age and mature into the very type they've been unkindly characterizing.

Maybe this explains what happened with our difficult parents, grandparents, and spouses. Clearly upbeat people like Art Linkletter have been positive-thinking throughout life, and (I'm guessing here) never chose to view aging with any particular venom or discomfort.

If you're stuck with a sour or querulous relative, unfortunately you can't do much to change him or her. You can only learn to work around a bad attitude, and not let it undermine all your best efforts. But you can also not let negative elders skew your own views of aging -- so that hopefully you'll age better yourself.

Coincidentally to the Art Linkletter news, my godmother sent me a birthday card this week. "What a beautiful card," I said out loud about the pastel image of a girl in a colorful field of flowers. On the inside she'd written: "How do you like my attempt in art?" That's when I realized the card was an actual painting. I remembered she'd taken up visual arts at a senior center after relocating to a new state a couple of years ago.

On her birthday I'd asked her how it felt to be 92. "It feels like my body is betraying me a little bit. But inside, I still feel young."

"How young, like in your 20s?"

She laughed. "No, a little more mature."

That's the aging I aspire to. They might not be your relatives, but it's good to know Art Linkletters and Aunt Helens are out there.