“Elderhood” Often Better Than You Fear

…(O)lder adults surpass younger adults on all measures, showing less stress, depression, worry, and anger, and more enjoyment, happiness, and satisfaction. Geriatrician Louise Aronson, Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life 

A physician specializing in the care of those of us over 60, Louise Aronson explores the various facets of this developmental stage most hope to reach—and in good enough health—in her book Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.

The following is an excerpt from Elderhood about the attainment of older age:

For most people, early, middle, and advanced old age are significantly different. In our current conceptualization of old, physical degradations and lost options are its sine qua non. That’s why, until those things become overwhelming, many people don’t think of themselves as old, even when most younger people would swiftly and definitively put them in that category. When people arrive at the stereotypical version of old, they sometimes no longer feel like themselves, although for most of us the transition to old happens gradually over decades beginning at age twenty. The changes are both positive and negative, though we tend to focus on the latter. Those losses and diminutions are imperceptible at first, then easy to disregard, then possible to work around, and, finally, blatant.

Not only do most people focus on the negative changes but many in the medical field do as well. Harvey Freedenberg, Bookpage.com, regarding the “stubborn insistence on treating organs and diseases rather than whole human beings, often prizing science and technology over simple, compassionate care”:

These efforts typically trigger costly late-life interventions that may be successful in the narrowest sense, prolonging life for a time but often inflicting physical and psychological pain on their recipients that severely compromises their quality of life. Aronson advocates for a new care paradigm, focused on the ‘optimization of health and well-being,’ even when an earlier death may be the consequence.

Additional quotes from an author interview with Susan Pascal, mariashriver.com:

People often think of aging as an exclusively negative process and of old people as failed adults. In reality, aging and living are essentially the same process, socially and biologically, and elderhood is a highly varied life phase that lasts twenty to forty years.

In elderhood, people tend to be comfortable with who they are and more confident about their priorities. They often have less stress, both personally and professionally, and more time for all the things people complain about not being able to do as much as they’d like during adulthood. It’s not that the physical changes and health challenges of aging don’t matter; it’s that they are one part of larger and much more interesting story.

In sum, Aronson talking with Christina Ianzito, AARP:

“People look at geriatrics and old age as the thing that happens before you die,” she adds. “No. It lasts decades and has all these stages and substages and most of them are quite wonderful for most people. A big message of the book is that so much of what’s horrible about old age isn’t about aging nearly as much as it is about our dysfunctional approach to it.”

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