Midlife Crisis Onward: Older Stages of Life

What really happens in our aging process? Is there a “midlife crisis” for everyone? How about when we get even older? Below are two books that address such issues.

I. Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2016)

Hagerty had suspected she was entering a “midlife crisis“—and she wanted to know how to navigate such an imposing hurdle.

What Hagerty learned from interviewing “an astonishing number of middle-aged men and women and the psychologists, sociologists, physicians, geneticists, and neuroscientists who study them,” was positive and hopeful, notes Kirkus Reviews: “The experience of middle age, she has discovered, ‘is more mountaintop than valley,’ characterized not by depression but by optimism and renewal, happiness and growth.”

Selected Quotes from Life Reimagined

The men and women who scored highest on conscientiousness—that is, who control their impulses, who were dependable and goal-oriented—had 89 percent lower risk of developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s than the least conscientious people.

Choose where to invest your energy, and do so intentionally, because the clearest path to a robust midlife is purposeful engagement.

In fact, people with little purpose were two and a half times more likely to develop dementia than those with a mission.

II. Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson (2019)

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.

The following is an excerpt from Elderhood about aging beyond midlife:

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.

Many in the medical field overly focus on the negative changes 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.

Selected quotes from Elderhood and/or the author’s interviews:

..(O)lder adults surpass younger adults on all measures, showing less stress, depression, worry, and anger, and more enjoyment, happiness, and satisfaction. 

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. (mariashriver.com)

People look at geriatrics and old age as the thing that happens before you die. 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. (AARP)

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