Friday Book Club: “Elderhood.”
The second installment of our weekly book club comes from the section of the MEA Library called “What Does It Mean to Become an Elder?” and highlights San Francisco gerontologist Louise Aronson and her bestselling book, “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life.”
I was fortunate enough to share the stage with Dr. Aronson six months ago and have found her humanism as applied to medicine more valuable today than ever, especially given how vulnerable our older population is to COVID-19. She writes this insightful, unique observation as a doctor,
“We treat old age as a disease, rather than as one of three major life stages. We approach old age as a singular, unsavory entity and fail to adequately acknowledge its great pleasures or the unique attributes, contributions, physiology, and priorities of older adults....As humans, we are more than the summary of our parts, but somehow as we age, we get fractionalized into being seen as a body with a disparate collection of broken parts.”
In 1750, only one in five Americans lived to age 70, but today more than four in five do, yet we have a serious undersupply of gerontologists as well as medical training focused on both the body and psychology of older people. We’re fortunate to have two gerontologists on our MEA guest faculty, Barbara Waxman (“The Middlescence Manifesto”) and Ken Dychtwald (who has written many books with his newest one, “What Retirees Want,” coming out in mid-July). Demographics are predictable and people are living longer so it’s sort of shocking this specialty doesn’t have higher status in the medical world. As Louise writes,
“We speak of the “silver tsunami” as if the unprecedented and permanent increases in both the numbers and proportions of older adults came about suddenly and without warning.”
Some of you know that my book “Wisdom@Work” was originally supposed to be called “Modern Elder,” but late in the game, my publisher got nervous with a book title focused on “Elder” (so “The Making of a Modern Elder” became our subtitle). So, I appreciate the fact that Louise’s book recently hit the New York Times bestsellers list. Too many of us feel shame or embarrassment by the idea of moving from adulthood into elderhood. Yes, our bodies may be in decline, but from an emotional, spiritual, and social perspective many of us are just hitting our stride as we enter our later midlife years when the hidden pleasures of elderhood start to emerge.