In an excoriating piece in Truthdig, columnist Chris Hedge labels Hurricane Sandy “the Katrina of the North.” He begins and ends with 76-year-old Avgi Tzenis, whose house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, was wrecked when three feet of water and sewage swept through it five weeks ago. She was widowed last year after nursing her husband through years of dementia, and has no idea how she’s going to pay for repairs.
I just finished How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old, by Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist. It was Agronin who introduced me to the psychologist’s fallacy, and he reiterates the point in a clip from a Today Show appearance, cautioning against unduly negative assumptions about the lives of the old old. “We have to be very careful and not project our own fears of aging,” he explains. “Their lives can be way better than we imagine.”
On 9/11, the Animal Rescue League got into Ground Zero faster than Human Services. “They had a plan,” Robert Butler pointed out at the 2008 Age Boom Academy. “How many states practice their nursing home evacuation plans?” The highly safety-conscious Japanese do practice their drills, but it didn’t spare the lives of many elderly residents of tsunami-ravaged Shintona.
I’m making my way through Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby’s screed against the perky marketing of “the new old age.” More on that soon, much more, but it’s in her first chapter that I found the following statistics, from Muriel Gillick’s The Denial of Aging: “The latest prediction is that if you are just now turning 65, you have nearly a 50 percent chance of spending some time in a nursing home before you die. Approximately 10 percent of those nursing home stays will be short-term, intended for recuperation after a hospitalization. The remainder will be for the long haul, with discharge to a funeral parlor, not to the family home.”
The heart of the matter, concisely put by the ILC-USA’s Executive Director Everette Dennis in his opening remarks at this annual journalism seminar, is the “perception of aging as a social problem versus as a great human achievement.”
A lovely piece in the Science section of this week’s New York Times talks about what William James called the psychologist’s fallacy: “assuming incorrectly that one knows what someone else is experiencing.” Meeting a woman who had just lost her husband of 70 years, Dr. Marc Agronin presumed that she would be grief-stricken. Just the opposite, in fact.
When I posted about getting accepted by the 2008 Age Boom Academy, I was hoping to find out why it’s so hard to galvanize a national conversation around longevity-related issues. I spent last week at the Academy learning the answer, and it isn’t pretty.