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.”
Stuff I'm reading
Stuff I'm reading in the mags, books and the blogosphere.
“Women: can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em.” Men too: “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” Same goes for old people, as Susan Jacoby writes in her jeremiad about old age in America, Never Say Die: “If we are not going to kill Granny, we are going to have to support Granny.”
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 Sunday New York Times business section recently offered a Barbie-sized photograph, front and back, of a college student strapped into an age-simulation jumpsuit called AGNES – the Age Gain Now Empathy System. (Is there a special hell for tortured acronyms?) AGNES is packed with motion-impairing straps and pads, but the article isn’t about empathy for the arthritic. It’s about the hard sell that marketers face in selling stuff to the over-65 set, “an unfashionable demographic group that might doom their product with young and hip spenders.”
This New Year’s Day two very different stories about the baby boomers’ uneasy relationship with aging caught my eye. One was a front-page piece of fluff from the NYTimes whose title says it all: “Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65.” Apparently the hallmark of this transition is “a pervading sense that life has been what might technically be called a ‘bummer.’” A remarkably self-absorbed way to describe the logical corollary of the “U-shaped happiness curve”: that mid-life is a time of reckoning that necessarily sets the stage for contentment in late life.
Finally, the news I’ve been waiting for: the only exercise I actually enjoy — dancing — is better for your brain than any other.
A profile of the actor Laura Linney in the New York Times magazine portrays her as a guileless enthusiast, but one whose optimism is tempered by the very conscious awareness of how lucky we are simply to be alive. One catalyst was the sudden death of close friend and fellow actor Natasha Richardson at 45 in a skiing accident. Another is her starring role in a Showtime cable series called “The Big C,” about a woman with incurable cancer.
This week the science section of the New York Times had a big feature on "Secrets of the Centenarians." It was full of the inevitable truisms about the secrets of a long life, this time summed up by Jane Brody as the Three R’s: resolution, resourcefulness and resilience. Importantly, it emphasized the fact that genes account for only about 20 to 30 percent of how long we live.