I took an instant liking to Claudia Fine, the Executive Vice President of SeniorBridge, a national organization that provides health and care management. We met in her midtown office, following up on a connection I’d made through a journalism seminar. She was warm, candid, and impatient with institutional dumbness.
Questions I'm asking
As questions come up, here's where I write them down
At an afternoon session of this year’s Age Boom Academy for journalists there was a critical mass of geriatricians at the table: Robert Butler and Harrison Bloom, both of the International Longevity Institute (which co-sponsors the Academy along with the New York Times), and Rosanne Leipzig of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. I took advantage of this to pop a question I’d written about a few weeks earlier: what makes geriatrics so satisfying?
I’d have thought studly heart surgeons or trendy neuroscientists would love roaring off to work in their Porsches. But a recent UC Davis study of more than 6,500 physicians showed guess who to “have the highest job satisfaction of any subspecialty?” Geriatricians.
Realizing that this project isn’t about work solved a big ethical problem, of which I've been aware since the get-go: the inference that if you can't work or don't want to, you aren't a valuable member of society. That’s the last message I want to throw my weight behind, especially in our hyper-capitalist, work-ethic-driven society. Work turned out to be my safe entrée into distinctly unsafe territory – my “way in” to thinking about old age.
Bad-boy British novelist Martin Amis is in the news for proposing euthanasia "booths" on street corners where the old old could off themselves with "a martini and a medal.” Amis maintained that his comments were meant to be "satirical" rather than "glib", but there’s something to offend just about everyone in his prediction that “a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, [will be] stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.”
My new year’s resolution is to start integrating more personal reflections into the blog. No better place to begin than a BBC News story that came my way last week about a link between youthful looks and longer lives. Studies show younger-looking twins in both Denmark and the UK outliving their siblings. As ever, it’s a dance between genetics and environment. Worn faces probably reflect harder lives, and those subjects also had shorter telomeres (pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from deteriorating).
This week I gave a mini-presentation to my colleagues at Yale’s Information Society Project. Below are some of the broad questions I put to them.
Stereotypes underlie all prejudice. As I point out in my Introduction, we call out racist and sexist attitudes but seldom question descriptions of older people as confused or feeble. In fact, variability is a hallmark of older populations. Why are ageist attitudes given a pass?
The poster child of this story on CNN.com today is Jack Borden, a 101-year-old attorney who practices fulltime in Weatherford, Texas. Retirement is the last thing on his mind. “I have to use a walker because of old age, so there's not much else I could do except sit in my house. Why do that when I can not only enjoy life, but help some people?" In Borden’s view, as in Bill and Ruth Stein’s, limited mobility is a catalyst for staying on the job rather than a reason to take a load off.