Concerned about an onslaught of enfeebled old people? Don’t worry, robots will take care of them! American techno-optimism knows no bounds, and so-called “age-independence” technologies are proliferating like crazy. But in a profoundly ageist culture, the implications can be disturbing.
I’ve been part of the Council on Contemporary Families since it was founded 20 years ago to provide solid social science about American families to the press and the public. My post about the latest Census Report on older Americans is up now on their Families As They Really Are blog on the Society Pages site:
I’m just back from a conference hosted by this 30-year-old Palo Alto think tank, the theme of which was “Living Longer/Aging Well.” Most of the attendees were from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, and I wasn’t sure how hospitable they’d be to my message about the medicalization of old age. In cultures with meaningful social and economic roles for older people, physical health is just one aspect of aging, but in ours, sickness takes center stage. And as the population ages the medical-industrial complex will depend more than ever on the old for its profits.
Over the years I’ve attended a number of Age Boom Academies—seminars for journalists co-hosted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the Journalism School, and the International Longevity Center. The speakers are always impressive and it’s provided an invaluable overview of the evolving economics, logistics, and science of the longevity boom. As my own focus has sharpened I’ve enjoyed them more, and this year’s seminar, which wrapped up on Tuesday, September 10 at the office of the Atlantic Philanthropies, was the best yet.
"Keeping the Conversation Going: A Daughter Speaks to her Mother Across the Memory Loss Divide" is the title of this moving short memoir by Margaret Morgenroth Gullette, author of the brilliant Agewise. The abyss, of course, is memory loss, and Gullette describes learning to focus on the very real pleasures in what remains. "My mother, too, was a self — living, often contentedly, on islands of land in the abyss," she writes. "I made a decision to live with her on those islands."
I’ve been invited to speak to the Weill Cornell Hospital Department of Geriatrics, so I’ve been reviewing my interviews with people in the field. Eighteen months ago I much enjoyed meeting geriatric care manager Claudia Fine, and today I was struck by her description of her sister’s difficulty dealing with her mother-in-law’s dementia.
In a characteristically mordant piece called “Daddy Trouble” in this month’s Atlantic magazine, Sandra Tsing Loh coins the term Elderschadenfreude to describe “the secret pleasure of hearing about aging parents that are even more impossible than yours.”
It’s always good to encounter work that pushes back against the prevailing “it’s-all-downhill-from-here” narrative, and Wendy Lustbader’s Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older does just that.