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.
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.
This weekend I presented my work for the first time, at the annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, a group of social scientists and practitioners whose work I greatly respect. The title of the talk was “The Value of Work in Late Life,” but I pulled a slight bait-and-switch, because it turns out that this project isn’t about work any more. It's about ageism, starting with our own internalized biases. Here’s the ten-minute talk I gave:
In September I had the privilege of meeting with Bob Butler, a pioneering gerontologist perhaps best known for coining the term “ageism” in 1968, whose work introduced the concepts of "productive aging" and "successful aging." Nowadays, finding the term “productive aging” too commodified, he’s switched to “productive engagement,” which he defines as “any productive activity, including even taking care of yourself.” I talked with Dr. Butler at the International Longevity Center, of which he is the President and CEO, and I’ll be back to interview him in depth.