Happy Gerontology


A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Telling the truth can be a dirty job.

“• Francesca Marciano, Casa Rossa

 

Aging in Place

I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for some time now, an article “Efforts to Expand the Lifespan Ignore What It’s Like to Get Old” encouraged me to do so.

As modern medicine extends the human lifespan, quality of life is not keeping up,raising thorny ethical dilemmas (Psyche, Aeon, Aug. 26, 2023).

The Realities of Aging

I’m proudly part of a Tribe working to reimagine and support a counter narrative to what’s known as Historical Gerontology and the Biomedicalization of aging. These two theoretical frameworks basically focused on what goes wrong with aging (Peak and Decline model), neglecting any potential upside. Having noted this, the realities of aging can’t and shouldn’t be glossed over. Age-related infirmities are very real–I was a critical care nurse for 25 years; I know firsthand the potential ravages of time.

The headlines (and social media like LinkedIn) are loaded with stories of “Geri athletes” and late-life success stories of individuals pushing the boundaries of old age. I post my share as well–and will continue to. And we should not lose sight of the fact that extending life and extending health are separate issues (but not mutually exclusive). The article is a sober reminder that for many a long life doesn’t always equate to happiness.

I shared the piece with Harry Rick Moody, PhD, this was his initial take:

As one trained to be a philosopher, my specialty is “thorny ethical dilemmas.” I go toward those dilemmas whenever I find them and always have done so. I’ve also long been an opponent of physician-assisted suicide, for many reasons, the most important of which is that I don’t trust the healthcare system to pay attention to quality of life in the first place. I’m also suspicious of this option in a society that makes very little headway in overcoming ageism, which is still a scourge, if not always recognized.

Some doctors and nurses do pay attention to quality of life, not because of their education and training but because of personal virtues, always to be admired. I doubt that we can use this article in the next edition of our textbook, AGING: Concepts and Controversies, because paradoxically it’s too balanced and even-handed: the author speaks not from ideology but from the ambivalence of personal experience. I appreciate that perspective, as a 78-year-old myself. As a gerontologist, I do regret that the “organized aging business” (gerontology) doesn’t like to listen much to first-person experience about aging. Maybe it’s like “organized religion” that often evades deep questions about faith, doubt, and experience of the divine. I do appreciate what Psyche (Aeon) publishes, and this is a very good example of what they do at their best.

Dr Moody always provides a reasoned and thoughtful perspective. My response:

Rick, thanks for this. Working in ICU for over 25 years I often felt we were not (in many cases) saving lives, but rather prolonging death. And sometimes death was not the worst alternative.

From Dr. Moody I have learned many things, among them these two concepts which are worth discussing here 1) Happy Gerontology which is a rose-colored view of aging (dare I say naive) 2) Gerontological Correctness that doesn’t dare speak of the realities for fear of committing social suicide in the field.

I wish to avoid both for obvious reasons, yet I don’t take pleasure in presenting only one side of the narrative. The article is well written, insightful, a part of aging and life. I will continue to advocate for the counter narrative and a richer experience of growing older because I believe it’s the right thing to do.Quality of life is subjective, it’s hard to be happy without your health for sure–but I have witnessed courage and grace during challenging circumstances that aging can bring in my own family members.

I know what’s possible concerning the human spirit.

 

See

“Efforts to Expand the Lifespan Ignore What It’s Like to Get Old “As modern medicine extends the human lifespan, quality of life is not keeping up, raising thorny ethical dilemmas.

(Psyche, Aeon, Aug. 26, 2023) https://psyche.co/ideas/efforts-to-expand-the-lifespan-ignore-what-its-like-to-get-old

 

 

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