Elderhood

Occasionally you read a book and after you’re done you think, “Well, that’s several hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

Opposite of that is a book that every time you set it down you are thinking and talking about what you just read.

The book I just finished is entitled “Elderhood” and is written by Louise Aronson, M.D. She is a geriatrician, educator and professor of medicine at the University of California. Every time I put the book down, I talked about it with my wife.

My father’s last years were ruled by Alzheimer’s. For several years my wife and I witnessed the struggles of our mom’s as they fought to maintain their dignity during the final years of their lives. When we reflect, there are moments in their tussles for life that have great meaning.

The author examines many issues, but a focus of the book is that modern medicine doesn’t always shine, nor does it always do the right things when it comes to treating the elderly or helping us age. The medical world needs more expertise to do a better job understanding our requests, caring for the aging and keeping us healthier. Medical care and compassion for our frail and elderly seems to be a struggle in our country.

The book discusses how society, and even the medical field itself, views those in advanced years in a negative light. As boomers age, if we are lucky, we will spend decades in this remarkable phase of life. Physicians are treating and caring for multiple generations of families. We need to matter at 65 years of age, 75, 85 and longer.

Need for advocates

Some of us may have coordinated the care of our parents, grandparents or other family members. What hurts the most is when you feel they are not receiving the attention and kindness you had hoped they would receive. You wish and pray that the simple things in their day-to-day care are done with compassion.

Negative outcomes can happen in medical care for the elderly. There may be multiple doctors, multiple tests and procedures ordered and multiple medications. These issues can conflict.

Our frail and aged need advocates who ask questions, get answers and make certain our loved ones understand and are part of the decision making if possible. We need to do our best to ensure that they are not being subjected to painful and difficult procedures that may not be necessary.

What I am telling you is nothing new, but author Louise Aronson details many interesting case histories that had good and bad results. Her passion to care deeply for her geriatric patients and to be a leader for others in this field, where overall physicians to this day are not adequately trained, is remarkable.

My wife’s mom was committed to make sure her life continued to have meaning in her 80s. She stayed involved in current affairs, constantly engaged her family with her faith and desire to help. She ensured that her family knew her wishes. She felt all was in good order when she passed.

Decisions that have to be made as a loved one’s life comes to an end are gut-wrenching. How long do you prolong life? You may be tempted to not grant their wishes as you hold out hope. In the book it states that without direction the health care system will “do everything.” That may not be a good thing for your loved one.

Happiest age

The moment 20 years ago when my mom made the decision to let my dad die peacefully with pneumonia was crushing, but she knew that was his wish. Recently my siblings and I knew our mom’s wishes.

Baby boomers are next in line, as we are entering that final third of our lives. It’s OK. Surveys indicate that people in their 70s are the happiest of all age groups. I am not 70 yet, but I can tell you that this time in my life right now is remarkable.

What my wife and I witnessed in the journey of our parents has had an impact on us and will help us shape our own plans. We will make sure our children know our wishes. Like the generations before us, our life, our upbringing, the choices we made throughout our lives will impact our health.

I’m confident our generation will do a better job than our parents in striving for Dr. Aronson’s expression of “successful aging” with exercise, proper diet, social interaction, faith, and family.

We need more geriatricians. We need more compassionate care. We need more caregivers that are paid a decent wage. We need the medical world to not treat age but to treat the person we are at that moment.

Get ready, medical world — there are a whole bunch of us in the pipeline.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s Day in History column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com.

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