In his last book, How We Age, Dr. Marc Agronin wrote passionately about how we need to place greater value on our elders and hope for a better old age, even in the throes of illness and dementia. But he doesn't want us to simply gaze at the holiness of old age, nor does he want us searching for some magical Fountain of Youth that doesn't exist now and won't exist in the foreseeable future. Nearly every other book on the market takes these approaches, and the messages are predictable, tiresome, and largely untrue.
At the Miami Jewish Health System (MJHS), Agronin sees both the sickest and the healthiest of seniors, what works and what doesn't. Many authors can talk about aging from their particular vantage points, but Agronin is on the front lines as he counsels and treats elderly individuals and their families and friends on a daily basis. All of the latest scientific research combined with Agronin's first-hand experience can be distilled into a simple and yet unheard of formula: age is the solution and not the problem for many late-life changes and challenges. This approach stops looking at aging as an implacable enemy, as most other books on aging do, but casts it instead as a potential developmental force for enhancing well-being, meaning, and longevity.
Agronin presents readers with a model of aging that can help them understand all of these changes. It is based on two novel concepts: age points, which describe the key life transitions that come with age and teach us how to age better; and age culture, the product of a rich and diversified aging life. These concepts are sustained by the cognitive and spiritual reserve we build up with age, the resilience that guides us through stress and tragedy, and the ability to renew and re-invent ourselves in a changing world.
At the same time, we cannot forget the so-called "9th stage" of life as first defined by Erik and Joan Erikson, encompassing those aged individuals beset by severe physical and cognitive loss or disease who are typically left out of most models of aging. Even in the throes of seemingly overwhelming circumstances, it is possible to make life meaningful, purposeful, and, if all else fails, comfortable.
Many of the strengths of aging come automatically, while the takeaways must be actively pursued. Either way, a reckoning of these factors can yield the end of old age as we typically conceive of it, where aging trumps old and we experience genuine and enriched lives with struggles and triumphs, losses and gifts, but with renewed opportunities for us and our loved ones. The End of Old Age provides an action plan for readers to begin recognizing and harnessing the power of their own age points to create the most meaningful and joyful age cultures possible.
About the Author:
Marc E. Agronin, MD, a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University and the Yale School of Medicine, is a board-certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist and the author of the acclaimed book How We Age. Since 1999 he has served as the director of mental health services, clinical research, and the outpatient memory center at Miami Jewish Health Systems (MJHS), Florida's largest not-for-profit long-term care provider. He has published essays in the New York Times and Scientific American Mind and writes regularly on aging and retirement issues for the Wall Street Journal as part of the Experts panel.