Your Caregiver Relationship Contract: How to navigate the minefield of new roles and expectations

By Debra Hallisey – Advocate for Mom and Dad, LLC, 2019

This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who becomes (or anticipates becoming) a caregiver. Debra Hallisey writes from her own experience both as an adult daughter and as a professional caregiver. The “contract” she suggests is not written up with attorneys; rather, it’s a discussion (or discussions) between caregiver and cared-for to identify ways the recipient can benefit from support. The contract they create together at the start needs to be a living document, fluid enough to accommodate changing needs. For family caregivers, initiating this talk can be awkward; both parties are grieving life’s changes and this new reality and are feeling vulnerable. But creating the contract, Hallisey suggests, cements an understanding that will manage expectations for all concerned. Hallisey gives examples of ways to assess the person’s ability to undertake activities of daily living and how to assimilate the feelings that will come up along the way. She includes suggestions for role play and checklists. 

We want loved ones in our care to feel dignity and autonomy but often unwittingly strip that away by using the wrong language. To that end, this book illustrates for caregivers how to pose questions that are nonthreatening and gives us techniques to state our own needs without feeling (as much) guilt. Hallisey’s superpower is understanding the pitfalls of caregiving—like the temptations to try to parent our parents and to neglect self care and asking for help—and she tells us why these can cause resentment for both sides. Hallisey is with us every step of the way. 

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life

By Louise Aronson – Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019

Many of us are going to spend upward of 40 years in what this society considers “old age.” In Elderhood, Louise Aronson suggests a new way of looking at that time. A Harvard-trained physician, acclaimed author and, importantly, daughter of an exceptional ager, Aronson uses personal anecdotes with experiences from 25 years working in the field of aging. Elderhood is not a “how-to” book; rather, it illuminates why aging must be understood and redefined, and why the medical establishment’s usual goals of saving and extending lives is ill advised for many older patients. Aronson applauds the innovators who put elders’ care and needs into their designs—like emergency rooms outfitted for older adults—but calls out the marginalization and mistreatment of older people by medical professionals who simply aren’t trained to see them as individuals. 

While never glossing over the decline that comes with elderhood, Aronson makes a strong case that happiness in later life comes from feeling a sense of purpose and from being connected to something outside ourselves. She also examines the ways an ageist society’s depersonalized treatment of older adults puts forth stereotypes. The book reads like a call to action for us to heed if we want to grow older in a society that sees and values the old, older and oldest among us. All stakeholders will need to buy into Aronson’s prescription for a better later life, which can only happen by educating professionals to the unique needs of elders and by accepting that aging itself is not a disease to be treated.

Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying ‘Yes’ to Living

By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle – Harper One, 2017

Tim and his wife, Ramie, lived frugally and invested wisely in order to retire early. Then they left the rat race to live as nomads. They kept in touch with family infrequently; Tim visited his parents once a year and called them from the road. On their visit in 2015, Ramie and Tim arrived at his parents’ Michigan home in their RV to find his father, Leo, in pain, with his organs failing. He died shortly after he went into the hospital.

At the same time Leo was admitted to hospice, Norma, 90, learned she had uterine cancer. Even if she survived surgery, the prospects for recovery were unlikely. Sensing his mother was a poor candidate for a nursing home, and that living alone would be out of the question, Tim and Ramie asked Norma to consider joining them on the road—mobile assisted living, if you will. Norma said yes.

Like so many of us with aging parents, Tim and Ramie had often planned to have “the talk” about end-of-life wishes and what ifs, but it wasn’t something they were ever able to bring up. Now that his mother was going to join them, the couple purchased a more comfortable RV (second sleeping area, wide enough berth for easy mobility, two-and-a-half baths, washer and dryer). 

Tim soon realized how little he knew Norma as an individual, away from his father’s shadow; to experience their relationship growing and deepening was heartwarming. What was her role in World War ll? Had his parents actually hoped to go hot-air ballooning one day? Had Norma really never been to the neighboring state? More than that, Norma became an unwitting celebrity when Ramie started a Facebook page of their experiences. Norma’s journey was featured on prime-time news stations around the United States. 

Their story takes us 7,000 miles to national parks, campgrounds and quirky roadside tourist spots, sharing them from Norma’s vantage point of delight and awe. Norma is a trailblazer and an inspiration, who said no to possibly life-saving surgery and yes to life. At the end of Norma’s time with us, we’re left with a grateful appreciation for being allowed along for the ride. 

 

Sons of Suicide: A Memoir of Friendship

By Richard J. Knapp and J. David PincusBowker, 2019

There is one life journey that is entirely singular, unique to each who has experienced it, and that is the processing and subsuming of grief. Some bear this burden for a short time, while others hold on to unanswered questions for many years. The authors of Sons of Suicide share the weight of a heavy secret: their mothers both took their own lives. The men met in high school in 1966 and discovered they had much in common, like baseball and birthplace. As the friendship grew, the terrible truth and impossibility of their mothers’ passing came out. Each boy was shocked—and somewhat relieved—to find that someone else had lived through the same experience. In another similarity, each of the boys had looked to his father for help and was left wanting. Not surprisingly, they formed a deep friendship. In later years, they learned that their friends Dennis and Tom also endured the suicide of a parent. Over time, the four men found a degree of solace and understanding. Now in later life, they are sharing with readers a soul-baring dive into the uncertainty, despair and frustrations they experienced, told through a collection of revealing, deeply intimate emails. More poignant than sad, the takeaway is that the life-affirming force of friendship is powerful and therapeutic.

Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, and Regret

By Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore – Oxford University Press, 2017

Imagine you’re eavesdropping on a man and a woman who are discussing the good, bad, ugly, and hopeful facets of growing older. Both are University of Chicago Law School professors. Levmore, age 64, is a pragmatic lawyer-economist and Nussbaum, 70, is a philosopher. This provocative book offers their often-opposing dialogues on later-life issues, including sex appeal, altruism, grown children, and discrimination. Compulsory retirement? Discriminatory! says Nussbaum emphatically. No more so than assigning an age at which one can vote or drive, suggests Levmore. While Levmore ponders on the older man taking a younger wife to feel relevant, Nussbaum believes that an older woman rejects the younger man for making her appear older by contrast. And so on.

The collegial back-and-forth is enlightening, and you will likely find yourself agreeing one minute and disagreeing the next. While they may be far apart at times philosophically, the authors share a belief that we can’t sweep issues under the rug if we want to live confidently as we age. These eight essays represent keen observations of this stage of life, influenced by thought leaders of our time.

Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting

By Anna Quindlen-Random House, 2019

Award-winning journalist Anna Quindlen is well known to those of us in midlife and older. Her latest book, Nanaville, is written in her typical feels-like-we’re-sharing-coffee style. Quindlen expounds on the joy of becoming a grandmother. Nanaville is more than a saccharine ode to her son’s baby, however. Quindlen reveals the lessons she’s learned: that she is not the decision-maker, and that the techniques she used to raise her own children may not be acceptable today. She discusses blending and honoring customs of different cultures (her son’s wife is Asian). She candidly admits she knows how to parent but had to learn how to help her son parent—often by saying nothing at all. As much as we delight in the love affair between grandmother and grandson, the book serves equal purpose as grandparenting (or mother-in-lawing) for dummies. It’s a terrific read for any future nana, so full of Quindlen quotes, you’ll want to read it with a highlighter. And if you like this one, we also recommend Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (2013) and One True Thing, a film based on Quindlen’s semi-autobiographical novel.

Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault: Essays from the Grown-up Years

By Cathy Guisewite—G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Hooray. She’s back and she’s every bit as funny and relevant as you remember. Cathy Guisewite, 69, of the iconic comic strip that ran every day from 1976 to 2010, has written a book of essays that will have you nostalgic for her namesake character’s foibles and good intentions. Comic strip Cathy was a would-be feminist, a woman with a career who lived with her dog. She had an on-again, off-again dating life, girlfriends, failed diets and devoted parents. Many of us identified with her struggles completely, and this book speaks to us as well. Guisewite retired to devote time to a daughter in her last year of high school and her parents who turned 90, living on opposite coasts. Now she comes back to us in topics such as being a member of the sandwich generation (”it feels more like the panini generation, where we’re squished between them”) and diet lamentations—the unfairness that gluten-free carob cookies produce the same unhealthy calories as peanut butter cups. Notably, Guisewite ponders her “stuff” in a way we can relate to: she wants her home to resemble one from a magazine while hoping it always looks like the one her daughter grew up in. And her parents’ home needs decluttering—she hilariously decides to take this on without their permission—but when her mother buys a shredder, Guisewite can’t stand it. Acknowledging the challenges so many of us face, Guisewite does for us what Cathy did: she allows us to be human.

My Parent’s Keeper: The Guilt, Grief, Guesswork, and Unexpected Gifts of Caregiving

By Jody Gastfriend—Yale University Press (2018)

As we humans are living longer, the sandwich generation has moved to the club sandwich, as we care for not only parents and kids but grandparents and grandchildren, all at once. Is it any wonder we’re stressed out? Jody Gastfriend, social worker and vice president of senior care services at Care.com, designed a highly respected program for employers wanting to support staff who are caregivers. She also looked after her own father, who had Alzheimer’s. In this book, she delves into the challenges of caring for parents in declining health. Gastfriend leaves no possible situation unaddressed. She covers parents who refuse help and siblings who are unsupportive, along with the more practical basics of dementia care and of working with institutions and navigating social services and insurance claims. She considers the future of caregiving, which may involve technology and robotics. Pitfalls and rewards are covered in equal measure. Aging expert Ellen Goodman calls this book “the ultimate GPS for family caregivers.” You’ll want to have it in your library.

Over the Hill, You Pick Up Speed: Reflections on Aging (For Anyone Who Happens To)

By Nardi Reeder Campion – University Press of New England, 2006

Reading this very funny, unusually candid book is like having a conversation with a dear friend, no longer young, who is willing to talk about what old age is really like. Over the Hill is a collection of Campion’s columns from the Valley News in West Lebanon (NH), which published her work for 25 years. She also wrote nine books, plus articles for publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times.  

Campion, who died in 2007, always was willing to laugh at herself. In one column, she describes the embarrassing incident that convinced her it was time to give up driving. In the next, she turns to the subject of “Twelve Ways to Get Around Without a Car.” Number 11 is hitchhiking, which she tried three times (at the age of 86) before deciding it wasn’t for her. This is great reading for anyone who appreciates understated humor and wants to peek at what future years may bring.

Calypso

By David Sedaris—Little, Brown and Company, 2018

After a five-year hiatus, humorist and essayist David Sedaris returns to the bestseller list in his signature style, ruminating about family and aging (he’s 62). Those new to Sedaris’ writing will be quickly brought up to speed about his siblings, his sister who took her own life and his dad, now in his 90s. It’s his late mother, though, who figures prominently here and whose influence continues long after her passing. Clearly, the funnyman still misses her and longs to make a true connection with his father and remaining siblings while he still can. So he purchases a beach house (names it the Sea Section) in North Carolina, where the family can gather to both get away and reminisce. Returning fans will find this essay collection as insightful, biting and funny as ever, if a bit darker at times—Sedaris facing his mortality, perhaps? His observational humor targets the state of politics (no Trump fan, he) and his family members (he’s tender and scathing in equal measure). If you love an I-can’t-believe-he-said-that moment, this is the book for you.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss

By Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt — Harper, 2016

Do you ever wonder how your story will be remembered? After heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, the “poor little rich girl” of the infamous 1940s child custody battle, has a life-threatening illness at 91, her son Anderson Cooper, the CNN news correspondent, commits to understanding his mother better in the time they have left. What follows is a year-long email exchange between the two that allows for revelations and unburdening. She exploited the family name; he shunned it. She worked the socialite circles; he, the war zones. Ever the journalist, Cooper delves into his mother’s lonely, privileged childhood, her salacious affairs and multiple marriages, as well as who she was in her professional life far beyond her iconic designer jeans. Her story is deeply personal, at times heartbreaking, full of wisdom and insights on the freedom and clarity aging has brought to her, and with some maternal advice. The mutual affection is clear. Tell someone your story before it’s too late.

Bettyville: A Memoir

By George Hodgman – Penguin Books, 2016

George Hodgman is an urbane and sophisticated gay man, blissfully separated from his upbringing in Paris, MO. When his irascible, outspoken, strong-willed mother, Betty, falling into dementia, loses her driver’s license, George returns to Paris, intending to settle her into a care facility and head back to Manhattan. Once in his childhood home, George comes to terms with his closeted upbringing and the desire to please his parents. Mother and son reunite with a combination of drama and comedy that seems to leap off the page. In a way, it may do just that: Paramount announced in May 2016 that it’s making the memoir into a television series, starring a dream cast of Matthew Broderick as George and the incomparable Shirley MacLaine as Betty.

Ending Ageism or How Not to Shoot Old People

By Margaret Morganroth GulletteRutgers University Press, 2017

If you’re not sure what ageism is, or you doubt that it does much harm, read this book. Author Margaret Morganroth Gullette examines this “most acceptable and unnoticed of the cruel prejudices.” She explores ageism in its many manifestations, including the widely held (erroneous) assumptions that old age is inevitably a time of decline and decrepitude and that older people are a burden on society. Challenging our culture’s relentless focus on youth—which motivates many to try to hide their age—she also describes other incarnations of ageism, including actual violence against older people. Ending Ageism is densely packed with facts and insights and isn’t always an easy read, but it’s a passionate argument that has something important to say to people of all ages.

Walking with Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life

By Eric O’Grey with Mark DagostinoGrand Central Publishing, 2017

Do you know a yo-yo dieter looking for inspiration, maybe a couch potato who needs a nudge in the right direction? Eric O’Grey was in his early 50s, depressed and in a rut. His diets never panned out and he was easily 150 pounds overweight, spending a fortune on prescriptions to control his blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. And then a new doctor prescribed a trip to the dog shelter. There he chose obese, middle-aged Peety, and everything changed. Slowly, due to daily walks, the duo began to take off weight and put on energy. Their bond inspired Eric to finally commit to a radical diet to be deserving of Peety’s love. This is a charming success story that sweetly poses the question: who really rescued whom?

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

By Margareta Magnusson – Scribner, 2018

Sure, you’re a jolly good fellow, but if you’d like to be remembered as such, don’t leave a lifetime’s worth of junk—aka personal collections—for others to clean up when you die. Margareta Magnusson has firsthand experience in dealing with this type of dirty work, which the Swedes call döstädning, or death cleaning. Creepy name, liberating concept. She professes to be “between 80 and 100” and reveals some of what she’s kept and why, as well as the things she has let go, and how. She leaves nothing to the imagination, tackling everything from private matters in bedside drawers to what’s left on social media platforms. If you have attempted to pare down using a different book that promised a changed life but was just too harsh, Magnusson’s humor and practicality may be what you need. You don’t need to toss everything at once: her approach to death cleaning is that it’s a process that should be undertaken again and again as needs change. When the time comes, your family will thank you.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

By Jessica Bruder – W.W. Norton, 2017

The American dream of a secure, leisurely retirement is simply not reality for many people. Low-wage workers, and those with insufficient savings due to bad health, poor planning, unlucky investing or the Great Recession, will have to work as long as they live. This book introduces us to the older workforce that is taking to the road for seasonal jobs. That nice 70-something couple managing the campground? Medical bills wiped out their bank account. Older man working at the amusement park? Lost his savings in the housing bust. Many seasonal workers live in their cars, vans or RVs in Walmart parking lots, where they form an unexpected, sometimes dysfunctional community. This house-less lifestyle provides mortgage-free shelter and mobility to people forced to choose between food and keeping a “roof” over their heads. The stories in this book are fascinating. You’ll want to travel along as Bruder explores both the challenges faced and the resilience shown by this generation of workers living life on the road.

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old

By John Leland – Sarah Crichton Books, 2018

New York Times reporter John Leland undertook a project to research old age, not from those studying it but from those living it. He followed six New Yorkers, all 85 or older—no marathoners or record-breakers but everyday folks—and shared the intimate makeup of their days. They lived with and without illness and limitations, independently or with varying degrees of help. Almost everything about them differs, except for the fact that they each have made their way to a place of contentment and slower living that allows a connection with others. Each person fears dying, but not death itself; all six find joy in reminiscing and in plans for tomorrow. As for Leland himself, despite a good relationship with his 89-year-old mother, he was not expecting to enjoy himself in the year he invested with his subjects—he didn’t buy “the older we get, the happier we become” platitudes. But after his year with the oldest old, Leland became convinced there was wisdom there, and that he was the better man for embracing it.

How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth)

By Henry Alford – Twelve, 2009

Henry Alford takes readers along as he interviews people over 70 about the concept of wisdom. He describes contemporary studies of the aging brain, scholarly studies of wisdom, and he throws in quotes from sages, ranging from Buddha to Muhammad Ali. Alford’s interviewees discuss everything from the importance of living in the moment to the way they feel about dying. For instance, playwright Edward Albee disapproves of death as a “terrible waste of time,” while spiritual leader Ram Dass says he has a “very friendly attitude to it.” In the end, the wisdom in the book comes mostly from Alford himself as he pulls ideas together.

Interspersed is the saga of Alford’s mother’s divorce, which occurred while he was writing How to Live. This engrossing story of a woman willing to make a new life for herself at 79 definitely holds your interest, though it may not have much to do with wisdom. How to Live offers few earthshaking insights but lots of small epiphanies.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande – Picador, 2015

With increased longevity in the news, you don’t have to look hard to find a book about living better. But after watching his father’s death, physician Atul Gawande asks if we could be dying better. The advent of improved medicine and life-extending options means those who are terminally ill may die only after years of uncomfortable and expensive interventions—and without fulfilling their goals for the time remaining. Both in his medical practice and when his father became terminally ill, Gawande recognized how ingrained it is for physicians to try to fix and cure when what is needed is care and a listening caregiver. Now he wants us all to see what he sees, that everyone has desires, needs and goals, no matter how long they have left. Let’s listen.

The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!

By Bryant Johnson – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

This terrific little book packs a punch, or at least a kick or two. Personal trainer Bryant Johnson shares the exercise routine he developed for US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Complete with illustrations and tips, the book takes us through the workout, with bonus anecdotes about the pair’s long friendship. (Ginsburg calls Bryant the most important man in her life.) The workout is indeed challenging. Planks! Medicine balls! But it’s also designed so you can do it at home with minimal gear. So instead of being intimidated, let this inspire you. After all, 85-year-old Ginsburg has been doing this for a long time, and she’s on top of her game—in the gym and on the bench.

Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Age—and Other Unexpected Adventures

By Reeve Lindbergh – Simon & Schuster, 2008

In this gentle memoir, Reeve Lindbergh offers a thoughtful and positive perspective on aging. Describing her life in rural Vermont, she reflects on turning 60. Her book is moving and often amusing, whether she’s describing birds that took over the trees in her yard or the benign brain tumor—she named it Alice—that she lived with for six months. The last chapter recounts what happened after the news broke in 2003 that her father, aviator Charles Lindbergh, had three secret families in Europe, and that she had half brothers and sisters she hadn’t known existed.

Lindbergh notes that when she was 12, she hoped she would never grow older. Now, as she enters the period that her mother, author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, called “the youth of old age,” she is gradually coming to terms with aging and has lost most of her fear of dying. This collection of reflective essays has appeal for all.

AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life

By Rosemary Bakker – Lark, 2010

With enticing color photos on every page, this book is a thorough guide to making a home a safe, comfortable place to live, either for yourself as you grow older or if you are caring for an aging loved one. Experienced in gerontology and interior design, Bakker starts with a checklist for assessing your home inside and out. She then discusses rooms and features in detail, including stairways, flooring and lighting. There are excellent ideas for every budget, from redesigning an entire kitchen to highlighting the edges of steps for better visibility. Dozens of sidebars give tips about safety, energy efficiency and promoting health and longevity. Not every home is suitable for a makeover, particularly if it has cramped rooms or too many stairs, or if the community lacks public transportation or adequate medical services. If you need to move, this book can help you evaluate your options. Browse, plan—then take practical action.

The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity

By Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott – Bloomsbury, 2016

Today’s 60-year-olds have a better-than-even chance of reaching 90 or more, and the majority of today’s infants will live to at least 105, according to the authors, both professors at the London Business School. But, they argue in this fascinating book, people will need to organize their very long lives quite differently. To support themselves for 100 years, they will have to keep working through their 70s and perhaps even into their 80s. And they’ll need to live multi-stage lives, with transitions between the stages—time to rethink goals, retool skills and possibly change careers altogether. The authors acknowledge that the rich, who already live longer than the poor, are also more likely to have the education and the financial and personal resources to adapt to a multi-stage life, but overall this is an optimistic take on the future, offering both personal advice and public policy suggestions.

Mother Daughter Me: A Memoir

By Katie Hafner – Random House, 2013

Katie Hafner and her teenage daughter, Zoë, have made great strides in picking up the pieces after the sudden death of Hafner’s husband. So when Katie’s 77-year-old mother, Helen, suggests they all move in together, unwarranted optimism fuels their decision to do so. Maybe issues from Katie’s complicated and unhappy childhood could be resolved. But a rift between Helen and Zoë quickly jeopardizes the mother-daughter bond. Even therapy can’t help. Hafner is honest and matter-of-fact, but with the fallout from Helen’s alcoholism, there’s too much unfinished emotional business, and the trio’s best intentions fall short. A moving, must-read memoir for anyone in the sandwich generation once again living with parents—or considering such an arrangement.

Aged by Culture

“We are aged more by culture than by chromosomes,” Margaret Gullette writes in this passionate indictment of the American attitude to aging. Her book spells out the price we pay for living in a culture that’s obsessed with youth and that sees aging as a demeaning process of decline. Gullette focuses most on middle-ageism, noting that we’re encouraged to think of ourselves as old at younger and younger ages. Many Americans buy into such ideas and are barely into midlife when they begin to complain about memory lapses and senior moments. Middle-ageism has eroded workplace seniority systems that reward experience and has cost many people age 40 to 60 their jobs as they were pushed aside to make way for younger employees. Gullette is a resident scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

Making the Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

If you relish a true story that showcases the animal-human connection, you’ll want to meet Oscar, a cat with a unique ability to sense when a person is about to die. Oscar lives in the dementia unit of Steere House nursing home in Providence, RI, where we make the acquaintance of feline-averse David Dosa, MD, and his staff, patients and families. This is more than a cat tale, it is the coming-of-age story of Dosa, a compassionate but skeptical geriatrician who learns to trust this tabby cat, his nurses and his instincts, as he witnesses the comfort and acceptance that come with a visit from Oscar. With uncanny accuracy, Oscar jumps up and steadfastly remains on the beds of patients in their final hours. This is an insightful, warm and illuminating read about end-of-life choices and the unlikely friends who might be there to guide us.

Click here to view short David Dosa video.

When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions

When older people develop health problems that make it risky to live alone, families have a number of options. Journalist Paula Span, who writes the “New Old Age” blog for the New York Times, explores five possibilities. She lays out the pros and cons of staying put with help from relatives or aides; moving in with adult children; moving to an assisted living facility; entering a nursing home; and getting hospice care.Span interviews families who chose each option and follows their progress as the older generation adjusts—successfully or not—to new circumstances. She provides thoughtful advice, points out common pitfalls and explains in detail what the different choices cost. Anyone who is, or may become, a caregiver will find a wealth of information and comfort here.

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest

How do some people manage to live so long? Explorer and journalist Dan Buettner looked for answers to this question by identifying blue zones, regions with high concentrations of very old people, and analyzing lifestyles in four of them: a mountainous area of Sardinia; rural villages in Costa Rica; the tiny islands of Okinawa; and Loma Linda, California, home to 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists. Buettner brings these places and people to life, interweaving profiles of the very old and interviews with experts on aging. In the final chapter, he presents nine longevity lessons. Among other things, he recommends eating less meat, incorporating more physical activity into your life (walk, don’t drive) and having a strong sense of purpose. If you follow his suggestions, there’s no guarantee you’ll live to 100, but he argues convincingly that you can add at least 10 healthy years to your life.

The Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families

Here’s the dilemma: most Americans outlive their ability to drive safely by seven to 10 years. Because driving means independence, older people often resist when their adult children suggest they’re at risk behind the wheel. Elizabeth Dugan, PhD, a researcher on geriatric issues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has written a practical and compassionate guide for both generations. She describes warning signs that driving ability is deteriorating, and medical disorders and medications that can create problems. Addressing concerned family members, she explains a counseling technique called motivational interviewing and includes scripts that illustrate how to approach the subject of giving up the car keys in a nonconfrontational way. Useful appendixes offer detailed information on where to find help with the driving dilemma, both from national organizations and in each state.

Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?

“It was against my parents’ principles to talk about death,” Roz Chast writes in this graphic memoir. When she suggests planning for the inevitable, they react so negatively that she immediately drops the subject—as relieved as they are to have avoided a difficult conversation. With words, drawings and occasional photographs, Chast, a renowned New Yorker cartoonist, chronicles what happens as her parents’ health slowly fails and they try to muddle through, while she’s forced into a caregiving role. Her tale is sometimes heartbreaking, often funny and always brutally honest as she describes—and depicts—her own conflicted feelings. Her mother’s anger explodes from the page, as does her father’s bewilderment while dementia closes in on him. Better than words, her cartoons capture the raw, emotional truths of a dilemma that will be familiar to many readers. Chast’s memoir is harrowing but lit throughout by flashes of humor and her acute appreciation for the absurd.

Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond: A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life

No matter what your age or health, this book by New York Times columnist Jane Brody is for you. With her frank, thorough approach to a subject we usually avoid, Brody helps us prepare for our own and our loved ones’ deaths. As she points out, planning for the end of life is a gift to your future self—and to your family—because it gives you more control over how you will die, and it spares them the anguish of not knowing what you would have wanted. This book offers practical insight on a wide range of topics: what kind of living will is least likely to be misinterpreted by doctors, how to avoid burnout when caring for someone seriously ill, stages and types of grief, what to say—and not to say—to a dying loved one or a bereaved friend, why some doctors abandon terminally ill patients. It also explores myths about organ donation. Humorous cartoons help lighten a serious topic.

Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families

You’d think that becoming a beloved grandmother would evolve so naturally that a handbook would be unnecessary. Today’s households, however, aren’t all Rockwell-esque, and grandmothers must figure out how to bond with their grandkids in these quickly changing times. With warmth and significant research, Grandmothering covers every possible grandparent situation you could think of—and many you’ve never considered. Grandmothers may want to know how to accept adult children’s lifestyles and parenting choices, navigate cultural and generational issues and keep in touch with media-savvy, long-distance grandkids. The book calls upon real-life situations to teach today’s grandmother how to be emotionally available, to offer the right kind of help and to get her own needs met along the way.

Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency

In this beautifully written book, mental health counselor Wendy Lustbader describes what it’s like to be old and frail (or to be ill at any age) and have to depend on others. If you wonder why your elderly mother seems cranky and ungrateful at times, or why your aging father resists your efforts to help him, you’ll find insights here. For instance, Lustbader points out that caregiving works better if it’s a two-way street—if those who are dependent can feel that they, too, have something to contribute. She describes with great understanding the dilemmas caregivers face.The book is full of moving vignettes drawn from Lustbader’s experience as a counselor. It focuses on the compensations as well as the hardships of the caregiving relationship. An eye-opening read for caregivers and for those who depend on them.

How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick

Author, activist and cancer survivor Letty Cottin Pogrebin writes a sympathetic and insightful how-to book for people who are lost when it comes to helping a friend who is sick. Pogrebin uses anecdotes from her own recovery plus the experiences of those she polled in doctors’ offices while awaiting treatment. You’ll find simple ideas that can make you a better visitor, listener and friend, like letting the patient take the lead on how much information to share, and knowing how long to stay. She also includes thoughtful ways to support caregivers and those who are grieving. Learning what not to say can be an eye opener. This is a comfort manual that may change how you treat a friend on the mend.

Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging

In this feminist take on aging, Margaret Cruikshank maintains that our later years are shaped largely by our culture, and not for the better. She challenges stereotypes of old age and suggests that if women—and men—want to age comfortably, they must reject the common assumption that to be old is to be decrepit. The book argues against over-medicating elders and rebuts “alarmist” notions that, as their numbers grow, older people will be a drain on the economy and a threat to younger generations. Cruikshank also explores the process of aging as women of color experience it. She interweaves advice for readers throughout these larger societal issues. Cruikshank is a lecturer in women’s studies and a faculty associate of the Center on Aging at the University of Maine.

365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life

Can two simple words change a person? At age 53, attorney John Kralik is in despair. His family life is in turmoil, his career and finances in ruin. Yet it is a simple thank you note that sparks him to think about the things in life for which he might be grateful. Kralik decides to set aside a little time each day to consider the people who have made a difference in his life and to send them a heartfelt, handwritten thank you. He writes to virtually everyone he can think of—friends current and former, professional acquaintances, shop clerks, doctors. The results are immediate and far reaching. His outlook on life changes. He becomes solvent, repairs relationships, even loses weight. Sentimental but never preachy, this story of midlife revelation and redemption is inspiring to anyone who may be stuck in what has been lost or taken from them. 365 Thank Yous is a quick, easy read that surely will send you looking for a pen and stamps.

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

More than 32 million adults are living alone. That’s 28 percent of Americans, up from 10 percent in 1950. This remarkable societal shift is having far-reaching consequences, writes Eric Klinenberg, and so far, it’s a mixed bag of success stories and concerns. Some people are deliberately solo, choosing not to commit to domestic partnership for reasons that range from career focus to disinterest in marriage. Others are living alone, wishing they were not. Either way, Klinenberg explains, singles are not independent of community and need others for companionship and support, especially as they age. He discusses the roles of social media, increased longevity and urbanization in this trend, paying particular attention to the effects on women and older adults. This book offers insight into why people choose to live by themselves, what they do to make it work and how we may have to reinvent society to make sure that singles are not actually left alone.

30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans

Are there choices to be made today to enrich our later years? What are the keys to a rewarding second half of life? The author asks these questions and more, not of social workers or academics, but of the real experts—those who have lived to 65 and beyond. Inspired by an encounter with an extraordinary 90-year-old, Pillemer, a Cornell University gerontologist, invested five years interviewing more than 1,000 Americans age 65 and over and lays out a blueprint for a fulfilling life. What sets this book apart from other self-help books is the poignant stories of successes and regrets of our older citizens. These are not biographies but rather the lessons they have learned and wish to share with those of us who follow, on topics such as getting and staying married, choosing a career, parenting, and living with and without regrets. If you are ready to grow older fearlessly, this book is for you.

My Twice-Lived Life: A Memoir

Columnist Don Murray, newly retired and recovering from a near-fatal heart attack at age 62, decides to write about his own aging and, in the process, feels compelled to revisit his past. Attempting to understand what made him the man he is, he describes his lonely childhood, life in combat in World War II, and his careers, first as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and then as a college professor. Murray, who died in 2006, writes movingly about his daughter’s death and about caring for his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease. As time passes, he grows and changes as he acknowledges the pain of past events and his own insecurities, which he had tried to hide from others. His beautifully crafted memoir opens a window on aging as seen from a distinctively male perspective.

The End of Your Life Book Club

Don’t let the title of this inspirational tale fool you into thinking this is a book about death. There is nothing morbid about this memoir. This is a story of devotion—of a terminally ill woman to her many philanthropic pursuits, a son to his mother, and both mother and son to a shared love of books. Schwalbe is a publisher, a wordsmith and lover of literature. His mother is a fascinating humanitarian; one of her accomplishments was helping to build a library in Afghanistan. They were already close, and the mother-son bond only gets stronger as Mary Anne faces a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer. In doctors’ offices and at bedsides, together they enjoy the comfort that the printed word gives them, the joy of sharing books that have affected them over the years. This book club offers a double love story, a shared journey and a treasure trove of books to add to your own reading list.