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.