The members of the Baby Boomer generation, the largest generation in the United States, are approaching senior citizenship. A generation that always considered themselves “forever young” is going to finally have to deal with aging. For those with fears of growing old, Marc Agronin, M.D. has written a beautiful book on the experience of old age, How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey Into the Heart of Growing Old.
Dr. Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, makes clear from the start that this is not a book on reversing the aging process or how to look or feel younger. The goal of How We Age is for readers to understand aging both scientifically and psychologically. Most of his research was done by spending time in a nursing home, speaking to and interviewing patients.
The five parts of the book are:
1. Defining and describing the aging process, scientifically and is it is perceived and experienced: The chapters here deal with the physical aspects of aging and depression brought on by not knowing what happens after death and the fear that results.
2. Patients and Scholars: It is in this section that we begin to meet and learn about some of the patients. We also are taken on a journey into some of the lessons that Dr. Agronin learned about aging from those he studied under.
3. Memory: We learn about the changing role of memory in old age and we see, through patients’ stories, that many survive and even thrive, with diminished memory.
4. Wisdom: We look at the development of wisdom in the aged and in those that care for them. We learn that there is a “growing body of research demonstrating that aging individuals develop a new ability to think, strategize, and devise solutions in ways that go beyond the abstract, or formal…This ability is life sustaining and even life saving in the final years“.
5. The exploration of how certain lessons learned from the aged can serve as beacons for all of us.
While reading How We Age, I was surprised to find it both sad and uplifting. The further I read, the more uplifting it began. Getting old is something that I usually don’t want to think about. The more I read, the more I began to understand that the process doesn’t need to be a scary one.
It is human nature to fear growing old. However, having a better understand of aging may help quell those fears. I highly recommend reading How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey Into the Heart of Growing Old by Dr. Marc E. Agronin. It is a wonderful and engaging book that will help you learn and understand what it really is like to grow old.