Monday, September 29, 2014

Books on Aging & Spiritual Growth

Photo by King of Monks.
After spending decades journeying through life, many people end up gaining great spiritual insight. The cliche about elders being wise holds true for many older adults.  Because the generations are more isolated from each other in industrialized nations than they are in traditional cultures, this hard-won wisdom isn't always present in home.

Fortunately, a number of insightful people in midlife and late life are writing books that offer thought-provoking commentary on how to respond to life's challenges--including challenges that are often correlated with late life: illness, death of loved ones, loss of employment. 

But advanced age is not all decay.  Our youth-obsessed culture often reads it as such, missing out on the strengths of a half-decade plus view of life. 

Here are a few books that I have read that contain insight found after 50--listed in reverse chronology by publication date. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Falling Upward: Book Review

Published January 1, 2011.
I've been reading more intentionally about the second half of life for the past four years.

Recently, I've been choosing books from Changing Aging's recommended list of books that depict aging as a period of growth and development. 

This week, I've been reading Richard Rohr's Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass 2011). 

Rohr describes life as having two distinct and opposing tasks. 

The first half of life is dedicated to building a self that is based on goals, accomplishments and ego.  

But many people end up learning how short-sighted life is when defined this way. Consequently, many adopt the task in the second half of life of transcending narcissism, accomplishments, material security and the vanities of the temporal world.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Still Mine: Film Review

Released on DVD in the USA
May 6, 2014
Because I watch a lot of films featuring older adults, I note various choices made in each film. For example, the point of view can determine a great deal about the way characters are portrayed and themes are established.

Some films adopt the point of view of adult children, as does The Savages (2007) , Big Fish (2003) and Marvin's Room (1996).  

Other times an ensemble cast allows a multigenerational perspective, as is present in Is Anybody There (2008), Checking Out (2005) and Nothing in Common (1986). 

Because I am trying to empathize more with the challenges and opportunities of advanced age, I value films that adopt the point of view of older adults.

Still Mine, with a 2013 limited release in Canada, takes such a viewpoint.  Available in the US on DVD this year, I finally took the opportunity to watch it. 

James Cromwell plays Craig Morrison, an octogenarian who decides to build a one-story home for his wife, Irene--played by Genevieve Bujold.   She has dementia and struggles to manage the stairs in their two-story farm house. 

Based on a true story, Craig runs into snags because he doesn't have the right building permits.  Craig also runs into interference from his adult children. They think Craig should move his ailing wife into an assisted living center.  

The title of the film comes from Craig's passionate assertion.  He judges himself capable of caring for his wife, and he will do so because she's "still mine."  

Aging often pits safety against self-determination, and this film is one that depicts a very strong drive for independence.  It helps me understand how older adults feel about making their own decisions.  Of course there are some situations where people's judgments are impaired because of change to cognition.

But cognition problems don't affect Craig. This film character provides a very salient portrait of the will and right to control one's life circumstances--even as an older adult. Or as Craig says, "Age is just an abstraction, not a straitjacket." 


Friday, September 26, 2014

Maslow Is a Liar

I see beauty in chaos in this photo by J.E.F.
Introduction to psychology courses nearly always include some attention to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

From the start of the life span, people usually master each of these needs in ascending order.

People establish physical needs, then social needs and finally more abstract needs, such as self-actualization.

As we age, however, we do not reduce our lives in order from the highest needs down to the most basic needs.  Before I studied gerontology, I expected to see an orderly movement in reverse order as people age.

The aging process is more chaotic than I imagined.

Each person's aging process is unique to them.   And even though some patterns in how people age might emerge in large studies, the aging process of just one person is largely unpredictable.

However, the more I interact with older adults, the more I observe how people can hold onto higher order tasks--spirit, beauty, knowledge and relationships--even as their bodies start to betray them.

Maslow's Hierarchy fails to serve as a model for the aging process.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Am I Old or Am I Young?

Photo by Luc B.
"Forty is the old age of youth, fifty is the youth of old age."  ~ Hosea Ballou

Because I am a gerontologist, people ask me directly or indirectly, "Am I old?"

Well, there isn't an easy answer to that question.

Last week I talked with an administrator at a local university who was telling me he was a lot older than people imagined.

Older? He's in his mid 30s.

Because I regularly socialize with people who are twice and three times his age, I perceive him as young--even though he is twice the age of an incoming university student.

From his perspective, he exemplifies Ballou's first clause in this post's epigraph:  "Forty is the old age of youth."