When I was first approached to do a review of 60 On Up: The Truth About Aging in America I had my doubts. After asking the advice of several friends I decided to take the plunge and I'm glad I did.
I mentioned in a previous post how I tend to live with my head in the sand regarding the vagaries of aging and how it affects me. Well, that stage is over.
There is no shortage of information on aging. Much is written by those who are more likely students of the process than those actually in the midst of it. Especially when addressing we old folks. Not so with Lillian Rubin.
At 82 she is well versed on the intricacies of getting old. As a sociologist and psychotherapist and author of twelve books, her writing is authoritative, reflective and poignant. She brought to my attention truths of which I was unaware, paralleled experiences I have had and continue to have and gave me a sobering view of what's ahead.
The hype that inundates us about how we're living longer and better is thoroughly debunked with fact. She walks us through how the experts define old and how, with early retirements and more ways to retain vigor, that definition is constantly changing. Presently 65 is the end of middle age and the beginning of "new" old age. A far cry from the criteria of not so many years ago when a man retiring at 65 might expect a mere three additional years! Now we're looking at 90 and even 100 as the boomers move into these categories. That's a lot of life to live as our abilities to do so decrease. How many years can you be satisfied just playing golf? And how many of those years will you actually be able to do so?
She discusses the loss of self. What no longer being needed when you have so much to offer does to one's psyche. How we look at our peers without seeing ourselves in them; the slower walk, the aches and pains, the wrinkles, sags and lumps and bumps. It's almost a competition - I'm not like that - yet. Until I look in the mirror and see that I am.
Stress and resentment that can build when children of the old are approaching old themselves is an issue. The resentment that stems from "butting in" from one side of the spectrum to "unreasonable stubbornness" on the other breeds anxiety and stress that can tear families apart at a time when they need one another the most. Not to mention the toll it takes on everyone's already fragile health.
She discusses financial issues for children who are suddenly faced with having to make up shortfall and the old who had thought their nest eggs were sufficient.
The loss of sex drive and how it affects men and women differently is part of the equation as is how we retreat from younger friends as they remain at a level we no longer can nor often care to sustain. It progresses from that point to where we even isolate ourselves from our peers if it suits our mood. More loss of self, of identity; a social issue succumbing to physical and sometimes mental deterioration. She keeps reminding us that the longer we are kept alive, the longer we - or someone has to deal with these issues and there is little help available.
She covers how we might prefer to let it all go rather than to live through the lonely, painful isolation many of us may face. And, importantly, how ill equipped we as a society are to help with this journey. There is no regard for the old. There is no plan nor financing to ease the burden. We become invisible to everyone but ourselves. We are expendable. It's not a pleasant thought but it is a reality.
The book is a very warm and human read when Dr. Rubin talks of her mother, her husband's loss of mental acuity, her daughter's concern, her friends in similar circumstances and even those she interviewed. She discusses openly and honestly the fight she has within dealing with every aspect of where she was, where she is and where she is going.
One of the most important issues of this business of "old" is addressed in the final chapter. She states that within the next two decades 26% of the current population will be entering "old" age. That's around 78 million people.
With those numbers and the power that comes with them, changes can be made. Let's hope so.
60 On Up is an eye opener. I would recommend it to anyone who is concerned about aging parents and how they will cope and to those parents who wonder where their children are coming from. To those who are aware of the bits and pieces and the promises that don't ring true this book is a concise overview. Beautifully written and by no means overly long, it is a great way to ease into reality.
60 On Up: The Truth About Aging in America, Lillian B. Rubin, Ph.D., can be found in all major book stores and at Amazon.com