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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America

Rubin, Lillian B., Ph. D. 60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America. I've put off reviewing this one partly because I continue to think about it. Lillian Rubin doesn't gloss over anything; she tackles the problems of aging with energy, intellect, and emotion. The book provides an honest, but not always encouraging, examination of what it is like to grow old, to be old.

"Getting old sucks! It always has, it always will," says 83-year-old Dr. Rubin. Those are the first two sentences in the book. Forget about the media's rosy picture of "the new old age, " she says. She's right, of course, in the sense that while we live longer and are healthier longer... the years of really old age are longer as well, and since we live in a culture that celebrates youth and beauty, those years can be lonely and frightening. Old age may come to us later than it did to our parents and grandparents, but with each year on that latter part of our journey, we will face the decline of our physical abilities, perhaps of our mental abilities. Rubin believes the pretense that age does not bring decline is a disingenuous view.

There are consequences to living longer, and these consequences are not always positive. Rubin's examination of old age, her interviews, her evaluation of her own situation are honest and informative, but honest appraisal and information can be troubling. Rubin wants us to think about what we will do with the additional years; about social policies that need to be in place for the large section of our aging population; about our emotional, economic, physical, and spiritual needs.

She is addressing those who are 60 and up, but she is also looking at those who are younger, and who suddenly have the responsibility of caring for illl or elderly parents. We are all attempting to negotiate changes for which history has not yet prepared a template. We live longer and healthier than ever before, but our extended life spans present new difficulties that were not always anticipated.

Dr. Rubin has an engaging, down-to-earth style; she writes with insight and clarity, compassion and humor. She has no answers, but she warns us that we should be asking some questions--of ourselves, our families, our governments.

I think Rubin has addressed the subject thoughtfully. In many ways, however, it is very discouraging, and many will probably say that Rubin is depressed about her own old age. However, denying that illness and dementia and loss of contemporaries are more likely after a certain age is to stick our heads in the sand. Not a comforting read, but a compelling one. Rubin addresses the realities of many, though certainly not all, of the elderly.

Nonfiction. Psychology/sociology. 2007. 172 pages.


  1. My father always says, "It's hell to get old. But it's better than the alternative." We need more books about the practical aspects of aging, and solving the societal problems that come with a greater aging population as more people live longer. This sounds interesting--thanks!

  2. This sounds good, but perhaps she is somewhat sad about her own situation. It so depends on the person. My father-in-law is 83 and has more verve and interest in life than a lot of younger people. And while we all know people like that, there are also the sadder ones. What I've always professed is that we are who we are no matter the age. The melancholic 30 year old tends to be the same at 80; while the cheerful, optimistic 20 year old tends to see life in the same way at 70. And though it is sad to lose contemporaries, at least that is natural. It is much sadder when younger people die. I don't think I'd read this. I recall feeling that the Passages book was pretty gloomy and I was quite young then. I think it is good to look life squarely in the eye but maybe it is better to just take it as it comes? My husband used to say that you shouldn't start worrying about your children driving when they are little babies. :<)

  3. I'm intrigued by what you describe, Jenclair, and I think I'll try to find this one. I watch what my 85-year old father goes through every day, good days and bad ones, and I wonder how I will react if I'm fortunate enough to live as long. Thanks for mentioning this one. I like going into things with my eyes wide open and this may be just the thing.

  4. Sometimes it is hard to look the truth in the eye. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to read this book. Does Rubin suggest constructive things we can do to prepare?

  5. Gentle Reader -- The topic certainly deserves more conversation and further study. There is always an element of denial involved when thinking of our own aging...we are not going to be in "that" situation: with deficient finances, or ill, or lonely, or demented. However, the longer we live, the greater our chances.

    Nan -- Rubin's husband is 94 and has Alzheimer's. Her own age and the burden of loving and caring for him must be overwhelming. She acknowledges the differences in people -- some are physically and mentally healthy much longer than others. Her main point is that we should do some thinking ahead because when we live so much longer, problems sometimes occurs that we don't anticipate.

    Sam -- Yes, that personal touch. My father has Alzheimer's, and good days are becoming less frequent, but more and more appreciated. The book was an eye-opener...even though in the last few years, I've seen a lot of the difficulties of the elderly.

    Booklogged -- There are a few suggestions (very common sense), but most of the book is from interviews about what different people are experiencing. The book is well written, and from watching my parents illnesses and those of their friends, honest. Not cheerful!

  6. Getting old does suck. I'm not old yet, but my parents are getting old and I worry about them since we live half a country away from each other. My grandma is 93 and still doing well, but when I talk to her one of the first things she says is, sort of resigned, well I'm still here. She's been having a hard time the last few years because all of her friends are dying. I have a coworker who is turning 77 this year. She is still young in mind but her body hurts all over some days and it's a real struggle to not let it intefere with her job.

  7. Stefanie -- When people we know, love, and care about are in this situation, we become much more interested in the plight of the elderly. At least your grandmother knows that there are still people who care about her. As for your co-worker, her efforts to remain active and involved are admirable and, although she may have difficulties, her life is enriched by the continued involvement in work and the companionship of her colleagues.