Terri Schlichenmeyer: The Bookworm Sez 2-21-11
There may be a correlation, but you’re not sure.
Do wrinkles directly contribute to crabbiness? Can the sprouting of gray hair cause a general miasma? And why do people think “senior moments” are so darn funny? You wonder, because you’ve spotted another wrinkle and two more gray hairs, you forgot where your keys are, and there’s nothing humorous about that.
But getting older has its benefits, says Marc E. Agronin, MD. In his new book “How We Age,” he takes a look at aging – not from your body’s POV, but from your brain’s perspective.
Growing up in Kaukauna, Wisc., Marc Agronin had a good role model in his grandfather, who was the town’s beloved physician. Watching his grandfather at work inspired Agronin to become a doctor himself.
As a geriatric psychiatrist whose patients battle dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and other disorders, Agronin has seen the life-changing, life-threatening issues that come with maturation. But stereotypes and cliches aside, even though our culture is obsessed with youth, his patients also enjoy benefits that come with aging.
Once upon a time, we barely aged. Just a hundred years ago, the average human lifespan was around 50 years which means, says Agronin, that aging is “less a product of nature and more of a human achievement wrestled from nature.” Centenarians, in fact, are the fastest growing age group in today’s world.
But as we pluck gray hairs and worry at wrinkles, we need to remember that physical signs of aging are mere annoyances. The real issue to focus on is that aging is harshest on our brains. So, despite the inescapable fact that we have no Neuron Fountain of Youth to rely on, can we age well … in our heads?
Agronin thinks so. In this thoughtful book, he writes about patients he’s known who have faced their Golden Years with grace and strength.
There was the wheelchair-bound man who couldn’t remember much personal history, but could carry on an eloquent conversation in his native Russian language.
There was the group of women with early-stage Alzheimer’s who embraced their own social network, showing Agronin that alone, patients might falter but together, their limitations were eased.
And then there was Marilyn and Mac. She accepted aging eagerly. He fought it. But both agreed that with years, came “gifts:” better judgment, contemplation, mellowness, and sometimes, delight.
Part science, part essay, “How We Age” is not one of those books that blindly celebrates the so-called wisdom of years. Author Marc E. Agronin bluntly writes about dementia, forgetfulness, Alzheimer’s, and other issues that come wits Seniority. He’s honest with his readers without trying to hide anything.
Then, he balances the bad with soaring stories of the goodness in becoming an elder, including serenity, knowledge, and acceptance. Agronin’s colleagues taught him that aging has no cure. His patients taught him that aging really doesn’t need a cure.
Thoughtful, warm, and wise, “How We Age” is a book for everyone who’s putting on the years, like it or not. For all of us, books like this never get old.
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