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July 13, 2014, 4:36 am

Book explores hope in old age

Some would dismiss a nursing home in Miami as “God’s waiting room.” Yet, Marc Agronin’s life as a geriatric psychiatrist has taught him that seniors have much to share. As Agronin first learned from 98-year-old Esther and, later, from countless others, the true scales of aging aren’t one-sided—you can’t list the problems without also tallying the hopes and promises. Drawing on moving personal experiences and in-depth interviews with pioneers in the field, Agronin’s book — “How We Age: A Doctor's Journey into the Heart of Growing Old” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $15)— conjures a spellbinding look at what aging means today—how our bodies and brains age, and the very way we understand aging.

“All too often we associate aging only with decline, loss, illness and death. Even doctors are trained to approach aging from such a biased perspective,” explained Agronin. “The resultant stigma of aging—called ageism by the late gerontologist Robert Butler—fills us with a dread of aging and blinds us to the immense reality of growth, meaning and vitality that most of our elders experience. We have to look at both sides of the equation here, acknowledging the reality of aging with both the challenges and opportunities it brings.”

Agronin began to think about age when his four-year-old son asked, “What is old?” Some measure in years and others measure in ailments.

“Many of the negative images of aging are amplified when imagining life in a nursing home,” said Agronin. “Because we cast them in such a negative and biased manner, we fear them not only as an endpoint, but as a sad and tragic one. In this light, there is no question that we need better PR for all forms of long-term care settings, especially from these individuals who not only live in them, but thrive in them. Having worked in long-term care my entire career, I’ve seen countless inspiring and vital lives enabled by the very institutions that so many people feat.”

Agronin is a board-certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist who has served since 1999 as the Medical Director for Mental Health and Clinical Research at the Miami Jewish Health Systems (MJHS), Florida's largest long-term care institution. In 2008, Dr. Agronin was named the "Clinician of the Year" by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, awarded annually to one of its members who has demonstrated a "profound commitment to the field of clinical geriatric psychiatry by providing, promoting and assuring access to quality mental health care for older adults."

“There are many ‘fruits of age’—some that are conferred simply by virtue of being old, and others that we can cultivate—and they include: an increased breadth of knowledge and experience; wisdom; enhanced creativity; the opportunity to guide and teach children, grandchildren and younger generations; the time to renew old pursuits or develop new ones; the only opportunity to reflect upon the entire life cycle and its meaning for ourselves and our society and a heightened ability to focus more positive and relevant experiences. These fruits are available in various forms to everyone, but they are helped along by intergenerational connections and support, demanding that we engage with our elders in every stage of life.”

“How We Age” shows that ageing is more than an inevitable decline—that it can also be a period of vitality, wisdom, creativity and, ultimately, hope.

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .