“Understanding Well-being in the Oldest Old” highlights culture change in eldercare
Decades ago, few people lived to be 85 years old, or older. However, now, the fastest growing segment of our population is a group of people often referred to by professionals as the "very old." The definition of "the very old" or the "oldest old" is people aged 85 and above, many of whom live in care facilities.
These aged people have largely been ignored by many as a group that is too old to really live. In many cases, apart from groups active in culture changes such as the Pioneer Network, they have been relegated, for the most part, to just exist until death.
"Understanding Well-being in the Oldest Old," aims to improve this view. It delivers a comprehensive treatment of how we, as a society, should be looking at the care of the oldest old. The word "well-being," in the title of the book, is what drew me to this volume. Society needs to continue to look at aged people as human beings entitled to the best quality of life they can live. That, obviously, encompasses more than just warehousing them and keeping them breathing "unto death."
Scholarly researchers, caring hearts
Eva Kahana, of Case Western University, writes in her cover note about "Understanding":
"Directing many lenses at the challenges of "aging well" among the very old, this book offers fresh insights about definitions, limitations, and variety in human adaptation at the end of the life course."
Containing contributions from prominent scholars in the United States and Israel, "Understanding" highlights the challenges of providing for the well-being of elders with dementia. I believe that this focus is not necessarily age related. It's more about quality of life for those who are no longer cognitively able to live in the world as a well person sees it.
Yes, the book is scholarly, so medical professionals who treat the very old and those with dementia, please take note. You will find the documentation satisfying. However, mainstream readers interested in how to care for the very old, or those of any age with severe dementia, can find much of interest. As a non-medical person, I was especially drawn to the chapter "The Measurement of Life Satisfaction and Happiness in Old-Old Age."
What compromises "happiness" in the very old?
This chapter, as well as others, notes the subjective nature of determining well-being. Concepts such as family solidarity and interaction, religious and spiritual connections, gratitude, and finding meaning in life, are addressed.
Everyone needs a reason to be. The very old are no exception. Families, medical people, assisted living centers and nursing homes need to find ways to engage the very old and make them feel valued. If these folks are to feel they are anything but a burden on society, they must be shown they have value. They must be shown there is a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
"Understanding" can help people, well, understand, this concept. The book can guide professionals and family members as they look for ways to help the very old do more than survive.
"Understanding Well-being in the Oldest Old," edited by Leonard W. Poon and Jiska Cohen-Mansfield, presents scientists and lay people alike with a comprehensive view of the needs of aging people and others who may suffer from dementia. The book was published by Cambridge University Press and is available online at Amazon.com.