Health

“Elderhood” author Dr. Louise Aronson on why older people are happier than younger adults

People are living decades longer than they ever have before, thanks to advances in medicine and public health. And Dr. Louise Aronson, author of the new book “Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life,” thinks we currently get a lot wrong about what it means to be old.

One of the most common myths is that reaching old age — generally defined as starting between 60 and 70 years old — “is horrible,” she explained Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.”

“In studies, they find consistently that older people are happier than adults,” Aronson said, adding “you begin to get happier in your late 50s, and then you become happier still, and the happiest times of life are in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.”

That’s because people are “more comfortable with who they are” and are “clear on their priorities,” she said, adding that it’s also because they’ve generally completed the most stressful, ambitious parts of their careers.  

She added that her book, which suggests we should “look at the final third of life with the same concern, curiosity, creativity, and rigor as we view the first two-thirds,” is especially relevant at this point in human history.  In the past, populations have been made up of many children, some adults, and very few older people — but society has now hit what Aronson describes as a “watershed moment,” in which there will be about as many people in each category.

As a result, she said, “we need to change our policies, and choices, our worlds, our restaurants, our transportation, our health care system.”

That change is especially vital in the medical industry. “Medicine, like all other aspects of society, was basically built at a time when we had lots of kids, and a fair number of adults,” she said. As a result, aspiring doctors receive months of training on caring for children during medical school, she said, but just “hours” on learning to care for the elderly.  

“In hospitals, about 40% of patients are older people,” she added. “And yet most doctors have hours of training in their care.”

Aronson said it’s also important for society to change the way it talks about being old. When “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King asked how she felt about phrases like “60 is the new 40,” Aronson said she felt the language was “completely ageist.”

“What it suggests is that it’s never good to be 60 — that being 60 is only good if you’re actually acting like and looking like you’re 40,” she said. “Whereas in fact, people at age 60 are much happier than people at age 40. So let’s own that.”

“Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life” is now available.     

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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