Greetings to all Readers!
Just created this blogsite-within-a-blogsite in an effort to join and expand Dr. Bill Thomas’ ChangingAging initiative. Before starting to write and solicit readers’ feedback on various specific issues in human aging, I thought it would be appropriate to give some background about myself, and my purpose for doing this…
Although I have survived on this beautiful planet for almost 6 decades now, given the number of my fellow sexagenerians, this may seem to be no especially great achievement. For me personally, however, it seems quite remarkable! In fact, the more I age, the more I appreciate, honor, and respect those who have aged more than I have. Furthermore, this general appreciation of mine swells regardless of the opinions of some who make the distinction that there are Elders who deserve our respect…and some who have yet to earn it. Even Native Americans (who otherwise hold their Elders in great esteem) I have spoken to have mentioned sharing this discriminating view of elderhood.
I have worked in long-term care, both as a “lowly” direct caregiver “in the trenches,” a supervisor/trainer of same, and as a commited, outspoken advocate for those with limited communicative abilities owing to various labeled “cognitive disorders” for about 20 years now, and have studied and written about aging both in that practical context and also in the daunting gerontological literature of academia. One of the most important advantages of being in the proverbial ”trenches” is that one has extensive direct contact with our elders. Given the exquisite complexity of human beings, and especially older, individuated humans, this experience is invaluable.
I earned a master’s degree while working in the field, yet I emphatically assert that the most valuable education I have received was directly from the elders I have known and been so privileged to engage. I have always felt that this support was mutual, and continue to feel that an awareness of this mutual give-and-take is, perhaps ironically, one of the keys to this challenging service. It is also an attitude that, from my experience, seems rather rare when looked for within various community care settings. (Hopefully Eden Alternative settings are an exception!)
Perhaps the reader (you) may now begin to understand why I make my presence known here. For the record I must also state that I have affiliations with the Marylhurst Gerontological Association (Marylhurst, Oregon) and that I am a frequent contributor to both Dr. Thomas’ ChangingAging site and also the informative and often provacative site “The Myth of Alzheimer’s Disease”…established by Drs. Peter Whitehouse and Danny George. Other than this, I am completely and blissfully independent, and thus can freely state my opinions.
My interests within aging may be described as very broad. As Bill Thomas recently pointed out on Twitter, “gerontology” as a social science is the study of aging, not predominately concerned with biomedical aspects of aging, which is, rather, the field of geriatric medicine – Dr. Thomas’s original specialty. Now, the “study of aging” as such is a pretty broad field, and in fact gerontology within academia is known as one of the most interdisciplinary of all the sciences. Of course Bill has expanded his areas of interest greatly beyond geriatrics alone; similarly, I have expanded mine beyond the “science” of gerontology.
In order to address the Whole Person that any Elder is, it is fairly obvious that we who commit ourselves to these fields must draw heavily from related disciplines to be effective. Yet it is surprising, and yes, quite distressing how biomedicalized elder long-term care remains. There are many reasons for this; I will consider them in later blogs because, in my opinion, awareness of how to effectively create the elusive “Culture Change” in long-term care that many of us desire depends upon exploring this notion, finding practical ways to respond, and implementing the changes once it is determined that the old way no longer serves 21st century concepts of elder community support.
So I am both an emerging Elder, and one who spends much of my time pondering what the new Elderhood should be about. It is a passion that I seem to be endlessly driven toward both personally and professionally, not in the least because this is an absolutely unique time in human history: at the current moment, there are more human beings alive today over the age of 65 than have ever lived beyond the age of 65! How we as a society deal with this amazing fact is, as Dr. Bill says, “the hidden neutron bomb” of the 21st century. Indeed, how could it not be so?
And if this is so, then to extend Bill’s metaphor, I would like to try to lend a hand as we safely try to harness this “nuclear elder power” and use it for society’s benefit, not its downfall…as many of the naysayers are quick to predict. Unlike nuclear physics and the mind-numbing concept of quantum mechanics, however, I believe that although certainly as complex a subject, it only takes a quick glance at human aging to realize that it contains many profound paradoxes, the exposition of which can help us to understand and appreciate aging for what it is.
Some of the more specific topics I would like to cover in this blog are: The Many Paradoxes of Modern Aging and what we can learn from them; The Socially-Constructed concept of ”Dementia” and how it affects society’s regard for its Elders; What is “Elderhood” and why it is important to know what it is; Caregiving Stories and the give-and-take of mutually-supportive care; and more…soon to be announced.
As mentioned, I will solicit all readers’ feedback, and wish to make it clear from the outset that I consider my blog healthy only to the degree that feedback is posted. Feedback from elders, both labeled and unlabeled, is of course particularly welcome. So please DO respond! And thanks in advance for taking the time to read…
Peace & Namaste
~Charles Macknee, MA