The Power of Ideas: When Does Old Age Start and Embracing Elderhood as a Stage of Life

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Uma Hiremath

By Uma Hiremath

INE TED Columnist

BOSTON–One-sixth of the population in America are 65-and-older but account for 40% of hospital stays. That makes sense. Between the ages of 60 and 70 years, our bodies’ regenerative powers begin to slow down.

Yet, every hospital has a pediatric wing staffed with pediatricians and an adult wing staffed with internists, while a hospital with a geriatric wing staffed with geriatricians is an anomaly. Instead, we set up nursing homes.

In a recent 17-minute TEDMED talk, bestselling author and award-winning educator Dr. Louise Aronson provides a warm, empathetic, risible and thought-provoking analysis on “Embracing elderhood as a stage of life.” Instead of conceptually moving from childhood to adulthood to death, the good doctor proposes the addition of a “third major stage –  elderhood.”

To watch the TED talk by Dr. Aronson, please click here or on the link below:

https://www.tedmed.com/talks/show?id=771254

Treating a 65 year-old differently from an 85 year-old and a 105 year-old just makes sense. With an average age span that has increased by 30 years since 1900, we spend more years in elderhood than we ever did in childhood. Yet the culture is suffused at every level with “barriers rather than scaffolds” for this stage of life.

Medical schools devote just a few weeks to geriatric study; the vaccine sub-culture is tasked with just one vaccine for 65 years and older; social architecture such as open spaces plan playgrounds but are rarely charged with equivalent spaces for elders.

In short, the scope for opportunity and equity, a basic need for humans at every stage of life,  is largely ignored. Rethinking life stages to incorporate a third “elderhood” stage is a simple yet profound innovation, with the capacity to set a snowballing effect on American society as a whole.

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