Greater longevity, thanks in part to advances in medicine and a better understanding of how lifestyle can impact health, has contributed to a burgeoning older population worldwide. In 2016, for the first time in census history, in many countries including Canada, there were more seniors over the age of 65 than there were children under 14. Aging baby boomers, low fertility rates, lower immigration levels and longer lifespans all help to explain this significant shift in demographics around the globe.
And for many seniors who have been able to stay relatively healthy and active, living into very old age is a privilege. But can doing everything possible to extend life backfire, robbing elderly adults of precious time trying to prevent the inevitable? Author Barbara Ehrenreich believes it can and has poured her own thoughts about aging and death into her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. The book examines Ehrenreich’s unique perspective on life and death and explores how she intends to spend her time in old age. And it won’t be by getting poked and prodded or going looking for medical problems.
Ehrenreich recently spoke with the Guardian about her point of view having reached age 76, which she considers “old enough to die”. She’s clear that although she is in no way suicidal, desperately trying to extend her life isn’t how she wants to spend her precious remaining time. Having survived breast cancer more than a decade earlier, Ehrenreich’s pragmatism about how much invasive medicine she’s willing to endure is refreshing. She would rather live in the moment and enjoy time with friends and family than go looking for medical programs with screenings and tests that may not only be unnecessary but may do more harm than good. Ehrenreich still enjoys going to the gym for regular strength training, cardio and stretching but don’t ask her to give up butter or the occasional glass of wine.
All things considered, this more rational and practical approach to old age demystifying and normalizing discussions about death seems a welcome relief for older adults and their families. Talking openly about growing old and nearing end-of-life can help lift some of the fear and worry and empower seniors to live in the present and enjoy the life they have.
Look for this and many other of Ehrenreich’s bestselling books including Nickel and Dimed and Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, at amazon.com .