Friday, March 23, 2018

Q&A with Marc E. Agronin

Marc E. Agronin, M.D., is the author of the new book The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life. His other books include How We Age, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Scientific American. He is a geriatric psychiatrist and is director of mental health services, clinical research, and the outpatient memory center at Miami Jewish Health.

Q: You write, "This book has a simple message: aging brings strength." What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about the aging process?

A: We tend to define aging only as a process of decline, loss and disease, with its benefits seen as mere survival against the odds. This definition is realistic but it's only half the story.

I describe in The End of Old Age how the aging process itself grants a variety of strengths through ongoing growth and development of our experience, knowledge, skills and their integration over time.

Thus, we gain greater wisdom, deeper purpose and heightened creativity because of age. These factors must be seen as a counterbalance to the decline perspective.

Q: In the book, you describe "creative aging." How do you define that, and what do you advise your patients about living creatively?

A: Creative aging refers to aging in a way that creates and develops new endeavors, relationships and perspectives that go above and beyond our previous selves. It's aging as growth and not decline. 

It's based, in part, on Gene Cohen's concept of developmental intelligence in which our experiences and abilities grow with age and achieve greater integration and synergy.

Q: In your years as a geriatric psychiatrist, have you seen any changes in how your patients are approaching aging?

A: I see more and more people coming to me in the 80s and 90s who are in good physical and mental health but want to enhance relationships and personal endeavors. They see aging more in terms of potential than problems.

I wouldn't say that 80 is the new 70, but that 80 is just new for so many people. These individuals may not have had aging role models when they were younger, and so they have to be pioneers of aging, blazing a path for all of us heading into those years.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: I hope that readers will feel excited about their own potential as they age, seeing aging itself as the secret sauce to a better life.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am leading an amazing project at Miami Jewish Health to create the very first village in the U.S. for individuals with dementia, with a care model based in empathy.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The best way to learn about one's aging self is to build relationships with older individuals. Find elders to be your teachers, mentors, role models and inspirational figures.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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