Life Sans Cocoon

This Sunday at 2 p.m. Inkwood Books is hosting a discussion with Professor Meika Loe, a sociologist and author of the 2011 book Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond.

“If nothing else," Meika said, "these elder stories defy what you expect from the very old.” 

One of the stories is about three widowed friends who live on their own. The ladies check in with each other every morning by phone to make sure all is well. On at least one occasion, one of the three didn't answer her phone. When the others went to see why, they found her on the floor.

We're a society that doesn't "think intergenerationally," Meika told earlier this week over the phone. She's 38 and the mother of a four-year-old, and said she was interested in the topic of aging because she "had great relationships with my grandparents, and have watched them struggle with aging without their spouses."

She says the more we know about these modern elders, who live longer and healthier than previous generations, the more we can prepare and help. And we all have to learn how to do this better because the 85+ set is the fastest growing age group in the U.S.

Not to mention it'll help us help ourselves if we’re fortunate enough to reach that age. Here's a few questions I asked Meika, edited for brevity.

Tampa Do-Gooder: What grade would America receive for our efforts to take care of our elders? 

Meika Loe: That's a tough question. We have Medicare and Medicaid in place to help, but beyond that it’s an informal crew of caregivers. It’s extremely expensive to have in-home care and aging in place. We have a ways to go. 

I’d give between a B-C. In my book, the elders are filling in their own gaps. And so are local nonprofits, county centers, etc. I’d also ask, ‘how are we caring for our communities in general?' This question isn’t always age specific. For example, are there sidewalks for strollers?

TDG: How are elders treated in other countries?

ML: In Brugge, Belgium certain cafés have colored flags specifically for people with dementia, so they don’t have to be watched all the time. It’s a community working together to respond, instead of investing in surveillance devices, they’re enabling the wandering.

We have a very age-segregated society here. Maybe not so much in Florida, but here in New York, it’s pretty rare [to see the frail elderly out at a café].

TDG: What feedback have you gotten from your students? 

ML: They’ve really enjoyed it. I’m teaching a class called “Sociology of the Life Course” and this is the first class to read the book. Part of the assignment is to connect with a local elder and do a life history interview. The students are juniors and seniors. They’re finding similarities in their own lives. Like, “Wow, now I have a sense that football is just one chapter in my life.” Or they’re taking their families for granted less.

There's a great interview with Meika on Access Minnesota, and you can check out her blog here.

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