I thought it was going to be a philosophical discourse on the nature of aging. Instead I quickly discovered an anecdotal journey through the US aged care system.
However, interspersed amongst the anecdotes were loads of interesting facts and discussions about aging through the times and across cultures.
One of the ideas that caught my attention centred around the move from generational care and family groupings to independent living. The media, governments and social commentators usually lament the loss of this traditional form of family, but Gawande turned this on it’s head very quickly.
It wasn’t just the ‘selfish’ younger generation ditching their family responsibilities, the older generation also benefited from the break up of the extended family living arrangement. They were no longer unwanted burdens on their family who were waiting for them to die so they could inherit the land. In fact,
the fascinating thing is that, over time, it doesn’t seem that the elderly have been especially sorry to see the children go.
It turns out that the elderly also want to do their own thing and live their own lives and be responsible for their own purposefulness just as much as younger folk. It makes sense!
It’s just that their idea of purpose is different to those of their younger members of the family.
And it seems, this is where the problem lies in our current arrangements for looking after the aged and dying. Younger folk are making assumptions about what is important to the elderly and dying based on their own thoughts about what it might be like to get old as well as what is easy for them to manage and helps to make them feel good about the choices they make for their aged parents.
It turns out that none of these ideas are even close to what the elderly actually want or need.
All theories get refined with time and experience. The interesting section for me was the realisation that Maslow’s theory really only works for those of the younger generation.
This well-known triangle is a young person’s perspective on the life experience.
What’s missing from many of our current models for aged care is a hierarchy of needs that focuses on the perspective of the elderly.
The later sections of Being Mortal save it from being nothing more than a sad reflection of our modern world unable to cope with its own mortality.
Gawande researches all the options popping up throughout the States that offer something different, something special, something worth living for.
It was such a relief to realise that our fate does not necessarily have to be a depressing regimented soulless nursing home.
I have highlighted the section on the questions to ask someone who is dying in the hope I will never have any recourse for them.
Another example of mortality avoidance perhaps?
A big thank you to Katie @Being Dewey for hosting this readalong. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was such a worthwhile, thought-provoking read that I recommend it to everyone.
It will change your perspective on life and death.