Recently I listened to an NPR radio program, On Point, featuring a discussion about Mental Wellness in the Elderly. The program originates at WBUR in Boston with host Tom Ashbrook. Ashbrook’s guest was Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist (there aren’t many of these physicians in the whole United States) and the medical director for mental health and clinical research at Miami Jewish Health Systems in Florida.
In his interview, Dr. Agronin points out that many people, including adult children, mistakenly believe that elders get more depressed as they grow older. Actually the frequency of problems with depression goes down, not up. He also notes that people in their 80’s have the highest sense of well-being. In response to a listener question Dr. Agronin said that people in their eighties have “…lifelong perspective, more knowledge, have dealt with loss and coped well with it.”
I need only to think about my parents as well as look around my community to see how people, now in their 80’s, have improved the world and continue to do so. I expect that just about every community has these folks who as younger adults plunged into activities that improved communities, schools, and social programs. I especially observe these people in my church and in my family, watching them work tirelessly for civil rights of all kinds, volunteer in political campaigns, build community organizations from the ground up, and support strong public schools that respect teachers and provide a well-rounded and challenging education. Many of these older seniors continue to work hard on their projects, right into their later years, and when traveling to or from events becomes difficult, they find tasks that they can do via the telephone.
Each time I sit down to chat with one of these elders, I come away humbled by their zest for life, their acceptance of the aging process, and their calm demeanor in times of crisis.
Listen to the On Point program at the WBUR website, or download the file as an MP3. Dr. Agronin is the author of How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey Into The Heart of Growing Old.