Aging Parents: What’s Elderhood?

We know childhood and adulthood; but do we know  “elderhood?”

The goal of Help! Aging Parents is to enable relatively healthy, aging parents–who live independently–to stay that way as long as possible and age well. But I’ve wondered when “as long as possible” ends. Clearly it doesn’t end the moment aging parents are incapacitated by health issues.

I thought about the woman in assisted living saying with resignation that her children “put her” there (Dec. 31st post). It confirms sometimes needing to move beyond independently-living seniors in my posts. After all– don’t all seniors (or elders) deserve to age as well as possible?

I’d never heard of “elderhood,” a term coined by geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas (MD from Harvard Medical School) –until I watched and listened to this almost 26 minutes New Hampshire PBS video interview with him.

“Elderhood” follows adulthood and involves further growth that so many fail to recognize. Understanding the concept can help us help our parents age well. That’s why I’m including the video link, which I urge you to watch and listen to.

Dr. Thomas’s philosophy challenges the traditional concept of institutional care centers and home care. He notes most people live very happily at home, yet nothing prepares us to be a caregiver at home. His ideas encompass relationship changes (mother-daughter, husband-wife etc.) and liberating ourselves by getting past our idea of being the indispensable caregiver; acknowledging the value of caregiving as a partnership; opening our eyes to the untapped richness of elderhood.

Indeed, he has been the catalyst for de-institutionalizing the long-term care facilities of today and replacing them with new non-institutional facilities modeled on the Eden Alternative and the Green House Project (the latter now operating in 27 states).

These are heartening options as we think future. Indeed, through Dr. Thomas’s efforts we have a variety of additional tools to prepare us as we try to help parents age well…they’re worth checking out.

To read more about Dr. Thomas: