On being Very, Very Old: An Insider's Perspective

Elaine M. Brody, MSW, DSc (Hon)


Gerontologist. 2010;50(1):2-10. 

In This Article

Future Perspective about Gerontology

In the past, gerontology was an exciting enterprise and, in my view, will continue to be that way in the future. There is always change and the emergence of new ideas to be explored. Older people's characteristics change constantly in response to trends in heath care, ethnicity, education, environment, new ideas, and broad social trends, for example. Nothing remains static, and no findings are written in stone.

In the GSA, contact with gerontologists with different skills and professional orientations is a source of enrichment. It seems to me, however, that nowadays there is less communication of relevant findings to policymakers. I would hope that we can return to the days when our research-based recommendations were sought by the appropriate Congressional committees.

The stimulation provided by gerontology also lies in the fact that the findings of each research study raise new questions to be explored—a never-ceasing source of renewal. Even as I was writing this article, for example, I wanted to know more and more about what my listening to my age peers was yielding. I am a great believer in listening and translating what I hear into organized listening (research). Being very very old—85+—is an example. There are now many of us with many more to come. What do we really know about us? Gerontologists can explore our concerns and thoughts. My friends were unknowingly providing us with clues, some of which are sprinkled throughout this article.

Many years ago, in a study of older people's day-to-day health concerns, we debriefed the interviewers and asked them, "What is the main piece of advice you can give health professionals?" The interviewers, over and over again, said, "Listen to what older people are really saying … not only to the words but to cries, whispers and silences. Really listen so that they know their concerns and feelings are being recognized" (Brody, 1985a).

Titmuss (1970), in his foreward to Helping the Aged, wrote of the value of listening and asked "who is listening in society for the sounds and symptoms of the need for help?"