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Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life

Louise Aronson

Bloomsbury Publishing

Elderhood Download image

ISBN10: 1620405474
ISBN13: 9781620405475


464 Pages



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Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Winner of the WSU AOS Bonner Book Award

For more than 5,000 years, "old" has been defined as beginning between the ages of 60 and 70. That means most people alive today will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, and many will be elders for 40 years or more. Yet at the very moment that humans are living longer than ever before, we've made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, denigrated, neglected, and denied.

Reminiscent of Oliver Sacks, noted Harvard-trained geriatrician Louise Aronson uses stories from her quarter century of caring for patients, and draws from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to weave a vision of old age that's neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy—a vision full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging, medicine, and humanity itself.

Elderhood is for anyone who is, in the author's own words, "an aging, i.e., still-breathing human being."


Praise for Elderhood

“Bracing, always compassionate.”The Wall Street Journal

“Exquisitely written . . . [Aronson] advocates a new paradigm: a re-balancing act in which technology has a role but the focus returns to care. Unlike the high-tech, algorithmic march of modern medicine, her idea of truly 'personalized medicine' incorporates the patient's past experiences and current expectations. This integrative, humanistic model of geriatrics is rare. One can only hope its practices are adopted swiftly.”Nature

“A book that needs to be consulted by every care giver and health professional for the wisdom it contains.”Sun News Tucson

“A bold critique of our anti-aging society and of the medical care seniors receive . . . This book, part memoir, part critique and part prescription, encourages readers to help put an end to the anti-aging industry and its profiteers, to engage in better self-care and to collectively ask the medical community to look at elderhood not as a disease.”The Missourian

“Wise and engaging.”AARP Magazine

“Eloquent and impressive . . . A landmark work . . . In a world of increasing numbers of older adults, Aronson's highly readable, absorbing, and thought-provoking book should serve as a guide for how our culture must change in order to provide a future in which all of us can age well throughout the span of our lives.”Changing Aging

“An in-depth, unusually frank exploration of biases that distort society's view of old age and that shape dysfunctional health policies and medical practices.”Kaiser Health News

“A passionate, deeply informed critique of how our healthcare system fails in its treatment of the elderly . . . Vitally important . . . Though the subject of this provocative book is the elderly, its message touches the entire span of human life.”BookPage

“Monumental . . . Elderhood, like the life station it studies, is dynamic, multifaceted and full of wonder. Aronson's writing, too, flexes with vibrant energy as she discusses in lucid, candid detail the ways she has seen the healthcare system neglect the overall well-being of her patients, her colleagues and herself . . . Intimidating as it may seem, elderhood becomes welcoming and generous in Aronson's deft care.”Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“Aronson's Elderhood is dazzling, rich with knowledge gleaned from her professional work as a geriatrician, her personal experience as a daughter, her common sense, and her thorough analysis of our social supports and cultural messaging. Her arguments are powerful, and her conclusions are revolutionary. I hope everyone who has a stake in older people, which is ultimately all of us, will read this book.”Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North

“In the latter years there are possibilities for joy, transcendence, and meaning, but also for just the opposite. Aronson writes like a memoirist while giving us scientific insight, philosophical wisdom, and wise counsel for a journey and destination we all share. Elderhood is a lovely and thoughtful exploration of this voyage.”Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting For Stone

“In Elderhood, the physician-writer Louise Aronson provides an honest and humane analysis of what it means to grow old in America. Her book—part memoir, history, and social critique—is deeply sympathetic to elders and sharply critical of the ‘anti-aging industry’ that has tried to turn being elderly into some sort of disease. I highly recommend this wonderful book to anyone who plans on growing old in this country.”Sandeep Jauhar, author of Heart: A History

“As Louise Aronson says, 'Life offers just two possibilities: die young or grow old.' This searing, luminous book is for everyone who hopes to accomplish the latter and remain fully human as they do. It will challenge your assumptions and open your mindand it just might change your life.”Lucy Kalanithi, MD, editor of When Breath Becomes Air

“In Elderhood, Louise Aronson draws on the experiences of her own life and the many lives she has touched as a geriatrician to think about age and aging, combining the insights of science and medicine with the wisdom of literature and human history, all narrated with the practical realism of the caring clinician. It's a wise and beautiful book, to be cherished by anyone who hopes to keep on growing, aging, and learning.”Perri Klass, MD

“The book that every one of us has been or will be looking fora passionate, illuminating, brilliant, and beautifully written meditation on aging and caring for elders, Elderhood is a godsend.”Pauline Chen, MD, author of Final Exam

“An examination of aging and the human condition encompassing poignant stories and the viewpoints of medical experts, writers, historians, and scientists . . . Empathetic, probing, and often emotionally moving narratives on appreciating the power and the pain of aging.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] vast and penetrating analysis . . . With strong empathy that comes from both a professional understanding of and personal experience with the challenges of aging, Aronson provides an essential guide to how society in general and the health-care industry in particular must recalibrate their approach to providing concerned and competent elder care. Thought provoking and wise, Aronson's memoir-cum-treatise should be required reading for medical professionals and will be of great use for seniors and those who support them.”Booklist (starred review)

“[A] penetrating meditation on geriatrics . . . Aronson's deep empathy, hard-won knowledge, and vivid reportage makes for one of the best accounts around of the medical mistreatment of the old.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Louise Aronson

Louise Aronson, MD, MFA, is a leading geriatrician, educator, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she directs UCSF Medical Humanities. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Aronson has received the Gold Professorship in Humanism in Medicine, the California Homecare Physician of the Year Award, the American Geriatrics Society Clinician of the Year Award, and was named one of Next Avenue's 2019 Influencers in Aging. She is the author of A History of the Present Illness and her articles and stories have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, and The Atlantic. She lives in San Francisco.