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NEVER SAY DIE by Susan Jacoby


The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age

by Susan Jacoby

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-37794-4
Publisher: Pantheon

A polemic meant to crush the notion that medical technology will soon make old age easier.

In her mid 60s, former Washington Post reporter Jacoby (Alger Hiss and the Battle for History, 2009, etc.) is in the midst of what she calls “young old age.” The author also contemplates the physical and mental declines of her mother, who is trying to find some joy in “old old age.” Jacoby demonstrates that with so many individuals in their 80s and 90s suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, even a miracle medical discovery alleviating the impact will leave society unable to cope effectively with the flood of disabled patients. Providing a compelling, convincing account of current reality, Jacoby simultaneously demolishes the overly optimistic scenarios of the baby boomer generation. Too many boomers subscribe to unrealistic stereotypes about individuals in their 90s climbing mountains. It is harmful wishful thinking to believe that those rare exceptions will soon become the dominant paradigm. The author also attacks the conventional thinking regarding the so-called wisdom of old age. Yes, many of the elderly have gained wisdom during the long lives. Often, however, they cannot communicate the wisdom well because of their overwhelming physical and mental ailments. Jacoby understands that writing such a pessimistic book might dim hope in the minds of both the young old and old old. Still, she maintains, being realistic about the miseries of old age will encourage wise government and private-sector planning for this decade, not for some future utopian decade that might never arrive. Because women outlive men by seven years and counting, the author wisely skews much of the narrative toward the plight of females. Many of the examples are from Jacoby's relatives, friends and acquaintances, giving the narrative a personal touch meant to humanize a frequently dehumanizing topic.

A cogently argued and well-written corrective to “the fantasy of beating old age.”