Books on aging and eldercare are becoming as common as spring rain. Two crossed my desk recently. Dealing with completely different topics...

Share story

Books on aging and eldercare are becoming as common as spring rain.

Two crossed my desk recently. Dealing with completely different topics, one is sad but empowering, the other is optimistic — and empowering.

The first book’s title tells its content: “Doing The Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even If They Didn’t Take Care of You” (Tarcher/Penguin, $22.95). Author Roberta Satow, Ph.D., chair of the Sociology Department at Brooklyn College in New York, exposes one of society’s nasty little secrets: just how plainly horrible some parents are to their children and then, in their seventh or eighth decade, suffer health problems that require care.

“There is a clear cultural mandate to put a good face on your childhood,” says Satow, “and not expose your grief and rage.” Society has rules defining how we should feel about certain things, and one of the most important rules is the Good Mother — “especially when she is old.” But not all mothers — and fathers — are good.

Many adult children whose parents were most abusive end up providing the most loving care (often in a futile effort to be finally loved), only to be sucked deeper into the same negative dynamics that existed in childhood. “The most difficult feelings [of caring for my mother],” writes the author, “are usually related to old hurts and losses that get revived during the caregiving experience. This anger may feel irrational, out of control and out of place.”

Under the best of circumstances, eldercare is stressful and hard. But, as the author demonstrates, it can also be life affirming and, even when the circumstances are most harrowing, offer an opportunity to work out some of the unresolved issues that still lurk in us from childhood.

Among other issues, Satow explores how to set caregiving limits (balancing generosity with self-preservation — one of the most important things you can learn), how to forgive yourself when you get angry, how to avoid ruining relationships with your spouse and other siblings, and how differences in culture and gender affect eldercare.

The second book is a delight — without being saccharin. It’s called, “The 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It,” by David Niven, Ph.D. (HarperSanFrancisco, $11.95). Niven, the best-selling author of several other “100 Simple Secrets” books, a psychologist, and a social scientist, teaches at Florida Atlantic University.

What do people who enjoy growing older do differently from those who dread it, he wondered? Sociologists, therapists and psychiatrists spend entire careers investigating the secrets of successful aging, then publish their findings in professional journals that most of us never see.

So Niven collected the most current data from more than 1,000 significant scientific studies on aging and boiled them down to 100 essential elements, each accompanied by a true story and a reference to the scientific source. The product is an easy-to-read treasure of down-to-earth and accurate (in my observation) nuggets.

Among them:

Try something new:
Those over 50 who show a high degree of resistance to change are 26 percent less likely to feel optimistic about their futures.

Keep going:
People in their 60s and beyond who have a long-term plan to accomplish something are 31 percent more likely to report that they enjoy their lives.

See the beauty around you:
Those who say they regularly take notice of something beautiful are 12 percent more likely to say they’re satisfied with their lives.

Turn off the bad news:
People who consume high levels of television news are twice as likely to have negative feelings about the direction the world is taking.

Mark your calendar

Finally, I want to tell you about an upcoming event that will examine what it means for women to grow old in America. The Women’s Bioethics Project — a new, nonpartisan and nonprofit public-policy think tank in Seattle — devotes itself to looking at how biotechnology can improve (or not) the status of women’s lives.

Women’s bodies — and life spans — are different from men’s. Yet historically, women have been excluded from most medical research and public-policy debate. With what unintended consequences?

For example, how might health-care rationing based on age affect women — who live longer than men? How do men and women differ in status and power as they age? Who makes end-of-life decisions for women, when they often outlive their spouses and don’t remarry after divorce?

Join the Women’s Bioethics Project and SAGE Crossroads (an online forum for emerging issues of human aging, for a discussion among experts from law, medicine, and the humanities on these and other important issues. Called “Women and Aging: Ethical Implications for 2005 and Beyond,” it will be held 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 8 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Seattle’s Volunteer Park.

The event is free but seating is limited. You must register by June 1. Information: 206-200-1101 or

Liz Taylor’s column runs Mondays in the Northwest Life section. A specialist in aging and long-term care for 30 years, she’s worked with thousands of families and their elders. E-mail her at or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at