Book Review: The Age of Dignity
The Age of Dignity
Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America
By Ai-jen Poo
THE NEW PRESS
Ai-jen Poo ends her book, The Age of Dignity, with a vision of herself at 80: waking in her own apartment for morning yoga, gardening, and bonding with her caregiver’s children after school.
It’s a pointed contrast with the grim reality of her grandfather’s final months, with which she opens the book: confused, bedridden, sharing a room with six other people, in a nursing home that “smelled like mold and death.”
A caregiver organizer and activist for domestic workers’ rights, Poo confronts us with the facts of the coming “elder boom”—the crushing costs of caring for aging family members, the woefully inadequate support available, and the disproportionate burden that falls on women. She supports those sobering statistics with stories that are deeply personal: an aunt who works full time at a demanding job and spends weekends providing round-the-clock care for her 95-year-old mother, confides her physical and emotional exhaustion, loneliness, and resentment.
While the problem is daunting, Poo offers hope, providing examples of innovative solutions, from naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), a kind of self-organizing co-op for the elderly; to a “caregiving time bank” in Japan, where caregivers get time credits for hours spent reading or bathing elderly participants.
She also calls for policy reforms, including securing the future of Social Security, strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and expanding the reach of programs like PACE, the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, which has been proven to improve quality of life and reduce costs.
Above all, she calls for a mental shift: “Let’s remember,” she writes, “people getting older is not a crisis, it’s a blessing.”