When We Age, Do We Evolve from Doing to Just Being?

The New York Times New Old Blog featured an interview yesterday with Lars Tornstam, a Swedish sociologist. Dr. Tornstam provides a glimpse into life at eighty, reports Paula Span:

An increased need for solitude, and for the company of only a few intimates, is one of the traits Dr. Tornstam attributes to this continuing maturation. So that elderly mother isn’t deteriorating, necessarily — she’s evolving.

Dr. Tornstam’s theory of gerotranscendence also includes an explanation for an older adult’s confusion with past and present.

“People sometimes describe their perspective on time changing,” Dr. Tornstam said. “They feel they can be children, middle-aged and old at the same time.” If an 80-year-old describes this sensation to a contemporary neurologist, the doctor might jot in his notes that the patient seems improperly oriented in time and place.

“What I’d like to tell grown-up children is that your mom or dad might develop into someone different than they were in middle age,” he replied. “Don’t automatically label what they’re saying, doing or thinking as a symptom of something bad.”

Dr. Tornstam does make it clear it’s important to distinguish gerotranscendence from a cognitive decline.

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