Good News and Bad News - You're Old

A good read


In my line of work, it’s not unusual for a publisher or publicist to approach me about reviewing one of their books. I enjoy this kind of assignment as it combines my love of reading with many of my professional interests. It also allows me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with all of you.

Which is why I couldn’t say no when the following title showed up in my mailbox: I’ve Got Some Good News and Some Bad News: You’re Old, Tales of a Geriatrician, What to expect In Your 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and Beyond. (Dynamic Learning, 2014.) Okay, so the title is a bit long but I was instantly intrigued. Naturally I was curious about what the author, David Bernstein, M.D., a geriatrician would have to offer. Here’s a man who has spent his life caring for the very people I care about, both personally and professionally. I imagined he would have a valuable perspective.

But I have to be perfectly honest about what got me to open up and beginning reading this book. Clearly, this guy has a sense of humor!  And when it comes to aging, I think humor is one of our best friends.

After just a few paragraphs into the introduction, I imagined that Bernstein was the kind of physician we second half folks dream about. He clearly loves his work, regarding it as both challenging and a way to “ connect with people and learn from them.” He’s also comfortable acknowledging that he constantly learns from his many patients and their experiences. I found this to be an especially refreshing sentiment coming from a physician who deals with bodies and psyches that are slowly breaking down over time. Gerontology is not going to elevate any doctor to rock star status and yet, Bernstein seems be quite satisfied.

He helpfully offers up an easy acronym, GRACE, to help us keep track of the attributes he considers most beneficial for living longer. While none of these are groundbreaking revelations, their value is immense and worth focusing on as we age. They are:

Goals — having direction and purpose, reasons to be in the world.

Roots — the part your DNA and heredity play in your longevity.

Attitude — a positive approach to life is worthwhile on so many levels but Bernstein also includes the value of being adventurous.

Companionship/Connections — forming and maintaining friendships and bonds with people who “enrich” our lives.

Environment — a term that reflects maintaining a healthy lifestyle through fitness,  educated caution, and respect for your healthcare professional’s medical advice.

The remainder of the book, via patient stories and Bernstein’s own disclosures, is a full discussion about how we can experience the best possible lifestyle as we age. Written with humility and respect, these stories address some difficult realities in a tactful and humane way. (Chapter 9, “But Doctor, I’m a Good Driver” is one of the best I’ve discussions I’ve read on how to address this extremely difficult topic.)

I also appreciated that Bernstein ends each chapter with “Notes for Living Longer” –simple bullet points that summarize the most important bits of information from the chapter. There is also a very helpful glossary at the back, as well as  chapter-by-chapter resources.

As I first mentioned, this book isn’t about breakthrough advice on aging, though this hardly diminishes the importance of the information Bernstein includes. But for me the real value of this book was Bernstein’s style, his humanity, and of course, his very respectful and often self-deprecating humor. I also valued that he shared so many patient stories, in addition to his own experiences as both a physician and as the son of aging parents. This perspective made me feel as though I was in pretty good company when it came to aging. Many of my experiences were validated, my feelings and emotional reactions addressed. In my mind, a book that can accomplish all of this is a very good book to read.

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