Louise Aronson calls for a health-care system that treats elders better

The medical community takes middle-age adulthood as the norm. What if it didn’t?

As life expectancies increase, people are spending more time in the stages of life we call old age. What used to be a few years can now easily stretch into 30—fully a third of the lifespan. Still, in both the medical community and the church it’s common for caregivers to treat old age monolithically, as if it were one uniform span of time. Louise Aron­son pushes us to think differently in a provocative book that draws on her experience as a physician to geriatric patients.

Not surprisingly, she critiques the way the medical community treats (and ­doesn’t treat) old people.

Our health system penalizes hospitals if they don’t fix people and quickly send them home, designates just fifteen to twenty minutes for clinic appointments, and doesn’t provide most nursing facility staff with the time, training, or both to help people in ways appropriate to their life stage. This sets up a vicious circle, as age-blind systems lead to bad outcomes for old people, which in turn reinforce people’s sense that they are not worth treating.