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Redefining Aging, by Ann Kaiser Stearns.

February 4, 2018

Redefining Aging

Redefining Aging: A Caregiver’s Guide to Living Your Best Life, by Ann Kaiser Stearns.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

5 stars


Ann Kaiser Stearns (1942-   ) has a Ph.D. in Psychology, teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County, and has devoted her life to research and teaching about how people can cope with difficulties.  Her best known book is Living Through Personal Crisis. She is well known from her speaking and TV presentations. For her new book on aging, she has conducted numerous interviews with caregivers as well as surveying the latest research on how people age and cope.  Most of all, she is able to combine diverse ways of care giving with medical knowledge and comforting psychological guidance. She never downplays the exhaustion and stress of care giving, but neither does she lose hope of it being meaningful work.

Redefining Aging could have been titled Redefining Caregiving.  In it, Stearns builds on her own earlier work on how people deal with crises.  She focuses primarily on those who are caregivers to elderly parents or spouses, especially those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.  Her words, however, can also be useful for  a variety of situations. She explicitly suggests that we think about our own future needs and make arrangements so that those future needs are more likely to be met when we become the ones receiving care.  Such an exercise may help  a caregiver understand what she or he needs to do.

In her effort to lessen caregivers’ guilt, Stearns also points out particular patterns that caregivers need to understand to avoid taking them personally. Caregivers need to keep in perspective that individuals in such situations are dealing with grief and anger over their losses.  Just because a person losses the good humor they have shown in earlier life does not mean they should be treated with disrespect.

Some basic concepts which Stearns stresses are old and others new, at least for me. We all know the importance of caretakers taking care of themselves and getting enough exercise.  Less familiar concepts included the realization that despite its difficulties, caregiving can be very meaningful, a time we can expand and grow. Our society and the ones for whom we care often do not recognize or reward us for our acts of care.  And yet, whether or not you are comfortable with religious language, caregiving is an act of love.  While anger and stress are common and inevitable, we must hold on to the value of our acts.

In addition to Stearns’ text, she has included long stories about people she has known who are involved in care giving.  Her stories include a wide variety of the couples and the adult children caring for parents, including a gay couple involved in caregiving. She makes clear that there is no one perfect way to give care.  Instead, she simply shows how different situations play out differently, and leaves readers with a sense that we are all on the same journey but taking different paths.  Alongside the stories is her encouragement to problem solve and adapt.

Stearns gives attention to detail, especially in acquiring resources and help.  She acknowledges that caring for a family member quickly gets harder if you do not have the money to spend on expensive medical and nursing assistance.  Although she writes primarily for those caring for loved ones at home, she is supportive of those chosing assisted living and long-term care.  In fact, she recognizes that such institutions vary widely, being very good or very bad.  She offers suggestions for insuring that your family member receives the best care possible from them.

I found Redefining Aging to be an important book, especially for all of us seeing ourselves needing care or needing to be caregivers on our horizons. I found it useful in thinking about what I may need ahead.  Although I was sent an ebook review copy of this book, I have already ordered two hard copies of it; one for myself and one to share with friends my age.  I strongly recommend it to others.

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