Notable women paving the way in how we think about senior healthcare
March is women’s history month in the United States. With senior wellness on our minds here at SeaCare, I’ve been reading about influential women whose contributions to healthcare are changing the way we think about our aging population.
I discovered the writings and teachings of three women who embrace a multidisciplinary approach to their work, Louise Aronson, Laura Carstensen, and Amanda Lazar. All are notable women who have a lot to say about healthful aging. You might not recognize their names, as they are not yet historical figures.
But their innovative practices demonstrate that they will influence the course of history in aging care.
First, a little background.
Gerontology – the study of aging – is a relative newcomer in the healthcare field. Some interest in the subject emerged around 1930, and it began to grow in importance mid-century when President Harry Truman summoned the First National Council on Aging.
In the last quarter-century, gerontology has made significant strides, in part due to increasing numbers of people entering their 60s and beyond right now. Because people are aging at an increased pace around the world, there are plenty of health, social, and economic implications to consider. The United Nations Decade of Healthy Aging starts this year, with an urgent call to improve the lives of our senior population and their families.
A lot of older adults are delaying retirement. They’re staying active, many well into their 90s. They want information about maintaining good health and are increasingly interested in holistic care, which takes mental, emotional, and social factors into account alongside physical well-being.
Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to highlight the fact that our healthcare system depends on women. According to the World Health Organization, in some countries women make up over 75% of the healthcare workforce. It follows, then, that women reliably represent creative thinking in the field – the forward-looking ideas that will shape the way we deliver care for years to come.
Spend a few minutes being inspired by these three thought leaders in senior healthcare. These women hail from the areas of medicine, psychology, and information technology.
3 women making history in aging care
Louise Aronson, MD, MFA caught my attention with her most recent book, Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, and Reimagining Life. She is a practicing geriatrician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Aronson doesn’t bill herself as an activist, but her writing and practice demonstrate the necessity of challenging many norms of Western medicine. She cites the damaging effects of ageism in health care as she relates stories about her patients and their experiences.
She asks us to stop minimizing old age and instead credit it as a phase of life that can last decades.
She firmly declares that old age itself is not a disease. In many healthcare systems, preventive care is overlooked and, unfortunately, not deemed essential by insurance providers – functional care such as exercise classes, nutrition counseling, dental care, and even hearing aids. These are the kinds of care that can positively impact cognitive functioning and mental health and increase a patient’s chances of remaining independent longer.
Aronson’s book contains some fascinating autobiographical snapshots of her medical training, her decision to work with older adults, and her belief in the resiliency that seems to be a characteristic of many aging patients.
“Someday, iterations of one or more of the “anti-aging” approaches are likely to succeed, maybe not in reversing aging altogether but in eliminating some of its downsides. Meanwhile, there are two paths we can take that would be transformative in the near future: justice in policy and kindness of attitude.”
Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, is a name I’ve become very familiar with. She’s been quoted in 5 books on the topic of healthy aging that are in my reading queue, and I suspect she’s influenced thousands with her books, studies, TED talks, and teachings.
Here’s one reason why: Carsten is the bearer of wonderful news. She reveals that older people are happier. Check out her 11-minute TED talk to hear her research evidence on the concept and her enthusiasm for it. This is information worth sharing.
She has spent more than 30 years researching her topic and is notably credited with formulating socioemotional selectivity theory (SST), the study of motivation across our lifespan that informs our emotional wellness. She dispels the notion that old age amounts to increasing misery and discontent.
“As we age, our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don't have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters. We savor life. We're more appreciative, more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we're happier day-to-day. But that same shift in perspective leads us to have less tolerance than ever for injustice.”
Amanda Lazar, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland. Her doctoral work in biomedical and health informatics was done at the University of Washington in Seattle. She has combined her work in informatics with healthcare technology, focusing on the support of aging people.
While reading about Lazar, two things caught my interest.
First, she’s done significant work in the area of sexism/feminism and its relationship to, and combination with, gerontology – she refers to this as intersectionality. It’s important because women are key figures in the aging population as caregivers and because on average they live longer than men. Women are also more likely to face discrimination because of their age (ageism). Dedicating research to this issue helps to address the larger social problem and fuel the conversation about how best to support aging women.
Second, Lazar has been instrumental in The Health, Aging, and Technology (THAT) Lab at the University of Maryland. This is a diverse and intergenerational group of researchers working in the field of digital health technology and informatics, specifically for seniors and people with dementia.
Let’s celebrate women leading the way in senior healthcare and their contribution to people we love and respect – our caregiving families. Learn more about caregiving resources at SeaCare In-Home Care Services.
Katie Wright writes about aging and senior wellness from Bellingham, WA. You can read more about her here.
If you or a loved one you know are looking for additional support during this time and are interested in scheduling a free in-home assessment, please contact SeaCare In-Home Care Services today! A SeaCare family member is standing by. 425-559-4339.