Thursday, September 15, 2005


The growth of the older population is one of the most spectacular phenomena of present American history. Already there are more than 30 million Americans over age 65, and this number will double early in the next century. If we select age 50 as the start of later life, our older population, which now stands at about 65 million, will expand to more than 100 million before today's infants reach midlife. America has never witnessed anything like it-- call our era "The Aging Boom."

Even more interesting, the Baby Boom generation, which has made up the bulk of the youth component of our population since the early 1960s, is about to move from adulthood to age. Born between 1946 and 1964, the vanguard of this age cohort (to use the technical word designating a part of the population born during the same time period) will reach age 50 in 1996. Considering that many members of this generation reached adulthood during the youth rebellion of the 1960s and its aftermath, how will they live their senior years? Will the Baby Boomers manage to live a satisfying and well filled old age? One might hope so, but the answer rests, as it does for us all, less on hope than on the Baby Boomer's understanding of age.

At the threshold of the Aging Boom, Americans have an unhappy aversion to age-we remain a youth-oriented culture. Public opinion polls show that the majority of our population thinks of the elderly as deprived, and old age as a time of life when poverty, ill health, boredom, and loneliness prevail. This opinion is wrong, but it's what we think. Today we desperately need solid information about age so that we may achieve the fullest potential of the senior years. The present volume is dedicated to the task of filling the gap in America's understanding, of reversing the common opinion, by opening America to the rich possibilities of age. Written jointly by Hampton Roy, M.D., a physician, and Charles Russell, Ph.D., a social gerontologist, this encyclopedia is unique because it presents a medical and social/psychological perspective on age. From it the reader will learn the major elements of geriatric medicine that provide a key to health in later life, and the central facts about how older people live, feel, and think. The subjects of mental health, sexuality, the challenges of age, age in philosophy and literature, all these and many other topics that appear in this book show the way to a vital life in the senior years. Whether browsing here and there in a leisurely way or going through the volume systematically from beginning to end, the reader will come away vastly better informed about later life, and will, therefore, be more capable of living age to its fullest.

As the physician in this pair of authors I would like to acknowledge Kate Kelly, former editor at Facts On File, and Ray Powers, my agent, in their efforts to nurture the concept of this book. I am indebted to the many individuals who assisted with the preparation of this manuscript, including Renee Tindall, Anita Boyett, Kim Bridges, Anita Scott, Karen Montgomery, Mary Pennington, Sherry Mayer, Nora Rengers, Adrienne Hart, Auburn Steward, Alice Nicholson, Ruby Nichols, Cheryl Bridgers, Debbie Bentley, Louise Gear, and Mary Michelle Nichols.

As the gerontologist in this pair of authors, I wish to acknowledge the outstanding social, psychological, humanistic, and practical work that has gone on in this important discipline over the past 50 years, and especially to thank those who trained and influenced me in the subject of gerontology: Dr. James Birren, former dean and Brookdale Distinguished Scholar at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern California, and now at UCLA; Dr. Howard Rosencranz, Emeritus Professor of Gerontology at the University of Connecticut; and Dr. Nancy Sheehan, Coordinator of the Travelers Center on Aging at the University of Connecticut; Inger Megaard Russell, RN and diplomate in hospital administration, who before she married me served as the associate director of a large nursing home in Norway. I should also like to thank the faculty of the University of Connecticut who introduced me to the field of sociology and taught me its meaning and methods: Professors Mark Abrahamson, Gerold Heiss, Kenneth Hadden, Myra Marx Ferree, and Floyd Dotson.
But, equally, it is essential to acknowledge the millions of Americans who have helped to create the vast potential of modern aging. Starting with the architects of the Social Security program, they include all those who have helped to define age as a vital and important period of life. Readers should refer to Appendix II for a list of organizations that have contributed to this progress, but here we mention the AARP, the National Council on Aging, the federal agencies that provide funds for aging programs, especially the National Institute on Aging, the insurers and businesses that have set up retirement and pension plans, the architects, developers, and contractors who have created the burgeoning retirement communities and housing projects for the elderly, and the financiers who have had the foresight to supply funds for these projects-a unique feature of the American approach to aging is that much of the initiative has come from private enterprise, quite unlike Europe where the government has been the major actor. And, most of all, the older population itself deserves recognition-- it has been, and remains, a pioneer generation that is forging the way into a new world where Americans can live the last years of their lives as their very best years.

Hampton Roy, M.D.

Charles H. Russell, Ph.D.
Certified Gerontologist


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