Ups and downs of life

Bouncing Back Later in Life: On How to Age Well and Overcome Difficulties

Review by Bessy Andriotis
UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania

“Well it’s the old story. People never tell you how to get old. They never give lectures of how to get old. Not in a big way. Lots of people tell you how to die properly. But nobody really tells you how to get old. Old age always comes as a surprise.”

So says Josh in one of 21 stories in Bouncing Back Later in Life. The book does not seek to tell us how to get old. What it does is share the insights of older people as they work toward ageing well and overcoming difficulties. The strengths of this book are twofold.

First, it gives voice to older people who might otherwise not be heard by inviting them to share what resilience means to them. They discuss how they continue to develop resilience to meet the challenges they face in later life.

The second strength is the diversity of the participants’ backgrounds, life stories, difficulties and the strategies they have developed to overcome these.

We meet men and women who have suffered short and long term illnesses and injuries, people of culturally diverse backgrounds, people who are gay, people in their late 60s and those in their late 80s.

Each chapter is told through the lived experience of an older person in their own voice. This gives the book a uniquely powerful authenticity and authority.  Participants talk of aspects of their earlier life that have given them the skills to better address the challenges they face in growing old, often with significant disabilities.

The voice of carers is also heard in chapters written from their perspective. They offer rich insights into caring for someone else while you yourself are ageing.

Most relationships between the carer and person cared for are devotedly loving, however it is enlightening to read one story where the couple have relationship issues, one could say the husband is abusive, yet his wife continues to care for him with grace.

Despite their vastly different circumstances, common themes emerge from the 21 participants’ approaches to ageing well. Many of these come as no surprise: knowing your strengths and using them; knowing your vulnerabilities and accepting when you need help; being part of a faith community; nurturing friendships; cultivating a circle of support; including formal services where necessary; and maintaining and participating in interests.

In the section on carers the stories refer to the importance of keeping fit, cultivating mental and physical endurance, knowing and respecting limits, finding a balance between doing what is required and what one is unable to do, and finding and accepting assistance when it is required.

In some cases there is an overemphasis on reminiscing on early life events which leaves the insights about later life in the shadows. The reader is left disappointed about the lack of detail about today’s adversity.

Nevertheless, each chapter concludes with the participant’s tips for resilience which compensates for this lack of detail in some chapters and strengthens the book overall.

Edited by Goetz Ottman, sociologist and senior researcher at UnitingCare Community Options-Deakin University, Bouncing Back in Later Life is about resilience. Ottman binds the stories together with thoughtful commentary.

While the book is about ageing, it should not be limited to older readers. It is a commendable piece of work and relevant to people of all ages who have an interest in developing resilience throughout the life cycle.

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