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Pacific Book Review

Latest research indicates that life spans may decrease in the next decades due to the prevalence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart conditions, and lifestyles that include excessive eating and tobacco use. In the meantime, 93-year-old Viola Mecke, a former psychologist and professor has written a book about aging, intended for the nearly quarter of the population that will soon be over 75 years of age. The Ups and Downs of Growing Older: Beyond Seventy Years of Living chronicles the prospects of this “older-old” group and recognizes the many changes, new perspectives, and variable dynamics that must be considered and assimilated into this later time of life.

Mecke creatively opens each chapter with a bit of reflective prose that compares aging to the waves of life. Here it is often likened to times of peace and calm, but ultimately preparing for rough seas ahead. Consider the lament, “Times of perfect stillness are present when not a ripple ruffles the water. It is almost eerie, for the quietness portends an oncoming storm.”

While examining the conflicts which often arise when growing into this elder phase of life, Mecke considers the difficulties that can come about due to health issues, fading energy, memory problems, and changing relationships, and the need that exists to address these issues. Ultimately acceptance and being able to adjust to common elderly issues may help lessen the worry, confusion, anxiety, and depressive reactions that occur for the older person and those around them. In our youth-oriented society, Mecke speaks of residents in her own independent living community who maintain a quick wit, sharp mind, and a positive attitude toward life. Others she notes, who were formerly active, now get winded on short walks, or are prone to falling. Clearly life as we age is filled with unpredictable events that can challenge any plan.

As a nonagenarian, Mecke speaks from an empathetic perspective to offer guidelines for an easier aging transition. Advice is included pertaining to practical concerns like deciding where to live, adapting to loss of independence, understanding physical difficulties, and introducing coping techniques.

Within this compact 12-chapter book, a bevy of references are included for foot-noted material. The book’s closing words featuring Mecke’s “A Poem of Life” with the phrase “Age and time took much away, memory fills the hour” seems an effort to share the elder years as a time of reflecting on the richness, grace and gratitude of life.

While many self-help books about aging merely focus on the brighter and more positive side of getting older, Mecke’s concerns tend to lean toward the inevitable shadows of the process. By examining the nuances of these later years in life and showcasing what the elder population and their younger family members may be up against, Mecke brings a genuine sincerity to a discussion that clearly recognizes the pitfalls of decline. While this book might not be the most uplifting exploration of the twilight years, it delivers an informative and thought-provoking read.

The US Review of Books

“The number of persons living more than eighty-five years is increasing. There will be more persons to share this time of life.”

This book about aging is filled with interesting and engaging statistics stemming from the author’s lifetime study of the individual’s social and emotional development. Mecke—recently retired and now in her nineties—has become one of the “oldest-old” she writes for. The book’s orientation ties to Maslow’s Basic Needs.

Like most books on aging, the author addresses changes and decisions the oldest-old person must make. For example, where will the person opt to live? Will they move in with family members for support or try to continue independent living? The book questions the happiness that follows their decisions. Will the oldest-old determine to live with a positive or negative attitude? Will their daily lives be full of joy or emptiness? The text questions whether those who support them might be guilty of abuse or responsible for neglect. Is abuse limited to the physical, or can negative comments be abusive?

The author doesn’t shy away from the fact that a large percentage of the oldest-old will lose their ability to remain mobile. Falls and the inability to walk as before prevent this age group from regaining trust in themselves. And then comes the question of driving. Who should make that limiting decision when considering that it involves isolation as well as physical danger?

The uniqueness of this book results from the author’s lifetime of casework and accumulation of reference examples. Mecke’s lengthy “A Poem of Life” enhances her book about living and dying. The author reveals the empathy that has made her life valuable to both clients and families. Since readers must pass through similar life stages, they will likely recognize and appreciate her care for them, too. Mecke’s book of insights becomes something one can lean on as one ages.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review