Successful Aging a book whose time has come

by Rick Young

When I retired from a 30-year teaching career in 2008, I was always quick to remind people that I was only retiring from teaching high school History, not from life.

At age 57, I had plenty of productive years ahead of me and lots of things on my bucket list. I wanted to pursue more freelance writing opportunities. I wanted to spend more time playing my drums. And, most important, I wanted to spend more time with my life-partner, Val, and my two lovely granddaughters.

A year later I was writing freelance for a local marketing firm, submitting articles to several local magazines, jamming with as many musicians as possible, and spending many precious hours spoiling my granddaughters. By October 2009, I was publishing a monthly independent arts publication called The Beat Magazine.

Now in 2020, at age 69, I think I am living a pretty fulfilling life and have many older friends who are doing likewise.

Thus, I applaud Daniel Levitin’s new book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, with its call for a new approach to how society thinks about aging and older people. It is a welcome addition to the growing canon on aging. In a society and culture that have permitted ageism and outdated perceptions of its older members to endure far too long, Levitin’s book is a clarion call to action.

Levitin is a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist who is the Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco, and Professor Emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. His previous books, This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind and A Field Guide to Lies, are best-sellers. To be sure, his proven skills as a “popular” scientific writer are on full display in his new book.

Focusing on three main topics, Development of the Human Brain, Choices and Longevity, Levitin eschews the traditional belief that with aging comes inevitable physical and mental decline. He argues that “aging is not simply a period of decay, but a unique developmental stage that – like infancy or adolescence – brings with it its own demands and its own advantages.”

There are lots of scientific facts and statistics in the book, but certainly not too many to deter readers from finishing its 500+ pages. Levitin intersperses the hard evidence with dozens of case studies and examples from his research, as well as his own experiences. It all makes for a very interesting and informative read. Indeed, he provides plenty of motivation for readers to keep their minds active and engaged.

In light of the very real existential threat posed to those over 65 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Levitin’s refreshing inspirational interpretation of aging brings with it even more relevance and urgency. Older Canadians must not be seen as “expendable” as some politicians and business leaders would have us believe, nor must they be pitied or have targets on their backs.

With longevity increasing and more older Canadians enjoying full, satisfying post-retirement lives, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, is a timely book that should appeal to all age groups.

Remember, none of us is getting any younger and no one gets out of here alive.

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