3 Ken Ferraro


[Note: What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the interview. The complete interview can be found here.]

Alex Bishop

I am here with Dr. Ken Ferraro from Purdue University. Dr. Ferraro is the director of the Center on Aging and Life Course, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Purdue University. Dr. Ferraro would you mind telling us and sharing a little bit about yourself, including your research interests and how you got into , what you do, etc.

 

Ken Ferraro

Well, thank you Professor Bishop for interviewing me.  I have been at Purdue University for over three decades. It was my third job after graduate school, and one of the things that has always intrigued me is the study of aging. I find that there are many ways to study aging, and that’s been sort of a lifelong inquiry for me:  how it is that people study aging from so many different angles?

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely, and I know one of the things that you’ve worked on is this idea or concept of the . Can you give a little more clarity, what is meant by this term or concept? How do you define it? What do you mean by it?

 

Ken Ferraro

The gerontological imagination is first and foremost an interdisciplinary specification of how gerontologists think. So, when I go to the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, I meet people who are biologists and they are working at the molecular level, I meet people who are social workers or policy analysts and the whole slew of disciplines in between.  I’ve always just been intrigued by how people with such apparently disparate intellectual approaches think about aging.  Or, alternatively, is there anything that really holds them together intellectually? And so that was the scholarly journey of my life.  I have studied a number of substantive issues, ranging from the fear of crime among older people to the early origins of adult health, but the idea of a gerontological imagination was more of a reflective journey on the science of aging—and it involved a long incubation period.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it and then developed what I call an integrative paradigm of aging.  I am not a biologist, but I have learned so much by reading the works of biologists interested in aging.  I am a sociologist by training, but gerontology involves more than just one discipline.  I wrote the book The Gerontological Imagination to specify what are the core axioms of how gerontologists think.  I am intrigued by sociological studies of aging, but also by the contributions of other disciplines.  Thus, I am not limiting the paradigm to just social science, but integrating ideas from varied scientific fields.  For instance, I have learned so much from comparative biologists, scholars who study the aging process in various mammals (bats, opossums, dogs) and/or in shellfish, insects, and birds.  There are new discoveries about aging in various species that are useful to ponder when studying human aging.  Thus, the gerontological imagination is a way of seeing the contributions of varied scientific disciplines to this amazing process of maturing and growing older.

 

And as I mentioned earlier, it begins with an interdisciplinary specification.  It is not just what sociologists consider (social structure and processes) but weaves in genetics, medicine, psychology, and other fields.  Even though the disciplines are very different, I have identified six axioms that scholars share when studying aging.  Examples include:  skepticism of what aging actually causes, life course analysis (studying aging from gestation to death), heterogeneity of older people and organisms, and the pernicious influence of ageism.  Most gerontologists incorporate these and related ideas in their scientific works.

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah and it’s kind of funny to witness when you’re into literature and you go to these talks at GSA and around the globe and the nation, we talk about the same things as social scientists, as biologists, we just term it differently sometimes, you know. So convincing our colleagues to work together and study the same type of phenomenon is great.

 

Now I know you’ve done a lot of work in life course research as a sociologist and a social gerontologist if you don’t mind me calling you that. How is the gerontological imagination connected to the human life course?

 

Ken Ferraro

That is a great question, and I would say that it is integral.  At Purdue, one of the colleagues that I have worked with closely for over two decades is an emeritus professor in veterinary medicine.  David Waters has a Ph.D. in biology as well as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and discussing aging with him is fascinating because his predominant model of aging is the dog—pet dogs, in particular because they share the house with the owner.  When we met, I introduced him to the concept of the life course and helped him think about and over time in an animal’s life.  One day he said to me, “You’ve really taught me the approach to studying aging from a life course perspective.”  Instead of just thinking of aging as something that happens when a human reaches 60 or 70 years of age, what we want to do is ponder those later years in context with earlier life.  One of the most profound studies that influenced me was the work of David Barker, who opened our eyes to the fetal origins of adult health.  For people who are not familiar with his work, life course studies tracking aging from in utero to later life has opened a vista for understanding the long-term effects of early-life experiences.  Barker’s earliest studies focused on the profound impact that fetal malnourishment has on the development of the individuals, including their risk of disease later in life.  These findings, moreover, have been observed on multiple continents.  As sociologists, we see the impact of perturbations (social disruptions), which may imprint cohorts of individuals over time.  Famine, war, including evacuating children from war, and Covid-19 have differential impacts on people of various ages.  Life course analysis helps us to connect social life with aging by cohorts (people born during a particular time).

 

We need research on people during their later years, but there also is value in studying people longitudinally because it reveals not only age differences but age changes.  A growing number of scholars across various disciplines, from anthropology to veterinary medicine, are drawn to these longitudinal studies because they shine a bright light on the aging process.  Many people focus on the products of aging instead of the process of aging.  Our focus should be on the mechanisms and the pathways by which people with varied early exposures end up at risk of disease or disability and the resources that help people avoid those risks.  Life course analysis helped me to see the gravity of social exposures on well-being across the life course.

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah, it’s a very, that work from Barker is very interesting, I read a little bit of it and it’s amazing to know that development starts early before and all those diseases and those chronic even in your work you’ve talked about some health disparities start early. Can you talk about, in your career studying human aging, what discovery or finding or perhaps series of findings or discoveries have intrigued you the most from your own work and help advanced our field?

 

Ken Ferraro

My research team and I have made contributions to both sociology and gerontology in several ways.  With support from the National Institute on Aging, we have investigated how childhood experiences influence later-life health.  And I am not speaking about mental health only.  Most of us would understand that people who experienced abuse or trauma during their childhood years might have mental health problems subsequently, but we have focused on physical health outcomes.  For instance, does child abuse raise the risk of heart attack or cancer?  It turns out that childhood misfortune raises the risk of many physical health problems, including but not limited to specific diseases such as arthritis, heart attack, stroke, and cancer as well as co-morbidity.  In addition, we also have incorporated biomarkers into our analyses such as a marker of systemic inflammation (C-reactive protein) and the length of telomeres (protective caps at the end of chromosomes).  Many biologists view telomere length as an indicator of the rate of aging (shorter telomeres are associated with senescence).  By considering these biomarkers, we find clear evidence that childhood misfortune gets “under the skin”—it becomes part of the blood chemistry and genetic makeup of the human being.

 

Our research contributions about health over the life course also reveal that the influence of the early experiences can be modified with various resources.  We do not find that the effects of childhood misfortune are indelible.  Rather, our research helps us contextualize human lives to identify who is at risk of health problems as well as identify the right resources to blunt the effect of early misfortune.  Many people are resilient in the face of adversity, and we focus our research on the factors that aid resilience.  Examples of powerful resources include a sense of personal control, educational attainment, and financial security.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Just kind of a side question to all of that, do you find certain populations are more at risk than others from their experiences in childhood or that, what you call getting under the skin, that kind of, from that early point of life and across the life course are there certain kind of what you might call disparity kind of groups? I guess you could call them.

 

 

Ken Ferraro

In our research to date, there are two exposures that have the strongest influence.  First, child abuse is pivotal in the life course.  The memory of those experiences may linger for decades, and they clearly raise the risk of health problems.  Child abuse triggers a host of biological, psychological, and sociological processes.  Thus, mitigating those processes is a challenge.

 

The second type of childhood experience that is consequential to health is chronic poverty or living at the lower end of the income distribution.  Although most people experience occasional bouts of difficulty paying their bills, poverty for some people is a chronic stressor.  They experience financial strain for months, years, and perhaps decades.  Chronic poverty limits choices for many people, including children and their transition into adulthood.  Financial security, by contrast, opens choices and provides some level of predictability, which is critical for planning.

 

There are other childhood stressors that have an influence on specific diseases, but child abuse and childhood poverty each have a strong influence on many health outcomes.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah I agree child abuse is so powerful especially across the life course and into old and very old age too. It still stands strong. Well a final question is one of the things I’m doing with this textbook is really trying to find out from leading experts across the country and the world, how do you define Successful Aging?

 

 

Ken Ferraro

Well, I actually do not prefer to use the term “successful aging.”  Let me explain why.  When Rowe and Kahn developed the idea of successful aging, they created a firestorm because it implies competition.  If there is successful aging, there must also be unsuccessful aging.  Do we really want to assert that our parents and grandparents are aging unsuccessfully?  I think not.

 

Older people are those who have survived to their later years.  They have avoided accidents that took the lives of people born about the same time as the survivors, and they have managed to avoid or overcome the ravages of disease that have led to premature mortality for their cohort.  Stated differently, older people are in some ways an elite.

 

Instead of dividing the older population into two categories (successful and unsuccessful), I prefer a nuanced approach that is more of a continuum.  At Purdue, we have advanced the idea of “.”  By optimal aging, we focus on enhancing the health and function of an older person regardless of the diseases they might have or the limitations in function that they are experiencing.  Rowe and Kahn defined successful aging as being free of disease and function, which is a very limiting approach.  I argue that we should not just reject older people who have one or more diseases as being aging unsuccessfully.  The fact that they are alive with the disease shows some degree of resilience in being able to adapt and to overcome it.  Some people are very good at managing their diseases and can live a long and fulfilling life.  We may like the aspiration of successful aging, but the problem occurs when we operationalize the concept in a population.  It borders on arrogance.  Do we really want to claim that people who are older than them and are managing their diseases are not aging properly?  Should we dismiss people as unsuccessful simply because they have a disease?  No.  Instead, I argue for a focus on improving the aging experience regardless of the illnesses or functional limitations people face.  We also have recent evidence that some of the functional limitations associated with aging are reversible.  Think of the millions of people who have had hip or knee joint-replacement surgery because they seek to regain function.  If we view aging process as modifiable, we might end up aging.

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely.

 

Ken Ferraro

It is also valuable to focus on the prevention of additional declines in function.  Are people able to function in society, which is a very sociological question?  When we speak of disability, it has two components.  We focus on the person’s ability to navigate an environment, but that also means that the environment influences what we depict as disability.  Is disability an intrinsic inherent state of a human being?  No.  Disability is defined at the intersection of the person’s function and the environmental demands.  We may be able to change the functional ability of the person, but we also can change the environment to make it less challenging to navigate.  Disability is highly dependent on environmental context.  We saw this vividly in studies of disability over the years.  There is compelling evidence that disability declined among older people between 1990 and 2010.  Most people can’t understand that fact, but it was due to a combination of many factors, including advances in orthopedic surgery as well as passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990.  The ADA initiated many changes that helped people of all ages to enter buildings, use public transportation systems, use services at businesses and nonprofit organizations serving the public, and navigate street crossings.  So even if the people did not improve their level of function, the ADA changed the environment, which made it easier for them to live with their level of function.

 

Finally, we need to recognize that the aging process is influenced by our genes, but the best scientific studies estimate that genes account for about twenty-five to thirty-five percent of what we view as the challenges of aging (i.e., diseases, physiological dysregulation, and declines in function).  Genes help define our potential, but most of the variation in aging is due to the interaction of genes, environment, and behavior.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah you make some great points there, and you know one of the other things today with disability, you know the change in the kind of what we see in the population is this whole emergence too of gerontechnology and assistive technologies which allow people to really age in place and function. I just think of a lot of persons I know and I’ve come across and I think ‘How do you live in this home?’ It was built way before ADA and all the, you know, they’re very old homes in this part of this country in the middle of the country and on the east and west coast but you have an older person living there and functioning quite well thanks to some of these new technologies and other types of assistive types of devices that they can now have access to. It’s quite amazing.

 

One of the last questions, I guess, is what advice, you studied for several decades, aging. What advice would you give individuals or families or communities just to continue to age well, optimally, in your case?

 

 

Ken Ferraro

I think there are a couple of things.  One is, we’ve got to realize that many of us have ageist ideas inculcated in us. And that’s one of the axioms of the gerontological imagination.  Thus, we need to realize that negative images of older people permeate our society; ageism is both pervasive and pernicious.  Negative views of aging are harmful to the individual’s development.

 

Second, although much attention is directed to all the “declines” that are associated with growing older.  Examples include slower reaction time, hearing senescence, and gait speed.  The challenges of aging are genuine, but there are many ways to adapt to the changes that challenge us.  To try to think about ways to beat those challenges, both for individuals as well as for society. One of my former professors told me during graduate school, “You know Ken, our bodies are really over-built.  We don’t actually use all of our brains.  We don’t actually use all of our physical function that’s available.”  This means that people can have some functional limitations (in instrumental activities of daily living) and still have high quality of life.  Let us look for ways to organize society and be helpful to older adults so that they can maintain independent living. Helping them maintain function, however, does not mean doing everything for them.  Older adults need to be challenged. Older adults need to contribute to the social order as well as receive from it.  Many parents of toddlers or young children realize that engaging the child to “help” will likely require extra work.  Although it may be faster for the parent to do the task, we invest in our children for their well-being and independence.

 

Older adults, they want to contribute too. They do not just want (or need) to get handouts from everyone.  They are interested in making social contributions.  We need to value contributions of older adults to our society.  We too often overlook the contributions older adults in society are making to the social good.  We need more positive images of our older individuals in our communities and our families and seek for ways to challenge them given the limitations they face.  Doing so will help make optimal aging a reality.

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely.


Unedited Transcript of Ken Ferraro Interview

Alex Bishop

I am here with Dr. Ken Ferraro from Purdue University. Dr. Ferraro is the director of the Center on Aging and Life Course, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Purdue University. Dr. Ferraro would you mind telling us and sharing a little bit about yourself, including your research interests and how you got into Gerontology, what you do, etc.

 

Ken Ferraro

Well thanks Professor Bishop for having me on, and I have been at Purdue University for over three decades. It was my third job after graduate school and one of the things that has always intrigued me is the study of aging. I find that there are many ways to study aging, and that’s been sort of a lifelong inquiry for myself of how it is that people study aging from so many different angles.

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely, and I know one of the things that you’ve worked on is this idea or concept of the gerontological imagination. Can you give a little more clarity, what is meant by this term or concept? How do you define it? What do you mean by it?

 

Ken Ferraro

It is first and foremost an interdisciplinary specification of how gerontologists think. So, when I go to the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, I meet people who are biologists and they are working at the molecular level, I meet people who are social workers or policy analysis and the whole slew of disciplines in between. And I’ve always just been intrigued by, how do these people with such apparently disparate intellectual approaches how do they think about aging? Or, alternatively, is there anything that really holds them together intellectually? And so that was the journey of my lifetime, really, in terms of asking that question. I’ve also been interested in, you know, a number of substantive issues and studied these, but this was sort of of a side issue for me that was a slow incubation period. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and then developed what I call an Integrative Paradigm of Aging. So I’m not a biologist I don’t pretend to be a biologist. I’m a sociologist by training. But what I’m trying to do in the gerontological imagination is specify what are the core perspectives or axioms of what it means to study aging. And so I’m not trying to do just something for social scientists, it’s applicable for social science, I’m trying to do it for people who study, maybe, bats and opossums and dogs—how they age, literally from animal models to human endeavors. So it’s really what we would think of as a paradigm or overall perspective for studying aging.

 

And as I said earlier, it begins with an interdisciplinary specification. So it’s not just what sociologists think, but what are the core ideas that really permeate all these fields. Even though they’re very different, you know, one’s at the molecular level another one’s at the societal level, still there are some things that hold them together.

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah and it’s kind of funny to witness when you’re into literature and you go to these talks at GSA and around the globe and the nation, we talk about the same things as social scientists, as biologists, we just term it differently sometimes, you know. So convincing our colleagues to work together and study the same type of phenomenon is great.

 

Now I know you’ve done a lot of work in life course research as a sociologist and a social gerontologist if you don’t mind me calling you that. How is the gerontological imagination connected to the human life course?

 

Ken Ferraro

That’s a great question and I would say that it’s integral. Here at my work at Purdue University one of the colleagues that I’ve worked with closely for over two decades is a professor in veterinary medicine and he has a Ph.D. in biology as well as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and I find with him very very fruitful way of discussing aging because his predominant model is the dog, a domesticated animal, and we would talk about things in the period of life for a dog. And I introduced him to the concept of the life course and to help him to think about continuity and discontinuity over time in an animal and I think he really, to me, one day he said ‘You know you’ve really taught me the whole approach to studying the life course.’ So instead of just thinking of aging as something that happens when a human reaches 60 or 70 years of age, what we want to do is we want to think about those later years in context with earlier life. And I suppose that one of the most profound studies that really influenced me was the work of David Barker, who opened our eyes to the fetal origins of adult health. So, for people who are not familiar, lifelong studies, life course studies, from literally in utero to later life tracking the same individuals over time in some studies, and in other studies linking data but just seeing the profound impact that fetal malnourishment would have on the development of the individuals and affect their risk of disease later in life. This has been shown in multiple continents, there are certainly perturbations or what we could think of as social disruptions that are associated with this so it may impact a whole cohort of individuals such as famine, or war, or evacuating children from war—these sorts of things.

 

So that really helped me to see that if you were just studying the later years, that’s helpful, but it’s a somewhat incomplete picture. And so I think what sociologists and people from a variety of fields, again, biologists, comparative biologists, they’re really thinking in terms of the aging process. Sometimes we think too much of the products of the process. Right? When we really should be focusing on what are the mechanisms and the pathways by which people have these early exposures and then end up with various risks or perhaps without some of the noxious things that we think of for later life. That really helped me a lot, was to understand the gravity or the depth of this in terms of how it would shape, truly, the life course.

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah, it’s a very, that work from Barker is very interesting, I read a little bit of it and it’s amazing to know that development starts early before and all those diseases and those chronic even in your work you’ve talked about some health disparities start early. Can you talk about, in your career studying human aging, what discovery or finding or perhaps series of findings or discoveries have intrigued you the most from your own work and help advanced our field?

 

Ken Ferraro

Well I hope I’ve made some contributions in a number of ways. Let me just begin with some of my more recently-funded research from the National Institute on Aging. I appreciate their support. It’s helped me to understand the childhood experiences that might have an influence on later-life health. And I’m not just talking about mental health. I think most of us would understand that it be perfectly reasonable that people who experienced abuse or trauma during their childhood years might have mental health outcomes. But I’m really thinking about the physical health outcomes. So in our research we obviously rely on subject reports of those experiences. That’s useful. But we also have incorporated biomarkers into our analyses, one of which is a marker of inflammation. And so what we really see is clear evidence that these instances of childhood misfortune truly get under the skin. They’re actually a part of the blood chemistry of the human being. And so that’s an important finding from our point of view. Just related to that program or research, the other thing I noticed when I started studying this was that there are a lot of people that would say “Well here you’ve got these adverse childhood experiences where you’ve got trauma or some kind of disadvantage.” And they’d show it on one outcome. So it’s related to for instance high blood pressure or heart disease or some such thing.

 

And another study would come along and show it on cancer and what have you. And then, you know, I tried to replicate lots of those studies and often times I’d find parallel findings where we would see that it was affecting a really diverse array of diseases from arthritis to cancer to acute myocardial infarction to psychiatric problems, etc. So it’s really broad. So thinking about people’s health in later years it is so important to understand the origins the early origins of these health issues. Not that that solves the problem, right, but at least understanding that helps you contextualize and to see people who are at risk and then to think about remediation, if possible, to avoid those risks. Otherwise people are at risk and they don’t know about it.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Just kind of a side question to all of that, do you find certain populations are more at risk than others from their experiences in childhood or that, what you call getting under the skin, that kind of, from that early point of life and across the life course are there certain kind of what you might call disparity kind of groups? I guess you could call them.

 

 

Ken Ferraro

There are two exposures that really seem to have a pretty strong influence. So, some things maybe they’d be more modest in their impact but fairly robust findings, number one, about abuse. So if children were abused in their early life this influences a lot of different mechanisms, biological processes and the effects on adult health are notable. And just, there are dozens, probably hundreds of studies now that have demonstrated this. Secondly, is socioeconomic status or thinking of the lower end of the distribution, really, poverty. So, poverty oftentimes is a chronic stressor over a period of time and even though we’d like to think that maybe it doesn’t make such a difference on health, it’s very very strong. So those two stand out. There are others that sometimes have an influence, maybe on some outcomes rather than others, but child abuse and childhood poverty or financial strain they really seem to be influencing a wide range of health outcomes.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah I agree child abuse is so powerful especially across the life course and into old and very old age too. It still stands strong. Well a final question is one of the things I’m doing with this textbook is really trying to find out from leading experts across the country and the world, how do you define Successful Aging?

 

 

Ken Ferraro

Well, I actually don’t like to use the term. And I’ll tell you why I don’t like to use the term. When Rowe and Kahn developed the idea of successful aging they created a firestorm, really, because the idea of successful aging implies that there’s unsuccessful again. And I rather would disrespect it if you said to me that I was unsuccessfully aging. Or, if I were to tell you that your mother was unsuccessfully aging. That would be pretty weird to say about a person that’s older than you are and you’re saying that they are unsuccessful in how they are doing it. So I guess I don’t like that qualitative sort of categorical ‘either you are or you aren’t’. Rather I like to see this in a lot of different shades, right? And so I view it as more of a continuous thing. What I prefer, what we use at the center, our sort of ‘tagline’ is Optimal Aging. And that means that regardless of the way you define something like Successful Aging, there’s always room to improve the health and well-being of an older person. Right? And so we should not, out of hand, just reject people who have diseases as being somehow unsuccessful in this aging process. The fact that they’re alive with the disease shows some degree of resilience in being able to adapt and to overcome it. Some people are actually quite good at managing their diseases and can live a long and fulfilling life. And I feel that there has to be room for those people in our conceptualizations of the ‘good’ aging or the ‘favorable’ or the ‘aspirational’ aging. We cannot dismiss people as unsuccessful simply because they have a disease, which is what Rowe and Kahn did you know at their very beginning of the development of the idea.

 

So I could see what they were doing and I saw value in what they are doing but it’s the exclusivity of what they did that creates a lot of problems. So, again, our center is not called the Center on Successful Aging. I know that lots of my colleagues love to use the term. It’s, like I say it’s aspirational, right? You want to be successful. But again when you start disqualifying people from being successful at aging because of a variety of things that’s where the firestorm emerges. So I like optimal aging. I like to think of it in a quantitative term regardless of where people are, regardless of what diseases they have if they have something that is impairing their ability to do things well, to me, let’s put the focus on helping them to do those things.

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely.

 

Ken Ferraro

Or let’s put the focus on the prevention of additional declines in function, right? So I think what we really are talking about is function, right? Are people able, and this is a very sociological question, are people able to function in society? So when we think of things like ‘disability’ I mean, disability has really two components. It has some component in terms of the body’s ability to navigate an environment. But that also means that the environment influences what we depict as ‘disability’. So disability is not some intrinsic inherent state of a human being. It’s all relative to their context. So you can see, and we saw this in data in the 1990’s and up until about 2010 where there’s actually a disability decline among older adults in the United State. That sounds so bizarre to many people when you say that disability declined among older people they think you’re crazy at first. But there’s actually powerful data to show that there were things that have been implemented since the 1980’s that have affected the rates of disability.

 

Example: Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA created so many more manageable walking environments and stairs and what have you to enable people to function. So even if the people hadn’t changed, the environment changed. And you could think of other things. Look at the boom in orthopedic surgery and joint replacement surgery. Where you have individuals who have some degree of impairment in their function, they get this surgery and not everyone but a good number of them are doing very well after those surgeries. Again, that’s what we’ve got to think of when we think of successful aging. Is it about about these diseases that people have or these impairments that people have or is it really about helping those people to function at a high level? Let’s also face it that the gerontological imagination says that there are these biological components that are critical. And although genes determine only about twenty-five to thirty-five percent of what we know as diseases still, genes are sort of your potential, right? And then if we have environments and behaviors that fit with that potential then those individuals live long and independent lives. On the other hand,  if people have genes that really put them at very high risk of conditions and diseases, we want to think about what are the ways we help them relative to what cards have been dealt to them.

 

 

Alex Bishop

Yeah you make some great points there, and you know one of the other things today with disability, you know the change in the kind of what we see in the population is this whole emergence too of gerontechnology and assistive technologies which allow people to really age in place and function. I just think of a lot of persons I know and I’ve come across and I think ‘How do you live in this home?’ It was built way before ADA and all the, you know, they’re very old homes in this part of this country in the middle of the country and on the east and west coast but you have an older person living there and functioning quite well thanks to some of these new technologies and other types of assistive types of devices that they can now have access to. It’s quite amazing.

 

One of the last questions, I guess, is what advice, you studied for several decades, aging. What advice would you give individuals or families or communities just to continue to age well, optimally, in your case?

 

 

Ken Ferraro

I think there are a couple of things. One is, we’ve got to realize that many of us have ageist ideas inculcated in us. And that’s one of the axioms of the gerontological imagination. So we have to realize that negative images of older people permeate our society. And they are not only pervasive but they are pernicious. They are harmful to the individual’s development. And then secondly I would say rather than think about all the declines that are recognized that come with senescence. To try to think about ways to beat those odds for individuals as well as for society. One of my former professors told me during graduate school “You know Ken, our bodies are really over-built.” We don’t actually use all of our brains. We don’t actually use all of our physical function that’s available. So people can have some limitations in instrumental activities of daily living and still have a lot of quality of life. Let’s look for ways to organize society and to be helpful to older adults so that they can remain independent. That does not mean do everything for them. Older adults need to be challenged. Older adults need to contribute to the social order as well as receive from it, right? And it’s an easy mistake just like a parent with a three- or four- year-old who wants to help in the kitchen might think ‘Well it’s just faster for me to make the meal or make this baked good without the child.’ But you want to involve the child, right?

 

Older adults, they want to contribute too. They don’t just want to get handouts from everyone. They’re actually interested in social contributions so that’s what we need to value. We need to value contributions of older adults to our society. I think that is some great advice. I think that sometimes we overlook older adults in society. We need more positivity and positive images of our older individuals in our communities and our families.

 

Alex Bishop

Absolutely.

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