Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society

Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society

Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society

Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society


For those fortunate enough to reside in the developed world, death before reaching a ripe old age is a tragedy, not a fact of life. Although aging and dying are not diseases, older Americans are subject to the most egregious marketing in the name of "successful aging" and "long life," as if both are commodities. In Rethinking Aging, Nortin M. Hadler examines health-care choices offered to aging Americans and argues that too often the choices serve to profit the provider rather than benefit the recipient, leading to the medicalization of everyday ailments and blatant overtreatment. Rethinking Aging forewarns and arms readers with evidence-based insights that facilitate health-promoting decision making.

Over the past decade, Hadler has established himself as a leading voice among those who approach the menu of health-care choices with informed skepticism. Only the rigorous demonstration of efficacy is adequate reassurance of a treatment's value, he argues; if it cannot be shown that a particular treatment will benefit the patient, one should proceed with caution. In Rethinking Aging, Hadler offers a doctor's perspective on the medical literature as well as his long clinical experience to help readers assess their health-care options and make informed medical choices in the last decades of life. The challenges of aging and dying, he eloquently assures us, can be faced with sophistication, confidence, and grace.


Childhood instills notions of aging. There are always the “old” in the room, nearby or on the periphery. Sometimes they’re the loving old, the beloved old, the crotchety old, even the wise old. Always the old are different through the eyes of the child—people other than just adults, such as parents. Old to the child is an abstraction.

Not for me. I learned gerontology at my father’s knee.

My father was the baby in a family that emigrated from Shepatovka, Ukraine, fin de siècle and settled in Mattapan, a neighborhood of Boston. I know little of the next forty years, mainly a few big-date facts. He was the valedictorian of Boston Latin, which brought an automatic admission to Harvard or MIT; he chose the former. As an undergraduate, he supported himself digging Boston’s transit system and working in his father’s tailor shop. Against all odds, he was admitted to Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1929. This is not an abridged history; it’s nearly all we were to know. It fell on him to support his parents in the deepening Depression. One of his brothers argued that New York City offered more opportunities than Boston. My father did a year of internship at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn and opened his general practice in the Bronx in 1930, catering to a working-class population. He married my mother a decade later with the expressed intention of having a son to send back to Harvard Medical School with the advantages he never enjoyed. I am that son.

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