WHAT IS it in an individual's life history that determines his or her experience of old age?
Why is it that some people achieve a happy active or even creative long life while others merely survive, or withdraw into apathy and confusion? These are the questions which prompted Lily Pincus at the age of 82 to begin her exploration into the attitudes and expectations of the very old in our society.
Throughout the book, Lily Pincus deals systematically with those psychological issues which appear to be most relevant to the quality of a long life.
As she finds life stories more convincing than the best of her theories, she makes ample use of the numerous lives she has encountered in her long experience as a social worker and family therapist at the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.
What could better communicate her own personal viewpoint than the fascinating story of her own life which she tells in the opening pages.
Born of Jewish parents, she was forced to flee Germany during the Nazi purge. Together with her husband Fritz she built a new life in Britain and at the end of the war they both became British subjects.
She shares the anguish of her discovery of being unable to conceive because of inadequate protection during her work as a radiographer in Germany.
She tells of their struggles when dependent on the hospitality and charity of others and the detrimental effect on her husband's health at the news of the murder of six million Jews. This was followed by long years of Fritz's illness and the effort to reconcile her successful career with concern for her dying husband.
On her retirement she was faced with the problems all old people meet — the battle not to fall asleep too often. losing. dropping, forgetting and spilling things and all the various failures of old age.
Her account is laced with genuine humour and an indomitable drive not to just accept death when it comes but rather to live to the full and enjoy life.
She repeatedly stresses the importance of living in mutually helpful relations with young and old people as a way of diminishing for both the often irrational fear of old age and the aged.
Throughout this deeply intimate study. Lily Pincus looks at a wide range of old people drawn from a variety of educational, religious and nonreligious backgrounds.
She raises the problems of children's anxiety with regard to ageing parents and the rights of the old people to independence as well as a brave approach to the issue of sex in old age which until recently was riduculed or treated with disgust.
She is unsparing in her criticism of old people's residential homes where in spite of unstinting care and devotion, efforts fail because of lack of understanding and appreciation °leach old person's individuality.
She points out that society's conscience is too easily satisfied with the easy way of providing material well being for old people ignoring the need of the old and the very old to be acknowledged as useful members of the community.
A good mark is awarded to Maggie Kuhn's "Grey Panther Groupsin the United States and in some European cities which lobby for the rights of old people and she also recommends the Pestalozzi orphan villages in Switzerland and Germany where planners include accommodation for old people willing to be adopted as grandparents.
Above all her argument is that today's retired people are better educated and more articulate about their needs and so largely responsible for contributing towards a good long life for themselves and others so as to change the image of the stereo types of old age.
This is an illuminating handbook of unsentimental advice for both the old and the young and will be an invaluable help in seeing old age not as a disaster but as a rewarding phase of life.