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Aging Together

Dementia, Friendship, and Flourishing Communities

Susan H. McFadden and John T. McFadden

Publication Year: 2011

Never in human history have there been so many people entering old age—roughly one-third of whom will experience some form of neurodegeneration as they age. This seismic demographic shift will force us all to rethink how we live and deal with our aging population. Susan H. McFadden and John T. McFadden propose a radical reconstruction of our societal understanding of old age. Rather than categorize elders based on their respective cognitive consciousness, the McFaddens contend that the only humanistic, supportive, and realistic approach is to find new ways to honor and recognize the dignity, worth, and personhood of those journeying into dementia. Doing so, they argue, counters the common view of dementia as a personal tragedy shared only by close family members and replaces it with the understanding that we are all living with dementia as the baby boomers age, particularly as early screening becomes more common and as a cure remains elusive. The McFaddens' inclusive vision calls for social institutions, especially faith communities, to search out and build supportive, ongoing friendships that offer hospitality to all persons, regardless of cognitive status. Drawing on medicine, social science, philosophy, and religion to provide a broad perspective on aging, Aging Together offers a vision of relationships filled with love, joy, and hope in the face of a condition that all too often elicits anxiety, hopelessness, and despair.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-xii

We were married in January 1970, halfway through our se nior year in college. It was the era of the Vietnam War, utopian back- to- the- land dreams, and “sex, drugs, and rock- and- roll.” Ours was a cohort not much given to career planning or long- term goals. The shadow cast by the war and our collective certainty that the Age of Aquarius...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The idea of coauthoring a book that would bring together our respective disciplines (the psychology of aging; theology and pastoral care) was de cades in gestation. We believed that each had rich resources to offer to a much-needed conversation about how we can age together as friends within flourishing communities, especially given that dementia will inevitably be a component of our shared...

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pp. 1-15

“I’ve got a story for you!” This was the opening greeting from a woman calling to talk about an upsetting recent experience that involved her husband, who has lived with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for about three years. She knew that we were writing a book about friendship and community and she had met one of us at an Alzheimer’s Association meeting several months earlier...

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1. Dilemmas of Dementia Diagnoses

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pp. 16-31

“What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” This commonly posed question indicates the confusion and concern felt by the public about what has been called “today’s most dreaded diagnosis” (White house and George 2008). In a later chapter, we address the anxiety— even the dread— more directly as we consider people anticipating the moment when they might have to hear...

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2. Receiving the Diagnosis

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pp. 32-43

In the course of our lives we are likely to have many diseases and conditions diagnosed by a physician. We develop symptoms— a nagging cough, a swollen joint, persistent pain— that suggest all is not as it should be, and we consult our physician. Sometimes, we do this reluctantly or only because a loved one nags...

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3. Personhood

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pp. 44-61

On several hot August days in 1998, a group of people who described themselves as “change artists” met in a continuum-of-care retirement community in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to continue a discussion that had begun the year before in Rochester, New York. Some of these folks remembered the 1960s and the VW buses they used to drive from concert to concert...

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4. What Is Friendship?

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pp. 62-76

What is a friend? A teen might answer, “My friends are the people I like to hang out with.” Adults may speak of the people who share their tastes and interests. Sometimes we speak of friends in terms of the settings in which we interact: our “work friends” or our “friends at the lake.” In the new world of social...

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5. When Our Friends Travel the Dementia Road

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pp. 77-92

Aristotle taught that virtuous friendship, like marriage, binds us to each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Inevitably, as we share the blessing of friendship through the pro cess of aging, some friends we cherish (or we ourselves) will begin the journey of dementia. Dementia can challenge the ways in which we have previously experienced and understood our friendship...

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6. Dementia Fear and Anxiety

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pp. 93-108

An imagined monologue: OK, OK. So you already told me about different kinds of dementia and what it’s like to hear the doctor say, “You probably have Alzheimer’s.” I know that other people are important to us and that I should be grateful for my family and my friends. I do my best to stay in touch with friends, but you know, it’s hard...

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7. Beyond Fear and Anxiety

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pp. 109-121

The monologue continues: Yup! You’ve got it right: I’m scared and I’m worried about my forgetfulness. My friends all joke about it. But what good is it to know what psychologists say about fear and anxiety? I want to know what to do about it! Isn’t there some kind of pill...

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8. The Flourishing Community

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pp. 122-131

When we moved from the East Coast to the upper Midwest nearly thirty years ago, John was initially puzzled by some of the practices associated with weddings in this region. The couples planning their wedding were typically casual about the guest list. In a few cases their invitation took the form of a notice in the local newspaper...

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9. Congregations as Schools for Friendship

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pp. 132-148

Most Sundays, a group of very elderly women sits together on a long bench outside their church’s library after the worship ser vice. Affectionately called “the Legacy ladies” by many church members because of their residence at a local continuum-of-care retirement community, they wait for the Legacy bus while chatting with one another and with people passing by on the way to the front door...

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10. The Things That Abide

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pp. 149-162

Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas argues that it is possible to assess where a society invests its faith by observing which buildings are most imposing and impressive.1 For most of human history, places of worship— the Great Temple of Jerusalem, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Masjid al Haram Mosque in Mecca...

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11. Practicing Friendship in the “Thin Places”

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pp. 163-182

Australian social worker and theologian Lorna Hallahan describes living with disabling conditions as “rabbit hole experiences”— experiences that make people feel like they have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole into a strange and often confusing new world. In Chapter 2, we presented the “rabbit hole experiences” of people hearing their physicians pronounce...

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12. Memory, Forgetting, and the Present Time

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pp. 183-196

Anne Basting (2009) argues that our fear of memory loss is greater than it needs to be because memory is the collective possession of the communities in which we participate. Although most scientists and geriatricians believe that there are signifi cant diff erences between the memory losses associated with so- called healthy aging and those associated with...

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Discussion Questions

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pp. 197-200

As we wrote this book, we imagined people talking about it with their friends, either in formal groups, such as classes or book clubs, or in informal conversations, as in “I read a book and it got me thinking about . . .” We offer these questions as a way of launching conversations about the joys and challenges of aging together...


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pp. 201-212


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pp. 213-225


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pp. 227-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401416
E-ISBN-10: 142140141X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801899867
Print-ISBN-10: 0801899869

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011