Independence and Economic Security in Old Age

Editors: Frank T. Denton,
Deborah Fretz and Byron G. Spencer
UBC Press, Vancouver, Toronto 2000
ISBN 0-7748-0788-1

Reviewed by: Dr. Goldlist

As a practicing geriatrician for over 20 years, I have always advised my patients (and others) to make sure that when they are old they are healthy and wealthy. I have been shocked over the years to see how often my sage advice has been ignored! Our knowledge about ensuring good physical health in old age is pretty rudimentary: eat properly, do not smoke, exercise regularly and pick long-lived parents. But a satisfying old age is also dependent on economic security. That is the topic of this excellent book, which summarizes a 3-year research program at McMaster University that started in 1995. The contributors are a distinguished group of Canadian investigators, and the book is firmly grounded in data.

Although not claiming to be comprehensive, the book covers many areas, all from a distinctly Canadian perspective. We are given mortality data (available functional data not being as accurate) that argue persuasively that, even if age 65 was once appropriate for defining old age, it is so no longer. The third chapter explains how population demographics are projected, and proves that the anticipated aging of the Canadian population is a robust finding, regardless of what fertility rates and immigration are assumed. I found Chapter 4, in which data and anecdotes about how seniors define independence are presented, both excellent and enlightening. There are several chapters that focus on older women. Once again, they are data driven and outstanding. I will not show my wife the chapter demonstrating that, among older women who live alone, those who have never married are financially much better off. Another chapter outlines the economic disadvantage of unexpected early retirement. Throughout the book it is clear that financial security is a tremendous issue for old age, one for which many Canadian are not adequately prepared.

This book is not meant specifically for physicians, but is a useful source of information for gerontological researchers. It is also of interest to anyone who anticipates growing old.