Vasa Museum 2016
Since I got back from Sweden a few days ago, I have been reflecting on the class and the experiences we had. The class has always been an eye-opening experience for American students and this was the case again. We held a wrap up session in Stockholm, and the students showed how much they understood about the goals, accomplishments and shortcomings of the Swedish welfare state. I think that actually visiting programs that serve older people makes the lectures about the Swedish system more real and shows the students that an excellence in care of older adults and children, as well as support to families, can be achieved.
Having been going to Sweden since 1989, I have seen many changes in the laws and in the care system. Many of the people we met talked about recent changes—an emphasis on supporting older people in their own homes and making care more person-centered. Yet these goals were apparent from the beginning. But they are difficult to achieve, and so the new initiatives have been developed to get closer to these high goals. This is the flexibility in the Swedish system—the possibility to try new things out.
Joy Torgé, who is one of the new faculty at the Institute for Gerontology, raised interesting points about how our views of older people affect our expectations for them and reinforce the worst stereotypes about aging. She noted that contemporary views of successful aging, such as the Rowe and Kahn model, say, in effect, that you are only successful in you don’t get sick or become disabled. Joy contrasted this view with perspectives from the community of disabled adults, who place much more emphasis on finding ways that make life good despite disability. This is an important correction to all the unrealistic puffery in the media and the scientific community that if we only exercise enough or eat just the right things—which of course won’t taste very good—then we will live independently and healthy all the rest of our lives. It’s not true! We need a model that accepts that at some point people will have health problems and disabilities, and that it is possible to create conditions for a good life, despite those changes. Sure, exercise and a healthy diet are helpful, but bad things will still happen. It’s what Bo Malmberg, calls “sooner or later.”
One of the things that always struck Judy and me about Sweden was the number of older people who use “walkers,” or what the Swedes call “rollators.” It finally struck me why. They are free! Of course more people use them. Here people are reluctant to invest the money is buying one, because they don’t think they will really use it. But once people try it, they see that it gives them help with balance and improves their ability to get around. And it probably prevents falls. Medicare wants to prevent falls. Here’s a way.
From a personal perspective, I felt a bit sad that this would be the last Sweden class I taught. The class will be in good hands—Beth Fauth, Sydney Schaefer and Lesley Ross plan to continue it, possibly along with Frank Infurna. I bit my tongue and did not say, “I could come along next time.” It’s better to end on this high note. I feel like a ballplayer ending his career with a World Series win.
New Video on the Meaning of Age
I want to call your attention to a new video called “Young Body,” made by Penn State student Cara Burke as her senior project. It explores the meaning of age and aging from the perspective of people of different ages. You can see it at:
The Vasa Museum
The photo is from the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, my favorite site in Stockholm and the first place we take students. The Vasa is a 17th century warship that sank in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage (bad engineering), and was raised in 1961 and restored. The story of its raising and restoration is impressive and the ship is incredible.