When I saw the book, Winning Strategies for Successful Aging (Yale University Press, 2013) on the library shelf, my first thought was that it was interesting to think about “winning” at something like aging. But to the extent that this book attempts to persuade the reader that aging and retirement is a positive and productive time of life, the approach of strategizing what will lead to the best experience possible is valuable for the right reader.
In Winning Strategies, author Eric Pfeiffer, M.D. draws on his years as a psychiatrist and gerontologist to address all aspects of life when career and child-raising are not the defining elements of who you are and whether you are succeeding. He asks valuable questions, such as, “what shall I do with my time?” and “how can I best maintain my independence?” as well as considering what makes the ideal location for retirement and how to avoid loneliness. The ambitious goal of addressing all aspects of life from retirement through the end of life means that this relatively short book falls short. It asks good questions, but gives largely general and not particularly insightful answers.
For example, the chapter entitled “Choose Your Ideal Place to Live” covers staying where you are, trying someplace new, whether to choose independent living or a retirement community, the possibility of choosing a condominium or town house, whether to move in with relatives, whether both members of a partnership will be happy, and choosing so that only one move is necessary. Each of these topics will have very individual responses, and some have multiple aspects, such as the financial, legal, and emotional aspects of joining a retirement community or purchasing life-long care. Anyone who is seriously considering a move should do significantly more research than this book provides, but it does start the conversation by asking some helpful questions.
It also paints a fairly rosy overall picture of aging. It does address losing independence and avoiding financial abuse, but it primarily assumes the reader will be someone with substantial assets, who is unlikely to find themselves adjusting to a much more limited lifestyle than they might have enjoyed previously. The author encourages addressing health concerns and working hard to overcome limitations, but does not concern himself much with the frustrations, challenges, and fears that can be a significant aspect of aging. I found the topic of when to stop driving to be typical. Pfeiffer states that driving is an essential part of independence, and acknowledges that eventually you will no longer be able to drive. His advice is to think about this in advance, and figure out what you will do instead. But this does not address the complexity of this issue when no longer driving leads to significant isolation, or adds costs to an overburdened budget. He assumes that it will be possible to hire taxis, or that one will live in a community with volunteers available to do the driving. He does not address the collateral losses that come with losing this independence, or how to have this conversation with a family member who may not realize that driving is no longer a safe activity. In my work, this issue has been the crux of many family conflicts, and I would have appreciated a more nuanced and thoughtful response.
Ultimately, I found this book to be more superficial than I had hoped, but for someone who is looking toward their own retirement, or trying to help a loved one, it covers a vast topic and asks questions that might be useful to begin valuable conversations or open new possibilities for research and consideration.