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A Good View of Life as Years Accumulate

February 27, 1986|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

Growing Old, Staying Young by Christopher Hallowell (Morrow: $17.95).

Several years ago, Julia Braun Kessler's "Getting Even With Getting Old" reminded us that, despite American's deification of youth, the "second half of life" can be the most graceful, possibly productive and certainly philosophically satisfying part of our life span.

Christopher Hallowell's "Growing Old, Staying Young," which uses a similar form of geriatrics research, brings us up to date in showing how people--in unprecedented numbers and in fine fettle--"rage, rage against the dying of the light."

People Live Longer

Longevity is in. Because of improved sanitation, nutrition, medical care and technology and the rush for fitness and exercise programs, people are living longer. Today, the fastest-growing segment of the population is that older than 75; by the year 2050, it's expected that one out of every three will be older than 55.

Hallowell discusses the physiology of aging: How cellular changes occur, how memory is affected by the loss of "gray matter"--at the same time that experience or "crystallized intelligence" compensates for this loss--and how alterations in sexual activity come about.

In a fascinating section, describing our combative attitude toward graying, "crinkling and wrinkling," he takes an amused look at the $6.5-billion-a-year cosmetic industry and quotes a famous New York plastic surgeon who dismisses all those deliciously packaged Ponce de Leon products, suggesting instead hot baths and slathering the body with Vaseline.

Never content with statistics, Hallowell pays a visit to Florida Congressman Claude Pepper's office, who, at 85, still fights for legislation to help the elderly; he travels to one of this country's "strongholds of longevity," a tiny town in the hollows of Kentucky, where, in contrast to the national average, 30% of the people are 60 or older. And he allows a personal view of his own mother's fight against and ultimate succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.

Unlimited Possibilities

Showing us the inevitability of aging, Hallowell, at the same time, illuminates its almost unlimited possibilities.

"Growing Old, Staying Young" is a masterful book, composed of hard-to-come-by research and direct observation, proving the adage that hard writing makes for easy reading.

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