What's New About Growing Old?

Prof. Ellyn Lem will present Research on Aging
By UWM at Waukesha

Prof. Ellyn LemUWM at Waukesha English Professor Ellyn Lem will discuss her research on aging with a one-hour free lecture titled, “What is New about Growing Old?”  The lecture begins at noon on Wednesday, February 21 in room C101 at The University of Wisconsin‐Milwaukee at Waukesha campus, located at 1500 N. University Drive in Waukesha. The talk (which is open to the public) will include some of the latest findings regarding happiness in old age, the effects of retirement and exercise, and new understanding on longevity and care giving from an interdisciplinary perspective.

On sabbatical this semester, Lem is working on a book tentatively titled, Silver Seekers: Finding Meaning in the Stories of Later Life. An increasingly popular topic today, with the aging of “baby boomers,” is the shifting demographic resulting in a burgeoning population of seniors. (In the U.S., 10,000 people reach age 65 every day and by 2030, 20% of the population will be over 65.)

Lem’s perspective is that “aging is complex, individualistic, and, at times, terrifying, yet important to study as richly and deeply as possible to capture its nuances and better inform everyone on what may await them.” Her research includes literature and films along with the latest medical research and geriatric studies, as well as professional writers (artistic renderings). She also developed a 25-question survey to include the voices of everyday seniors on a variety of topics—health, losses, housing, money, etc.—to hear how their stories may capture some of the same thinking and issues presented in the cultural texts and where there might be divergences. 

The online survey is available at: https://uwex.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1B9JFcdpr2zS5oN and Lem welcomes additional participation by anyone over age 65.

The survey results as well as interviews will supplement the other sources with the idea to “learn not just from books and film but also from individuals who have direct experience that augments the creative and scholarly sources.”  For example, Lem points out that in the chapter relating to work, her surveys reveal “a split on whether retirement is a fulfilling and enjoyable “freedom” from the daily grind or a meaningless time of increasing invisibility.” According to Lem, “both themes are present in a series of films that will be analyzed, like The Intern with Robert DeNiro, along with the reality brought up from the surveys and in other sources about the fear of running out of money.  By bringing in the responses of regular people (not just professional writers, artists, or theorists), my research will not just be an abstract intellectualization of the topic, but instead, carry more authenticity and veracity by bringing so many different voices ‘to the table’.”  

This lecture sponsored by UWM at Waukesha Lecture & Fine Arts Series.


Sue Bausch, Regional Director of Communications