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Discussion group led to trail-blazing book

Wise Choices Beyond Midlife, Women Mapping the Journey Ahead, by Lucy Scott, Ph.D., with Kerstin Joslyn Schremp, Ph.D., Betty Soldz, BSW, and Barbara Weiss, MSW. (Papier Mache, $13.95.)

On the telephone, Lucy Scott said, "Women have strong opinions about what is true about them and what is not true. They don't need to be swept along to fit the way other people think they should live their lives."

"We first came together," write the authors, "as a group of eight women over 60 to talk about making our way through aging. Our intention was to meet six times, discuss Betty Friedan's book The Fountain of Age, and then go our separate ways."

They found, however, that some of the women did not like what Friedan was saying about elder women. They explored further and continued to meet. What was meant to be a discussion group took on a life of its own, stretched into two years and became a new book.

Four of the women collaborated and wrote Wise Choices. They are professionals in gerontology, psychology, education and sociology.

Despite the fact that the generic label for "the elderly" spans 30-plus years of life, women over 60 are often described as if one size fits all. In fact, we become less like each other as we age.

Women have always been good at change. "We have mothered hippies," write the authors, "baby boomers, Yuppies and stepchildren; divorced and married; returned to school; entered and re-entered the work force; retired and become widows and grandmothers. Now, old age appears to be yet another life stage demanding that we regroup once again for the life we have left to live."

"In 1900, when my mother was born," writes one of the authors, "life expectancy for women was 48 years. Women barely lived long enough to see their children leave home."

Now, 24-million are older than 60 and greatly outnumber men in this age group. More than 9-million older Americans live alone and 78 percent are women.

Wise Choices offers guidelines for taking care of ourselves. It includes practical ideas, resources and suggestions for seven vital questions.

What can I do to prevent or manage health problems?

How can I support myself with an adequate income?

What are my choices about where I live?

How can I spend my time in a meaningful way?

How can I manage caretaking for those I care about?

How can I get care for myself if I need it?

How can I prepare for dying and death?

A well-written chapter on retirement emphasizes searching for ways to enrich, fulfill and create satisfaction in the last decades of life.

The chapter on health discusses briefly and simply the diseases of aging such as osteoporosis, depression, arthritis, cancer, smoking. (Only 5 percent of those between 65 and 85 suffer from Alzheimer's disease. We all fear nursing homes, but 50 percent of those over 85 live independently.)

Caregiving is examined with guides on legal problems, making decisions on facilities, interviewing home health workers.

Housing concerns include living alone (most older people do), how to interview retirement and nursing homes for a spouse, reverse mortgages, shared housing and so on. There are sample forms to help in coming to decisions.

The chapter on money also offers forms to help evaluate your position.

This book is a road map into new territory with sensible, step-by-step information. There is a valuable resource list and the bibliography is extensive.

_ You can write to Niela Eliason c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.