Elizabeth Serkin is a lifelong seeker of learning and earned her PhD in feminist social gerontology at the age of 66. At the age of 68, she married "her last and best husband," who was 89. Her husband, now 91, goes to work every day. "He needs to be creative. He’s currently opening an art gallery," explains Dr. Serkin. Her own life is also filled with creative endeavors: she is writing a novel—a psychological thriller—and one of her favorite activities is leading storytelling circles for older people.
Dr. Serkin's degree complimented her background in addictions treatment. Her work focuses on substance abuse and gambling problems among older adults. She explains that women over 70 are becoming increasingly addicted to slot machines, often running through the family savings. "The gaming industry markets to women over the age of 70 because they are the fastest growing gambling age group. They lose more per visit, come more frequently, and they don't run up expensive comps [such as free meals and hotel rooms]," notes Dr. Serkin. She also expressed concern via anecdotal evidence that certain medications for Parkinson may initiate gambling behaviors.
In response she offers trainings and consultation to health and human services agencies and is helping existing addictions organizations to put in special tracks for older adults. Her recent efforts have been aimed at establishing treatment strategies specifically designed for seniors. "I realized that what was useful with younger people was not working with older people. There are practically no resources for older people."
Dr. Serkin recently returned from a National Council on Aging study tour observing care services for seniors in Cuba.
LS: What did you discover in Cuba?
Serkin: We got to experience a third world country with 100 percent health care and literacy and access to education. People who didn’t have much were still being creative, happy and caring. [The Cuban culture] is a collective of family and community where care for one another is everywhere. In Cuba, senior centers are called grandparents' houses. They offer the arts, large theatres and meditation areas. Really impressive!
LS: What was your most touching moment on tour?
Serkin: We were touring a care facility led by a doctor, when we passed an old woman sitting for her appointment. A tear was running down her cheek. The doctor walking us through the waiting area stopped and caressed her cheek before moving on. You see that kind of care everywhere.
Meet Dr. Serkin at the Aging in America Conference sponsored by the American Society on Aging in San Francisco! She will participate in the panel discussion Cuba's Senior Services: What We Learned in Havana on Friday, April 29, at 1:00 pm, and she will lead the workshop Spirituality and Older Adults: Guidelines, Challenges, and Opportunities on Friday, April 29, at 3:00 pm.
Written by: Laura Swett
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 08:45AM