Bernie Sadowski at the Ballard Senior Center. He credits the senior center for giving him direction after the death of his wife of 50 years.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

When Bernie Sadowski first came to the Ballard Senior Center in 2009, he didn’t care about life. His wife of 50 years had died.

For the ongoing series The Changing Lives of Women, Morning Edition is exploring aging. We asked 85-year-old novelist Anne Bernays to reflect on the role of a woman's appearance as she grows older.

Along about the time I became a great-grandmother I dyed my white hair blue. Not a wussy "blue-rinse" blue, but eye-stabbing, punk-kid blue. At the time, I didn't do any soul-searching. I just thought, What the hell, why not?

A doctor takes a blood sample from an older patient.
Flickr Photo/World Bank Photo Collection (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/

American seniors are growing in numbers. But the number of geriatricians, doctors who specialize in treating older patients, is actually shrinking.

And there aren’t enough in the pipeline to meet the growing need.

Elderly couple walking
Flickr Photo/Abdulsalam Haykal (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re an older person, a fall can be devastating. One in every three older adults falls each year, and the risk of falling increases with each decade.

The default in Washington state is to be rescusitated. Residents must fill out this bright green end-of-life care form (known as a POLST) to forgo being revived.
Washington State Department of Health

If you’ve talked with your family about end-of-life wishes – that’s the first step. You’ll also need paperwork to make your wishes clear.

There are different names for the documents you’ll need — living wills, advance directivesFive Wishes. They all serve the same purpose; they spell out what kind of medical treatment you’ll want if you become seriously ill, and how aggressive you want the treatment to be.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds speaks with Page Ulrey, senior deputy prosecuting attorney with King County's Office of Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse, about House Bill 1499, which seeks to increase prosecutorial power in cases of elder abuse in Washington.

Edna Daigre, center, teaches a class for older dancers in Seattle's Central Area.
KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

Doris Tunney doesn’t even pretend to be offended when you ask how old she is.

“I’m 86,” she says proudly. “I’ll be 87 on March 26.”

Tunney is petite, with cinnamon brown skin, short, curly white hair and perfect posture. Dressed in denim capris and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, this octogenarian is ready to dance.

In Silicon Valley's youth-obsessed culture, 40-year-olds get plastic surgery to fit in. But IDEO, the firm that famously developed the first mouse for Apple, has a 90-year-old designer on staff.

Barbara Beskind says her age is an advantage.

In a little more than a decade, one in five Americans will turn 65 or older.

A study out of Harvard University found that there isn’t enough housing to meet the needs of these aging boomers.

The issue is especially problematic for gay and lesbian seniors who report facing discrimination when seeking housing. But there are a growing numbers of cities that have created affordable housing specifically for gay and lesbian seniors.

Poet Heather McHugh.
Courtesy of the University of Washington

Ross Reynolds speaks with Seattle poet Heather McHugh, who is the author of eight volumes of poetry and numerous works of translation. She won a  MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius award, in 2009. Since her retirement as a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington this year, she has been working full time on a non-profit organization called Caregifted, which provides relief for family caregivers of  severely disabled people.

When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go.

The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.

"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.

Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care.

Mahadevan Iyer and a friend sit outside his apartment at a senior living community near Chennai, India.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

BANGALORE, INDIA – Three generations live under the same roof in this bustling home: two rambunctious kids, their weary parents and an 80-year-old grandfather.

The grandfather, Raj Krishnamurthy, is an eager host, and keeps offering me Indian snacks as we talk on the couch. He serves up a homemade yogurt drink specially made today for a Hindu holiday. Then he leans closer, as if to tell a secret.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds has a wide-ranging discussion of end-of-life issues with Atul Gawande, author of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End."  

Gawande discusses  several issues such as how medical science views death as a failure, and does not always examine how medical treatments affect people at the end; innovations in assisted living and hospice to not only improve the quality of life, but also allow people to live longer; and how health care professionals are trying to become better at end of life care.

Matthew Thomas' book "We Are Not Ourselves."

Marcie Sillman talks to author Matthew Thomas about his first novel "We Are Not Ourselves."

KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

There’s a lot of emphasis on healthy aging, as more baby boomers hit 65. But what about those seniors who don’t ski and skydive for fun?