Aging and Death in Literature and Film

Deborah T. Gold
LS 780-89
Summer 2016
Mondays, 6:00-9:00 PM

The purpose of this course is to examine the biopsychosocial perspectives of old age and how they influence the dying process.  Although we will examine real-life data on these topics, the focus of the course is to see how biopsychosocial phenomena are represented in fiction, with emphasis on their presence in novels and popular film.  The course is divided into several subsections.  These will include “Theories of Aging and Death,” “Gender in Aging and Death,” “Physical and Cognitive Decline in Aging” and “Extending Life by Preventing Death.”

We will document real-life issues of aging and death through an examination of the age structures of developed and developing nations, focusing on the meaning of an aging population for the future of the U.S.  As most deaths in the US occur in older people, it is important to link these two phenomena on both a theoretical and pragmatic bases.  Keeping the themes of aging and death as constants over the semester, we will examine issues of retirement, relationships and love in late life and among the dying, off-time death, and modern medical intervention with dying patients. We will also discuss institutional differences (i.e., between nursing homes for aging and hospice for dying) and what twenty-first century America must do to prepare for the soon-to-be old and dying baby boomers.  Students will each write a final research paper on a topic discussed during the class.

About Deborah T. Gold
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Sociology, Psychology & Neuroscience

Deborah T. Gold is Professor of Medical Sociology in the Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, where she is also a Senior Fellow of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Professor Gold received her B.A. in English and Latin from the University of Illinois, her M.Ed. in Reading from National Louis University, and her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Her primary research interests are in the psychological and social consequences of chronic disease in the elderly.  She has done seminal research on osteoporosis and its impact on quality of life.  She has also studied the psychosocial impact of breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, syncope, head and neck cancer, Paget’s disease of bone, and dementia in older adults. Her current research examines compliance and persistence with medications for older adults with chronic illnesses.