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Frailty and Elders: Vaillant’s and Gillick’s Examples


Frailty is considered to be one of the most serious and problematic issues the elderly have to face one day. It is hard to overcome the consequences, and it is usually impossible to understand and get ready for frailty. This condition of vulnerability and inabilities to get control over the whole body or mind influence the life of an old person as well as all other people around (the beloved ones or just neighbors) and make-believe that frailty is usually inevitable, but its severity can be still measured. The current paper is based on the example of Catherine Endicott, described by Gillick, and the evaluation of the activities (network replacement, play re-discovery, creativity, and lifelong experience) offered by Vaillant by means of which it is possible to make retirement rewarding and provide the elderly with successful aging; its purpose is to explain how such factors like empathy, professionalism, and common sense may help families to deal with aging before the elderly can die. There are four main activities that can be offered to the families to provide their elders with a chance to enjoy their age and overcome the challenges based on frailty and disabilities.

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Social network replacement

According to Vaillant (2002), one of the first steps that should be taken is the replacement of social networks and the creation of “new relationships as fast as the old ones are lost” (p.224). Gillick’s example (2001) of Catherine’s life shows how it is necessary to choose the environment and make an elder person more alive (p.201). Catherine Endicott enjoyed a chance to be connected with people and be helpful, this is why her daughters make everything possible to change the network according to the needs of their mother. A newly extended group of friends with shared interests works quite well. In spite of the fact that she had such a great family, she still managed to make friends and gain some form of security. This very fact proves the Vaillant’s activity of replacing social networks. So, it is possible to take a YES position on this particular criterion regarding the experience of Catherine.

Play re-discovery

Vaillant (2002) identifies the necessity of play re-discovery as the second crucial issue of a happy retirement and says that “competitive play – social bridge, cribbage, shuffleboard – let one make new friends” (p. 222). In addition, the role of play remains to be crucial for those, who find aging as a boring and usual process. If a person knows how to play and enjoy the opportunities offered, he/she gets more chances to enjoy retirement and overcome the challenges of possible illness. In Gillick’s book (2001), Catherine does not have a chance to be engaged in any form of play (p.194). The reader can access only the information about her experience and life in the hospital. It is probably to take a NO position in regards to this criterion because Catherine does not demonstrate her abilities to play to achieve some change and happiness. Catherine is more interested in providing people in need with the required portion of help if she can.

Following our creativity

Grownups cannot enjoy their creativity with age because usually, they have to follow a routine schedule to take care of family, earn a living, and meet the demands of a society they live in. However, the time of retirement provides people with an opportunity to do what they want and under whatever conditions they want. Vaillant (2002) calls this step an ability to find a creative outlet and define it as one of the primary goals to be followed (p.222). In the case of Catherine, she demonstrates several situations, when she does what she wants but not what is demanded: she declines to have an open-heart surgery but agrees to several procedures that can decrease the level of pain (Gillick, 2001, p. 194). She uses her creativity and proves her ability to stay in an assisted living. She gets access to the desired treatment and a chance to choose the procedures taking into consideration the doctor’s pieces of advice. This is why, in regards to this retirement activity, it is possible to take a YES-type position because Catherine meets it in some way properly.

Lifelong learning importance

Vaillant (2002) explains that “retirees should continue lifelong learning” and get a chance to “combine the fruits of maturity with the recovery of childlike wonder” (p. 222). It is never too late to learn something new or, at least, improve the already got knowledge. Retirees have enough time for self-improvement; this is why the necessity of lifelong learning activity is evident indeed. For example, Catherine gets a chance to learn her daughters better when the period of ailment comes (Gillick, 2001, p.195). Her daughters stay with her all the time when it is allowed and battle the disease properly being a good kind of support to each other and their mother. They even come to an agreement on what should be done from a surgery point of view. This is why a definite YES position to this criterion is taken in regards to Catherine’s experience and her ability to learn till the end of her life.


In general, people need to have a number of correct and properly formulated images about aging and associated with its frailty and inabilities. Every challenge that comes along with aging has to be positively accepted as well as any kind of treatment or activity offered by a professional. It is not an easy task to live an independent life when a person is not young. Many factors define the quality of life and the elderly ability to survive. However, it is usually possible to make the life of a retiree happier and more comfortable. The activities defined by Vaillant prove that the presence of play, creativity, lifelong learning, and a new social network can become the most favorable for people, who suffer from frailty. The description of the life of Catherin Endicott, described by Gillick, is a powerful example of how the offered criteria can or cannot be met by a person and the rest of the people around. Though not all activities are inherent to Catherine’s life, her example shows how it is possible to be happier when a person is not as independent and strong as he/she wants to be. Frailty is not the reason for people to get depressed and miserable. The identification of frailty is just a point when a new kind of treatment should be offered, and this treatment may be based on the Vaillant’s activities defined in the paper.


Gillick, M (2001). Lifelines: Living longer, growing frail, taking heart. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Vaillant, G.E. (2002). Aging well: Surprising guideposts to a happier life from the landmark Harvard study of adult development. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.

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