A chronicle in which age plays a central role

For about 15 years, Paula Span has devoted much of her journalism career to covering a single subject: aging and the challenges that come with it.

Ms. Span writes The New Old Age, a bimonthly column for the Health section of The New York Times on issues affecting older Americans. Among the topics she has recently explored are the costs of aging, the rise of robotic animals as companions, and the dangers of misinformation on social media.

Ms. Span took over the column in 2009, when it was just a blog. Before the Times, she wrote for the Washington Post’s bureau and Style magazine, where in 2002 she published a story about residents of an assisted living facility in Bethesda, Maryland.

“Back then, people didn’t know much about assisted living,” Ms. Span said. “It made me want to spend time with older people and write about these issues. » Four years later, she began writing her first book, “When the Time Comes,” about the struggles of families whose parents are aging.

In a telephone interview from her home in Brooklyn, Ms. Span, 74, explained how the column’s audience has changed over the years and why she reads all of her readers’ comments on her articles. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What makes a good column for you?

Something that is a national trend or development rooted in facts, science and research and that affects people. There is no shortage of such topics when talking about a group as large as older Americans. There are approximately 60 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. It’s a very heterogeneous group. There are many things that concern this group, such as living conditions; Medicare and other insurance and policy issues; health; end-of-life connections. It’s a large canvas, which makes it nice and always interesting. When I started this column, I thought I would run out of material in a few years. Of course, 15 years later, there is still so much to say.

Where do you find ideas?

I subscribe to many medical journals, so I’m constantly looking for what researchers are discovering about older adults and health, as well as overdiagnosis and overtreatment. A number of advocacy groups interested in Medicare, housing, nutrition and other issues contact me. Anyone talking about growing old within 20 feet of me, I’m all over it. Readers also write to me in the comments section.

Who do you consider your audience for this column?

This has changed a bit over time. When The New Old Age was initially conceived as a column about aging and caregiving, we believed the audience was adult children who cared for their parents and older relatives and helped them make decisions. Over time, we realized that many of our readers were seniors themselves. We wrote about them as if they weren’t there. It probably helped that I was getting older with the spine, so I became an older adult.

So now we view our audience as…

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