Aging is not a dirty word to Monteen Lucas.
She's spent a lifetime studying how people grow old, and it's her passion to transform that inevitable process into one of risk-taking and discovery, not stagnation.
If there's anything the 70-something Lucas dislikes, it's the way aging is viewed in American culture when it's acknowledged at all.
"We have a lot of stereotypes about aging. We also have the misunderstanding that we're getting over these myths. We're not," says Lucas, a Lawrence resident. "One tends to believe that as we age, we slow down, we shut down, and we pull back. But healthy aging is staying fully and dynamically alive throughout one's life."
To try to overcome these stereotypes and improve the lives of our elders Lucas has written a book, "Aging as a Shared Journey: A Guide for Healthy Aging" ($22.95, Health Positive! Publishing).
"Our culture says: to be old is to be ill and disposable. We live in a discard age. We throw things away. We discard old people in this country the same way. People need to wake up and understand we don't need to have things this way," Lucas says.
Lucas is an expert in psychogeriatric nursing, a specialty devoted to the mental health of elders. She has spent 25 years in advanced practice as a clinical nurse specialist and a psychotherapist.
In 1975, Lucas received her dual master's degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing and in community health nursing from Texas Women's University. She earned her doctorate in health education and administration in 1987 from Texas A&M University.
In her long career as an educator and clinician, Lucas has practiced in university settings, homes, hospital and clinics, as well as doing individual, group and family therapy in private practice.
She moved to Lawrence in 1998 so she could be near her daughter and seven grandchildren. Since her move, Lucas has opened EDUPLACE Wellness for the Elderly, a consulting and education business she operated in Houston in the 1980s.
Lucas has worked with elders and their families in community groups in Houston and New Haven, Conn., and in private therapy. She pioneered mental health services for the elderly in the 1970s and directed a geriatric mental health center.
Her master's thesis was based on her research at the center, where she studied behavioral interventions to improve the mental health of elders. Her findings demonstrated elders' ability to change in positive ways when they developed healthy relationships and received support through life's transitions.
Lucas has continued to build on those early findings as she developed the guide for healthy aging that her book is based upon.
Her work with mental health professionals includes workshops to teach the use of her model for healthy aging as a clinical intervention.
Lucas started writing "Aging as a Shared Journey" in 1996 and completed it three years later. Lucas self-published the book in March 2000.
"This book is about learning to recognize the need for change at any age. The journey can be a continuation of our growth and development," Lucas says.
Everybody is aging all the time even the young. We have no choice in the matter. But we do have a choice in how we age, Lucas says.
She encourages a model of aging that relies heavily upon forming intergenerational bonds; staying active in the community; exercising the mind and body; and developing one's spiritual self.
"Aging well means keeping ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually stimulated throughout our lives. Healthy aging involves embracing the age that we are not denying it and staying involved at the age that we are," Lucas says.
In 1998, she helped create a pastoral care team at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt., to serve parish elders.
"I developed a 12-hour course to prepare people to serve on the team, which goes out and visits homebound elderly people and encourages them to talk about their lives and needs," Lucas says. "It's been very well received. Elders say things like, 'I feel like I have a family now.' They feel less lonely and isolated."
Lucas sees herself as a "maverick," a woman who's challenged stereotypes all her life.
She says, "I believe in being actively involved in living until death."