Last month we published two challenging articles on aging; our resistance to it, and the realities of life for some of our more vulnerable elders who live alone.
I am convinced we can do better. As a society, though we’ve barely noticed it, we have evolved with the goal of being as efficient as possible, enabling us to squeeze the absolute maximum out of our lives. Somewhere along the way, our humanity has taken a back seat and efficiency has taken the wheel.
Remember the Waltons? The 70’s TV show which painted a beautiful picture of a loving rural family, complete with elderly grandparents all living under the one roof. At some point that picture gave way to homes with nuclear families – as each child married they would leave the nest to set up their own home. Eventually the parents would be left alone until they could no longer manage daily life without help.
Rest-homes became the new service for families to take burden of everyday elder care from their busy shoulders. It seemed like a logical solution. And very efficient.
But the hidden cost of this was the role in society for these people who were transitioning between ‘usefulness’ and death. By institutionalising our elders, we failed to notice that a) there was now a massive gap in society and b) these people had no function to fill. I could also add c) we stopped feeling the burden of care.
Cause without effect doesn’t exist. The knock-on here is how society has developed - in a way, similar to a person who becomes accustomed to losing a limb, we learn to compensate until it is our new ‘norm.’ For the rest of the body, the limb becomes a distant memory. But for the limb, with no purpose it begins to wither and die.
In this analogy, society is the ‘body,’ our seniors are the severed ‘limb.’ Effectively seniors have lost their function in society, and society bumbles on without the benefit of their wisdom – wisdom that only comes through time.
What have we done?