Tuesday, July 31, 2012

De-segregate the elderly

I attended a symposium on aging at the new Biotech center in WS several months ago.  The panel consisted of geriatricians, researchers and PhD's.  Experts in the field of gerontology.  A gentleman near the front posed the question, "I recently retired and am wondering if there are resources out there for activities that would interest me."  The response was, "Well, there's silver sneakers at the Y, and if you contact your local senior center I am sure they can direct you."
Step number one to segregation of the elderly and relegating seniors to "their rightful place."

The last TV show I remember that gave the elderly purpose and integration was The Walton's.  Although these days it is almost impossible to care for one's parents in one's own home, and I realize it is not 1930's America, the point is, Grandma and Grandpa Walton had purpose and were a useful, welcome part of their community (in particular, within their own family).

In his book, "What Are Old People For," Dr. Thomas makes many valid arguments concerning the ruling Adult population of our current society; their fears, perceptions, and what they will do to maintain the status of "useful adult" so as not to slip into the nether-world of "old."  These arguments, although not new, are worth repeating time and again.  Human societies change like shifting sands, depending on it's current power or weakness, humility or arrogance.  The more powerful a group in society, the more zealous said class will be to maintain it's influence and status.  That is why to survive as a whole, integrated society, there must be an awareness of social justice and an under-current constantly fighting for the mistreated, abused, or neglected.  Otherwise, our arrogance will get the best of us.

I have always been fascinated by our development as humans, from the relatively quick evolutionary development of our brains 100,000-120,000 years ago along the East African Rift Valley, to the 85-100 year development from birth to death of an individual life.  I am glad Dr. Thomas touched on these areas.  It is helpful to understand where we have been as humans in order to understand where we are. As humans, one of the most important traits needed to thrive is a sense of purpose.  The author's point that the plague of loneliness, helplessness and boredom in nursing homes is an epidemic is also worth repeating.

During my time in clinicals in a nursing home, it was made clear that most residents suffered greatly from these three plagues.  A continued effort by those in the field of gerontology to find solutions is vital to our society as a whole.  Our communities can benefit significantly by integrating the elderly back into society (and I'm not talking about the practical jokes in Betty White's show "Off Their Rockers," although I love her and her humor).  Integration will build understanding between age groups, help to eliminate fear of growing old, promote mutual respect and provide continued purpose for the elderly.  Exploration of solutions, such as the Eden Alternative mentioned in this book, and community centers focused on the elderly sharing their time, wisdom and talents with all ages are continued necessities for the health of society.  I also believe the use of all media (social, TV, print, cyber) could be very important in changing perceptions of the elderly.  Look at what Modern Family did for same-sex couples and blended families.  There are no easy, quick answers, and that is one reason this field exists.


  1. Trish,

    It seems as if they do not understand that some people who are not 45 -50 yet are able to and are retiring early. If he did not ask his age, he couldn't be sure. Unless, he "looked" elderly to him, which also can be deceiving. This panel can benefit of taking some up to date Gerontology classes to learn the new language,interests, behaviors, etc. of the elderly community. Malinda P.

  2. WOW, I would have gotten up and walked out! Perhaps some sensitivity training. Talk to me abou this group okay.


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