The Elderly – America’s Forgotten Citizens

Although the genetic makeup of a human being has a significant impact on their expected longevity, a healthy environment, proper diet, consistent exercise, and regular participation in general activities can all prolong life.

According to the Penn State Research Department, a few decades ago people could expect to live about 12 years after retirement. In 2009, people can expect to live 25 years after their last day of work. Rapid advances in medical technology have also contributed to this rising figure. The baby boomer generation, who are now reaching or are already of retirement age, also practice a much healthier lifestyle than their predecessors raising their life expectancy to age 85 compared to 58 in the early 1900s.

America is a youth-driven culture. As age sets in, and if finances allow it, it is not unusual for people to get their age-telling imperfections stretched, sucked, snipped, nipped, tucked, and injected. Citizens who are old, and look old, are too often considered unattractive, non-productive members of society. Stuck in nursing homes or other care centers, many of the elderly feel unwanted, useless, and unneeded; they live and die alone. Not all cultures take this position. Even in America, one particular culture has a deep respect and caring attitude toward their elderly, Native Americans. It is the responsibility of younger tribe members to care for aging tribal members and they generally fulfill that need with a gracious attitude.

Asian countries have been known for centuries to respect and honor their elderly. Commitment to the family unit is a strong, enduring tradition. Hospital stays are short and the governments of these countries encourage family responsibility and care. However, those of Asian descent living in America are more likely to take on the attitudes of their American counterparts.

African tribal societies continue to view their elderly as wise; their life experiences and knowledge are much revered by younger tribal members. Many of the elders carry tribal stories and traditions in their memories to pass on to younger generations. Most members of third world countries care for their elderly as part of the active family unit until death. Many Caribbean Island cultures also have an unwritten rule in place; it is understood that families will take care of their own.

Most Western European countries have implemented universal healthcare for all their citizens. This alone can take a tremendous burden off family members. The Hastings Center Reports that the Czech Republic, Hungary, and other countries once under communist rule, have reported that up to 75% of their elderly live with family members, many however live in a state of poverty.

According to the Catholic News Service, South American countries, whose bulk of the population is primarily under 30 years of age, have a tendency to treat their elderly as a burden. Since a high percentage of Latin America’s elderly are poor and uneducated, with 60% receiving no monthly income or pension, they are easily forgotten.

Middle Eastern countries, with the majority of citizens practicing the Muslim faith, consider it an honor to care for their parents. They do not have nursing homes; the elderly are treated with respect.

What does a society do with all these old people? Have they all financially prepared to live up to 25 years with no income from active employment? How many people are counting on Social Security as a total means of support? Are there enough assisted living centers and nursing homes available to meet the population increase? These are all questions that Americans will soon be facing head on.

Many Americans did pre-plan for retirement, but lost part or all of their retirement investments in the economic crisis of 2009. Safe, secure financial planning is not an option any longer; a higher interest rate is not always worth the risk.

Unfortunately, many Americans have not planned financially for retirement and certainly not to live 25 years past retirement. The Social Security system is not prepared to deal with the influx of eligible applicants. Social Security and Medicare, although certainly not perfect, do provide some income and medical care, but with all countries facing a poor economy, national budgets will have to be cut somewhere. With care for the elderly already expensive, inadequate, lacking in quality, and with higher co-pays, many parents will need to live with family members in order to survive.

According to the National Senior Citizen Law Center, their committees are urging the Obama Administration to adopt an agenda that strengthens health and income programs for low-income seniors. They also advocate home and community care; many families can certainly take in an aging parent. As well, the availability of in-home care for the elderly needs expanding. Those who may only need a special treatment a few times a week can easily live at home with their family instead of being sentenced to live full-time in a rest home.

Abuse of the elderly is on the rise. According to the Gerontological Society of America, a new study concluded that nearly 13 percent of America’s aged citizens suffer some form of abuse. They also report that older adults who are physically impaired are particularly susceptible to mistreatment. Mistreatment in 57% of the cases reported was perpetrated by someone other than a member of the person’s immediate family, another compelling reason for parents to reside with children.

Should children feel responsible to take in an aging parent? Sometimes it is impossible to deal with a parent’s medical needs and a care center is the only option, but children can still visit regularly, monitor the care, be involved, and provide love and emotional support. In too many cases, family visits become more and more infrequent, out of sight, out of mind.

Some children do care for their elderly parents in America; statistics show that 50 million family homes include at least one parent of either the husband or wife. Most parents; however, do not want to live with their children; they want to be independent for as long as possible. Assisted living centers are an ideal situation as are retirement communities; however, this type of living situation is generally quite costly. If retirement funds are not plentiful, this may not be possible.

Welcoming an aging parent into the home presents a multitude of pros and cons. On the positive side, a child does not have to worry that the parent is being abused or not eating properly. Parents can also help pay expenses, which can help families through difficult economic times. There are also cons associated with moving a parent into a family home. The woman of the home will probably be the direct caregiver, which can be overwhelming while working and taking care of a family at the same time. In this case, all family members would have to pitch in and help.

As a nation, we must demand that seniors are not left out of the President’s plans to reform our government and renew our sense of responsibility as a people. As family members, we must remind ourselves daily of the sacrifices our parents have made so our lives could be better and, in return, be there for them.