The Invisible Generation
The generation past is being unutilized, unappreciated, and forgotten by those who could benefit the most.
We live in a throwaway society where we get rid of things we have no use for anymore. We constantly are upgrading, and demanding new things in our lives. But however, could some of these things, or even people in our lives be of value to us, even while we ‘throw them away’?
In today’s society there is a common trend of neglecting our elderly. We have a total of 1.3 million elderly Americans living in nursing homes.
Below is a chart showing the increase in the elderly population.
While 35% of residents in nursing homes are depressed, it’s not a shock that these people are hardly ever visited by their families.
The fact of the matter is, is that although it is considerate to visit grandparents or older relatives once a year, we should really be setting aside more time for them. Jared Diamond, an Anthropologist who has studied the different cultures around the world and their treatment of elderly says that the elderly in the U.S. have, “lonely lives separated from their children and lifelong friends.” This presents an astounding difference to the treatment of elderly in other parts of the world. For example, in China they have passed a new “Elderly Rights Law” which mandates adult children to visit their parents, and to never neglect them. Consequences to not abiding by this law result in large fees or even jail time. The stark differences between these two countries concerning the treatment of elderly show the values and principles that the general population holds as well. You can find more about how the elderly is treated in different cultures here.
One of the reasons the elderly are so valuable, is the stories they have, and the lessons they can teach us. One woman who lives in the Lyngblomsten nursing home mentions her exciting past, when she used to entertain dignitaries. She tells incredible stories that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise if I had not taken the time to have a conversation with her. Our elders have a far different outlook on life than younger people nowadays because they’ve have the longer life experience. For the youth especially, it is beneficial to understand a time with minimal or no technology. When all people had for entertainment in their homes was the radio. When people would go out to see people perform, instead of watching them on tv, or online. The way they lived their lives was so simple compared to today. They would spend time connecting with people face to face which is a scarcity in today’s age of technology driven communication. Spending time with someone who lived in a time like that could change your perspective on how we live our lives now. They can bring you reassurance that things can be gotten through, and could even help you appreciate simple moments once again.
Another reason to spend more time with the elderly is that they could benefit immensely. Allison O’brien, a volunteer coordinator at Lyngblomsten says that “any visitors or volunteers are always appreciated”, and that, “learning about life from those who have lived a long life is an invaluable gift. You’ll hear living history every day, if you take the time to listen.” The amount of knowledge you can absorb in one conversation is extrordinary and can have a very powerful effect on you and can be very benefical to the elderly person who appreciates the time your taking to listen to them.
The obsession with all things new goes farther than material items. We are tossing out people who could be valuable in our lives, and who still serve a purpose. Many didn’t ask to be put into homes — because for many it is seen as a place they will fade out of other people’s lives and where they will soon be forgotten and left to die — , and for some it can be a very lonely time without any visitors.
Some critics argue that nursing homes take good care of the residents, and that many people are fine on their own, and do not need visitors. They may also argue that it can be difficult for people with busy schedules to go out of their way to visit their older relatives on a regular basis. Of course many nursing homes do a fine job in taking care of their residents, and although some may not need visitors, as I stated previously, it can be beneficial to the person visiting as well. It can also help strengthen family ties, and let you reconnect with your relatives. And there are an infinite amount of excuses as to avoid paying a visit and to spend time with the forgotten family members in nursing homes, it could end up surprising you how much fun it is to catch up with people from your past. Also, although some people might have put themselves into nursing homes, it doesn’t mean that they do not feel lonely, they might even feel like they are doing their family members a favor by putting themselves in a home to get out of people’s way. The least you can do is pay them a visit and show them that they do matter, and that someone out there still cares for them.
One example of the elderly population that has been successfully utilized in a community has been at “Bridge Meadows”. Bridge Meadows is a housing development located in Oregon that offers elderly an opportunity to receive reduced rent in turn for volunteering 10 hours a week in spending time and helping out with foster families. These adopted children receive homework help, play games, and even get rides to school from the elders in this community. Derenda Schubert, the Executive Director of Bridge Meadows says “there’s reciprocity among the generations, so the elders are providing love and support to the families, and the families are doing the same, and even the children are giving back to the elders”. The important thing to recognize here is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the foster families and the elders in this community, they both benefit from each other and that is why it works so well. There is even an Intergenerational Community room where everyone gathers once a week to play games, visit, and catch up with one another. An equally important aspect to Bridge Meadows is that the children get to spend time with an older generation who can teach them unique things, and can offer a beneficial service. Since 50% of the elderly population in America is below the poverty line, this is a fantastic way for them to be useful once again in society and to serve a purpose. It can be advantageous to many parties involved to find more ways that the elderly can contribute to society, even after retirement because in the United States if you are not contributing to society you can easily be forgotten which is happening to much of the elderly population. You can hear more about this story here.
All people in our lives — young or old — should be treated with care, and not be put somewhere if they will only be forgotten. We must begin to look past ourselves, and realize that many people are feeling neglected, and unloved. Some of the greatest stories you can be told are from your older relatives and from learning about their lives. It increases your awareness of past generations, expands your knowledge of American culture (or other cultures), and gives you another person in your life who will always be grateful for the time that you spend with them, which in turn makes you a more gracious person as well.
The Happiest States in the United States:
The Concentration of the Lowest Rated Nursing Homes Per State:
“How the Elderly Are Treated around the World.” How the Elderly Are Treated around the World. 23 July 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
“Foster Families Find and Share Support with Elders at Oregon Housing Community.” PBS. PBS. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
“Transcript of “How Societies Can Grow Old Better”” Jared Diamond: How Societies Can Grow Old Better. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.