Aging: The West’s New Pariah

Portrait of old woman sitting by a window.

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The other day I was speaking with a very successful 50-something realtor and I asked her what she thought about aging.  Her response: “The topic depresses me.”  Hmm.  That sounded like a very familiar answer.  “Yes,” I replied, “The way our country has dealt with the aging issue has been rather depressing.  But you and I are at an age when we can still effect change and can re-create a paradigm that has only been in place for approximately 50 years.”

Prior to World War II, the elderly remained at home, surrounded by their families, participating in the day-to-day activities.  After World War II, our nation focused on mobility and youth as the image it wanted to project.  Not a lot of room for the elderly within that picture.

So what did we do?  We created a band-aid fix: the retirement/nursing home.  It certainly is one way to deal with all the ‘old’ people “left behind” in our fast-paced ever forward looking society where “New!”, “New!”, “New!” gets shouted out every time one turns around.  But as any of us who has interacted with these homes knows, the isolation and humiliation that can be caused by being in a space that is not your own and being taken care of by strangers is, well, depressing.

This is not to say that individuals do not make friends in these homes or become very close to their caregivers.  As with everything, there are many scenarios that can occur within one picture.  However,  one has to wonder at a system in which those employees who interact most intimately with the resident by helping them get dressed, showered, toileted, and fed are also the lowest paid in the hierarchy.

One outcome of our society’s focus on mobility and youth is that many of us have gone into denial about our aging process.  Baby boomers and older are spending a lot of time trying to look and be younger whether through plastic surgery or keeping fit.  I don’t think it is bad to remain youthful and strive to remain active in our day-to-day life.  What I have an issue with is the co-opting of the image of youth as the only game out there.

Another outcome is that the health industry has started to focus on the aging population and is doing everything to keep the aging process at bay to the extent of now referring to aging as a disease -“Is Aging a Disease?”

Aging a disease?  I always thought that aging was part of the cycle of life, a cycle we see reflected in everything around us.  The tree blossoms in Spring, leafs out in Summer, starts to loose leaves in Fall, and stands starkly against the Winter landscape.  Each period has its own special beauty and we don’t usually associate this normal process with disease.  Wow!  Ultimately, I believe that our buying into the idea that aging is a disease will allow a whole new branch of the pharmaceutical industry to — do I dare say –blossom, but I don’t know that this will keep the “bogey man aging” out of our lives.  It will just push it back by a number of years and I think the jury is still out on whether this is a good or bad thing [see: Aging: The New Financial Industry]

Nope, folks, aging is part of the process of life and the sooner we acknowledge this, the more empowered we will be to create an older age to our liking.  Does this sound like a negative statement?  If it does, know that this is how much you have been “brainwashed” into looking at old age as an anomaly rather than a normal part of the cycle of life.

In all aspects of our society, there is a reverence to youth from advertising to the image that the e-world projects, to the products that are sold, even to the way we parent.  But by allowing advertisers, for example, to tell us what we want, how we want it, and when we want it, we do a disservice to ourselves and those who are still oblivious to the aging process.

Here is another article that speaks to this “Aging Successfully

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