Geri-Antics: Respect your elders

By Anne Carmichael

Journal columnist

How you’re treated by your children and the younger generation in your golden years may depend largely on the part of the world in which you live.

Sadly, our Western civilization often tends to find the elderly to be a burden to society and to their family. We become a source of ridicule in large part because our bodies have betrayed us.

At some point in time, regardless that we have remained active, exercised, eaten healthy foods, maintained a healthy weight, didn’t smoke or abuse our bodies with alcohol or drugs, we will inevitably begin to slow down both physically and mentally.

We take a little longer to rise from bed in the morning and it becomes increasingly more difficult to stand after bending or sitting on the floor.

While forgetfulness is something that plagues even the young at times, such incidents become more frequent as we age.

Reflexes and mental acuity also decline, making driving skills less than optimum and reaction time slower. This not only annoys other drivers, but can put an elderly driver, his/her passengers and those with whom he/she shares the road in danger. Poor vision may also be a factor, particularly after dark.

Despite our best efforts to slow the progression of physical and mental aging, perhaps the greatest obstacle in navigating the remainder of our lives is dealing with the perception of seniors as less than valuable and revered members of society by those around us, particularly when those who belittle and cast us aside are those we love and have spent our lives raising: our own children and grandchildren.

In the U.S., many times the elderly are determined to no longer be able to care for themselves when they cannot complete certain daily living activities, such as housekeeping, lawn care, cooking and personal hygiene, when all that is required to meet those needs would be for a more able-bodied person to drop in once or twice a week and help clean the house, cook a meal or ensure meds are properly dispensed.

Conversely, the benefits of taking a grandparent or great-grandparent into one’s home whether on a permanent basis or just for a visit can be immeasurable. Something as simple as reading a bedtime story to a beloved grandchild or rocking them to sleep will leave memories that will linger throughout that child’s lifetime. Sharing stories from the past can teach a child important life lessons that are not to be found in any history book.

With most young couples working full-time, it is not always possible to care for an aging parent or grandparent, so the only option is to place them in an assisted living or nursing home situation. While that option is regrettable, it is definitely understandable.

It is, however, unconscionable to place the elderly in such a dependent situation away from their home and the people they love and then forget about them.

In many other cultures, the elderly are venerated and respected.

In Korea, for example, the 60th and 70th birthdays are celebrated as major milestones and lofty accomplishments..

In China, elders are revered. Many homes are multi-generational with the younger family members caring for the older generation throughout their lives. To place an aging loved one in the care of someone other than a family member is an action which is looked upon with shame. Only in the cases where skilled care is absolutely necessary are the elderly placed in a hospital or nursing facility. Even then, their wisdom and life experience are much sought after. China even has gone so far as to enact the Elderly Rights Law, which mandates that children visit their parents frequently.

In Greek, the phrase ‘Old Man’ is one of honor — not a derogatory term.

Native Americans look to their elders as a source of knowledge and heritage to be passed from one generation to the next.

In India, the eldest is always the head of the household and to treat them badly or send them away is believed to bring bad karma to all future generations. In the past, newlyweds in Nepal always lived with the groom’s family.

But while Westerners may not always show the older generation the respect that we would prefer, there are also cultures that have practiced Senicide or the killing of the elderly.

In centuries past in rural Japan, when a parent reached the age of 70, the sons carried them to the highest point of a peak called Obasute-yama (Granny Dump Mountain) and left them to die of exposure or starvation.

Bactrians of Northern Afghanistan threw the old and infirmed to dogs that had been trained to eat them and skeletal remains littered the streets..

In North Africa, when Troglodyte elders were no longer able to tend their flocks, they asphyxiated themselves. While it is now widely disputed, there is a myth that the Inuit tribe of Eskimos in rural Alaska once put their elderly out on ice floes and pushed them out to sea.

The fact is, although it could be far worse (as cited above), ageism remains prevalent in our country. Proof of such accusations is validated by the number of seniors over the age of 70 in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Statistics show that 90% of all marketing dollars are pointed towards a target group under the age of 50.

Insurance rates for those who need it most are often out of reach for those living solely on Social Security income. Those who have worked the longest are the poorest segment of our population.

Those of us over the age of 70 are most at risk of contracting and succumbing to COVID during this pandemic; yet it is not death which is our greatest fear, but rather the isolation we’re forced to endure to try to remain well

Even though family and friends may be kept at a distance in an effort to protect us, we desperately need to know that they still care.

A text, an email, a card, a phone call or a video call (even if only to say ‘Are you OK?’) takes only minutes out of your busy day, but such a simple act can make a world of difference to the mental health of someone who lives alone.

Put on your mask and leave a basket of canned goods, some personal care items (shampoos, bath soaps, hand cream, etc), or a flower or cuttings from your herb garden. Any of these ‘care baskets’ left on a doorstep will brighten someone’s day beyond imagination.

There are so many ways to say ‘I care about you.’

A random act of kindness is defined as doing something nice for someone without expecting anything in return. Random acts of kindness are appreciated by the elderly. More than you may ever know.