Old age is not very interesting until you get there. It is said that it’s like living in a foreign country; that it’s a land we enter by passing through time rather than space. In this image, late life compels us to leave behind familiar roles, as well as our former bodies and capabilities. We take on a new, diminished identity as citizens of a place where we learn to do, and live with, less.
History shows that society’s way of dealing with the elderly or infirmed was to put them in asylums or other institutions away from the community. Today society deals with their elderly by housing them in beautiful rural settings or urban towers, offering them meals, exercise, entertainment and medications. And we are promised their needs are going to be met. But why the meds? Because the words “elderly” and “old age” seem to coincide with the words “mental” and “depressed.” And society’s way of handling this situation is through the use of drugs. Really, over time, all we’ve accomplished is creating better living conditions in more attractive settings.
We are still delivering a life of isolation to our elderly population. We are still removing them from the community they live in. Almost all of us shut ourselves away from this reality. In the face of life transitions, there is a need to preserve a sense of place and continuity. We need to keep our seniors involved in the community in which they live, not shut them away in a special institution. Wouldn’t it be great if we could deal with this problem with imagination and with kindness? And wouldn’t it be great if we could find solutions to this problem so we will be more prepared when the problem becomes part of our own lives?