Culture

Where's my Village? The Growing Concern about Elder Care

From The Atlantic on how the elderly want to continue to stay in their homes as they age:

But shifting seniors to aging at home is going to require a much bigger commitment on the part of everyday Americans—like the Domino’s woman—to pitch in and help their aging neighbors thrive. It’s going to require neighbors to check in on one another all the time; it’s going to require college students to provide care to the aged and infirm; it’s going to require that everyone thinks more about the elderly people around them, and volunteer to take them grocery shopping or shuttle them to a doctor’s appointment. (Yes, including you.)

“Are there strategies that could be used in order for people to stay in their communities for as long as they can and not break the bank? The answer is yes,” said Lawrence Force, the director of the Center on Aging and Policy at Mount Saint Mary College and a proponent of this strategy, told me. “The only thing you have to change is the attitudinal perspective of what kind of supports are out there naturally already.”

The “attitudinal perspective” that needs to change isn’t about support, but about domesticity.

Once upon a time we did have multi-generational households and a strong sense of community. And I admit, then we also had a smaller proportion of the long-lived infirm as elderly medicine prior to World War II was more palliative than pro-active. But while I often see laments about the loss of the family and community village, modern life counsels against actually participating ourselves. Elderly care, like childrearing and homemaking, is domestic drudgery, work beneath anyone with an education. In fact, society often encourages universal higher education so that people don’t have to engage in domestic drudgery. Worse, elder care is domestic drudgery that doesn’t even have the sugar coating of cute kids or Pinterest perfect home decor. But as we eventually learn, we cannot put off the care of our elders indefinitely.

To some the “obvious” solution is to seek government support. Personally, I’m not a fan of the idea of seeking government money so that we can pretend the situation is all in hand. The elderly still end up in group care, only with the false comfort that the powers-that-be are taking care, allowing we, the young to go on about our merry lives. Care of elderly relatives requires advance planning and the willingness to think beyond any given moment, for both aging Boomers and their children.

But as a culture we focus on what works best for us right now. The Boomers did it and many flatly refuse to consider their changing needs. They taught Gen X to do it and we are too busy with our lives to take time out to care for the infirm. Eventually, Time has his way with our moment to moment decisions.

Hopefully The Atlantic‘s “Living and Dying at Home” article will inspire some community thought. At every stage of life we need the Burkean villages, not the Clintonian imposters.