Sara K. Eisen

It’s time to talk about aging while Western

Well! This might be a good time to revisit something no one ever wants to talk about: our relationship to the elderly in Western society.

Our widespread denial about aging is many problems deep, and, since COVID, has been on course to literally set the world on fire.

As far as I can tell:

  • No one ever thinks they, themselves, will become the dysfunctional type of elderly, and do not organize their life decisions around that possibility; everyone is immortal and irreplaceable in his or her own mind. (Read Dr. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal if you haven’t.) Few people make end of life wishes known, or have real discussions with their kids about dignity vs. longevity. Instead, they say silly things like: I’ll keep going till I drop. Do they not realize that when they “drop,” if no other instructions have been given, is when a new, dark chapter begins for them?
  • Most younger people smugly write off the opinions of the elderly and think they are wildly out of touch – except the ones they KEEP VOTING IN TO RUN THE WORLD (!) I don’t know how to explain this.
  • Many or most people prefer not to actually see their elderly relatives regularly, and hand them off to homes – or… to KEY PROFESSIONAL AND POLITICAL POSITIONS, from which they will not step down (!) We both write them off, and expect too much of them — cannot see them for who they are, but only who we want them to be. Almost as if we were…teenagers!
  • Pharma, nursing home, and medical industries perpetuate all of this dysfunction for obvious reasons.  

I would humbly submit that if we, as a society, would actually more closely watch and care for aging relatives we would:

1 – Get our own stuff in order in time; There is nothing like seeing this decline up close and personal to get yourself in gear on this. 

2 – Give our relatives the care they deserve;

3 – Understand (and give ourselves time to discuss and consult on) the issues involved with quality of life vs its length regarding our own decisions, and some larger, difficult policy decisions (see Ezekiel Emmanuel for some contrarian ideas on this, which, even if you disagree, get to an important truth…): 

4 – Even bright, healthy, energetic people, once they pass 80, will face real limits doing everything they once did, and taking on very demanding schedules and tasks. (You can only truly internalize this if you watch it “live,” which, as noted, most people choose not to do, except, I guess…last night’s debate!)

Everyone declines. Trying to forestall the process is noble…but denying it or prolonging it at all costs becomes cruel on multiple levels. 

Because we generally cast our elderly aside and do not observe them day-to-day, and because many industries pump us full of messages both loathing age and also denying it even matters (same as many of these industries have done with gender…), we live in an unkind, pretend, virtue-signaling, dysfunctional world.

I suggest — for so many reasons — that we stop pretending.

About the Author
Sara K. Eisen is a veteran journalist; creative / marketing / brand director; content consultant; and communications strategist. Also a mother, community activist, and mentor.
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