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No World for Old People

Battle Hymn for Seniors

I recently returned from a trip to see my mom who is 95 years old and living in an assisted living facility. Dad passed away about 1 ½ years ago so an assisted living facility is the best place for my mom who can barely see or hear and has advanced dementia. During my visit I reflected on the treatment of seniors like my mom and the expectations of society for valuing those who came before us and provided opportunities for all of us to live a better life.

Some seniors are quite vigorous even into their late 80s and early 90s. Others, like my mom, deal with challenges that would make most of us not want to get out of bed in the morning. One problem is the way society treats seniors. Unlike many Asian countries that honor and respect seniors for their knowledge and years of influence, in the U.S. we all too often see them as a burden. In East Asian cultures steeped in a Confucian tradition that places a high value on filial piety, obedience and respect, it is considered utterly despicable not to take care of your elderly parents.

In his 1994 book, "Beyond Peace," Richard Nixon predicted that our nation’s biggest challenge would not be war with a foreign enemy, but rather an internal “war” over how to allocate money within our borders. With our national debt above $17 trillion, his prediction is being realized. Many current fiscal issues are actually decades old, but a newer economic and cultural war targeting seniors has been intensifying. The conflict will only worsen; demographers tell us that about 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day for nearly the next two decades!

This war is being waged on two fronts. First, a vicious cultural divide is festering among younger Americans toward seniors. A Facebook study from March 2013 monitored 84 different groups of 20-29 year olds, conducted by Cal Berkeley, Yale, Hunter College, and Hopkins School in New Haven. The report's findings are alarming: “Seniors are a burden to society;” “I hate everything about them;” “They don’t contribute to society;” “Anyone over 69 should immediately be put in front of a firing squad.” I thought, that could be me in two years.

Seniors already face a daunting challenge: savings remain stagnant, but food and medical costs continue to rise. Last year, the government decided to garnish seniors’ Social Security payments if they co-signed on any student loans that became delinquent. There is bipartisan support in Washington for reducing Social Security cost of living increases by substituting products in the calculation, forcing seniors to change eating and living habits, reducing their ability to maintain a standard of living. The war on seniors is not just an American phenomenon. An article published in the April 2013 Generation America magazine (, entitled “No World for Old People,” details how seniors are being neglected, abused, and marginalized worldwide.

Increasingly the younger generation sees seniors as a fiscal burden not only to the country but their own personal finances as Medicare and Social Security increasingly consume more and more budget dollars with no end in sight. In fact, the country may reach a point in the future where retirees will not receive the Social Security and Medicare benefits they are entitled to because they have paid into the system for many years. This is no “freebie” for seniors.

Our society does not honor seniors for their sacrifices that helped build our great nation. We almost never see a news report that honors what they have done for our society unless it is Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Let us never forget that many seniors fought in World War II. They are part of the greatest generation, saved many lives in Europe, and were trailblazers in their fields.

The lack of respect and caring for seniors just reinforces the idea that we truly have a “throw away” society with respect to our seniors. What is lacking in our society is respect, kindness, and empathy for seniors. I found myself thinking about this during my trip to see my mom. Do the children of seniors know where their parents and grandparents are? Do they know what they are doing;? Do they understand the challenges they are facing? Do they even care? Or, do these children turn a blind eye toward the quality of life their parents and grandparents have in their senior years?

Some people may think: Out of sight, out of mind, so let’s put them in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. Let someone else deal with the problems of elder care. This is a way to satisfy our collective consciousness. Instead, we should reach out to our parents and grandparents; call them on the phone and ask how they are doing; visit them from time to time. But, above all else, love them unconditionally – the way we want to be loved.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities sound like the perfect answer to the problem of aging and infirm parents and grandparents. However, all too often they seem like depressing places to be and oblivious to the needs of those they are entrusted to care for. Many of the “care-givers” think of elder care as a burden and they lack the empathy and patience to treat seniors the way they deserve to be treated – the way the care-givers would like to be treated in their senior years.

We need to fast forward 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 years and realize, if we’re lucky, we’ll be around and facing the inevitable challenges of being in our senior years. Will our children be there for us, or will they ignore us as do all too many young adults today?

After I ended my trip to see my mom, I looked deep inside my soul and asked myself whether I am doing all that I should to show my mom respect, kindness and love. Could I do more? What would that be? If not now, then when?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 10, 2014. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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