By Lillian Zimmerman, Globe and Mail, September 19, 2011
It’s time to face the fact that we really don’t like older people.
Yes, we have respectful phrases such as “senior citizens,” “elders” or “wise old women.” Before you assemble an assassination squad, I know we love and are devoted to our aging parents and grandparents. But as Dylan Thomas wrote about his elderly aunts who were “not wanted in the kitchen, or anywhere else for that matter,” we seem to be developing attitudes along those lines....
The negative phrase “dependency ratios” .....suggests that the growing number of aging people are dependent on younger ones. It’s a crude measurement dividing the number of those under 65 by the number over 65 . Yes, Canadian women now live to be 83 and men 77, with the gap narrowing somewhat. We are told and retold that, by 2031, a quarter of the population will be over 65, and it’s all discussed in the manner of an approaching disaster. It’s simply irrational to assume that all persons over 65 are sick or dependent on those under 65.
I don’t think such crises perspectives are warranted. As presented by popular culture, a number of issues regarding aging populations are virtually ignored:
Older people contribute to the economy.
Older people are generally healthier, living vigorous, productive lives
Older people pay taxes
Aging people do acquire chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes etc. Medical advances allow them to live satisfactory lives. There’s also the concept of “the compression of morbidity,” meaning that older people live longer as healthier persons until the last six months of life when medical expenses rise accordingly, mostly to those over 80.
Yes, older people may mean more medical expenditure. But a recent University of British Columbia study found that, with respect to demographic change and health care, it would increase spending by 1 per cent or less per year, projected to 2036.
It’s been conservatively estimated that the time, energy and money that older Canadians contribute to the economy may reach $5-billion annually. And that our public services would have to be substantially enlarged without their contributions.
Writing as a near septuagenarian, I find that Ms Zimmermann does not mention any of the really important reasons for our society to change its view about the elderly.
First, we are not shackled by the requirement, so seemingly stringent today, for political correctness. We can and do say what we mean, and really do not have to care much about "how the chips fall"...
That in itself is a strong reason for listening to the "greying demographic"....we just might have something to say about the hypocrisy that infects much of our political discourse today.
We also have a long history of experience from which to draw, available for the asking should any leader of any organization be courageous and willing to ask. There are small groups of retired executives who have formed small businesses advising younger business entrepreneurs. But the phenomenon is certainly "micro" in size and frequency.
We also, in that long history of our personal experience, have waded through many specific conflicts at work and in our private lives, including our many mistakes, that we hopefully have learned from. That experience would be available, as another community resource, should there be individuals and groups imaginative and courageous enough to ask.
We have seen a bucket full of changes, not only in technology, the current altar of choice for much of the society. And we are aware that much change can be shaped into a "good" rather than a "slippage" into a less "moral" or a less "strict" society. Our having lived through many changes equips us, probably better than most other generations to offer small bits of counsel to those open to that dialogue.
Of course, many of us have permanent parts in our hair, a slightly larger than we would like "tires" around our waist, and our gait is not as sprightly as it once was...but our minds have not become barnacled with mold, and our eyes and ears are neither blinded nor deaf and we do have a deep interest in engagement, should there be an openness to our potential contribution from those continuing to fight on in their own silos.
That $5 billion in contributions from the "grey demographic" could easily be $10B, because our rates have fallen in disuse.
Warehousing the elderly is such a blatant form of abuse, no matter how sumptuous the surroundings...and here's a toast to all those who resist, as long as possible, the shove to a cubicle in any of those facilities. Talk about wasting a renewable human resource!