We confine the old in the custody of under-staffed, under-paid employees at government or private institutions. Ask staff in these places how many residents receive frequent visits. Precious few.
Author of the article:L.D. Cross
We ignore old people. And the coronavirus panic has highlighted some of the horrible and heartbreaking situations the old have endured for years.
First, we take away all their stuff — their home, their finances, their furniture, their hobbies, their privacy — then we warehouse them on a pallet in a small room in the first available facility with a euphemistically bucolic name such as Eden Woods, Meadow Manor or Garden Place. Talk about being put out to pasture.
Who are we fooling? Nobody. We abuse through benign neglect. We don’t want to see these inmates except maybe a reluctant obligatory visit before Christmas or Easter. We confine the old in the custody of under-staffed, under-paid employees at government or private institutions often located outside the city core far from public transit. Ask staff in these places how many residents receive frequent visits. Precious few.
This segregation of the old takes many forms: prejudicial and paternalistic attitudes, discriminatory practices or institutional policies that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs such as “oldies are all senile.” Also, they are weak, slow, stupid and sucking up resources needed elsewhere for more vigorous younger specimens. They are treated like a waste of space.
Gerontophobia — fear and loathing of the old and of growing old — is rampant. As Jonathan Swift, Irish satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) observed, “Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.” Publicly we proclaim that discrimination based on race, religion, sex, social standing or disability is wrong. But ageism is still accepted practice against the weakest among us.
We value old things but not old people. A vintage wine is treasured. Fine scotch whiskies are enjoyed for their complexities. Some antique furniture is worth a lot of money.
Prejudice against the old is everywhere. Even Pope Francis, 84, has decried “the plight of abandoned elderly” but at the 2014 European Parliament in Strasbourg he criticized Europe as “a ‘grandmother’ no longer fertile and vibrant.” By so blatantly declaring his age, if not gender, bias he joined the multitude of oldie haters.
We value old things but not old people. A vintage wine is sought after and treasured. Fine scotch whiskies are aged according to tradition and enjoyed for their complexities. Some antique furniture is worth a lot of money.
Oh, we give lip service to venerating our elders but in fact the old are made invisible. We quarantine them out of sight and hopefully out of mind. They remind us of our own mortality, of what is awaiting us. And we don’t like it. We never have.
Ageism is as old as the ages. “Senectus morbidus est,” wrote Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ironically, “Seneca the Younger”) in the 1st century AD: “Old age is a disease.”
There are endless appeals to support children’s hospitals but not geriatric hospitals. And few existing hospitals have geriatric-specific programs. Clinical services lead to incarceration rather than rehabilitation. Our bigotry sees kids as cute and cuddly and oldies as ugly and wrinkled. The former deserve affection; the latter revulsion. Even though it is the elderly who worked and paid for much of the cornucopia of social services we enjoy today, they have been excluded from this feast. This is how we show our gratitude?
Have we forgotten the three Ds: disease, disability, death? “Memento Mori,” the Romans said. “Remember you must die.” COVID-19 has been such a memorable moment.
Unfortunately, the large not-there-yet senior cohort refuses to act or vote as a block to elect politicians willing to fund quality facilities for the aged. They find public money for other social priorities but elder care is not one of them. Do none of us plan on getting old? Perhaps we should switch storage options and put convicts in “the home” and seniors in prison. Would elder care improve?
The elderly have had no institutional life with dignity, so they have no institutional death with dignity. Unlike the Frank Sinatra song, when “the end is near” and our frail elderly face “the final curtain,” they cannot do it their way. We have taken everything away from them. Gerontophobia rules.
L.D. Cross is a non-fiction writer of personal profiles and books in the Amazing Stories series about unique aspects of Canadian history.
I’m so old my back goes out more than I do