One of the more significant issues facing White Western cultures today is elder care.  It’s not that people didn’t become elderly before now.  It’s not that there are necessarily more of them becoming elderly than there were before, although that is due to start here relatively shortly due to the Baby Boomers.  I see two things that make this a very impactful issue for us today more so than before.  1.  Loss of community living.  2.  Loss of connection with the practicalities of life.

Now that is not to say that there haven’t been other significant changes that make this an issue.  A bit more than 100 years ago, life expectancies were between 35-55 years.  So things like elder care really weren’t necessary.  Nobody reached any grand old age and there was no retirement really, unless you were incredibly wealthy and so could afford what healthcare there was and a somewhat healthy life style.  Well, at least you had enough food to feel comfortable.  But most people had to use their bodies up and they either wore them out or dropped dead of some disease or simply couldn’t get enough food.  Combinations of any and all of that pretty much took care of it.  And large families that lived close by in a geographical area meant that when someone did live to be elderly there were plenty of hands around to be nurses and caretakers.  No one needed to be overburdened (Unless one person in the family was allotted to take care of them.  Which could be the plot of a gothic novel or an Agatha Christie novel.  Hmmmm…).

Today people live into their 80’s and 90’s on a regular basis.  Many develop physical and mental issues which cause them to struggle to achieve the most basic hygiene or quality of life.  They are much like very large children that must have all things done for them around the clock.  Which brings me to #1 above:  No community living.  Most of us are no longer living in villages or communities where we know everyone and have a lot of family around us.  It has become common place for most people to ignore and avoid their neighbors, put up fences for privacy (not sure what we do in our backyards that shouldn’t be watched, but it seems imperative to keep it from being seen) and keep everything physical isolated.  This means that when a task needs more resources than the family can provide, they have no one close to help.  Others have to be called in or hired and the sole responsibility for the elder is squarely  on the shoulders of whoever is designated primary care giver.  Usually this is a daughter or son and their spouse.  Many times the elder comes to live with them setting up a difficult emotional and physical situation in the house, which by design has been isolated from others.

Which brings me to point #2:  Physical practicalities.  Other than in the health care system and those who work with animals, it is rare to find anyone who focuses on the physical practicalities of living.  Yes, we all go through the mundane tasks of getting food and getting from place to place, keeping clothes on, etc., but water is provided by the local government and all you have to do is pay the bill and turn on the tap.  Waste works the same way.  Heat too.  Once in a while someone might talk about the Zombiepocalypse, but other than that, why worry about how it all works because it’s all there at our finger tips.  What we should focus on is the next gadget to buy right?  Support your local economy?  Well, that works if your body and mind works, but at some point they or someone you love will come to the point where they don’t.  That’s the physical reality.  So what’s to be done?

I recommend start thinking about this when it’s not an issue that is staring you in the face. Before you have to make the choice of being a caretaker, putting your loved one in a facility, having a caregiver live with you or come in daily, take a look at the issue.  Think of it as a valentine to yourself and the ones you love.  Look at what kind of care you can provide and what kind of care is necessary.  Could you lift them if they fell?  Could you turn the in their bed if you had to change the sheets and they couldn’t get up?  What about adult diapers? Look into the physical issues that arise when dealing with elder care.  Look at the emotional side of things. How will you handle it when the person you love begins to disappear into a fog of forgetfulness?  How much love does it take every day to still see them as they were and yet deal with them as they are?  And how much compassion does it take to realize that you may not be able to give them the physical care that they need?  Compassion both for them and for yourself. Because in reality it takes a village not only to care for us when we come into this world, but when we leave it as well.  Only at the end we are a bit less  cute and cuddly, but no less deserving of love.