Society views aging in very different ways. Rock star Jimmy Hendrix, who said, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens," saw aging as something positive. British author Tom Stoppard, who said, "Age is a high price to pay for maturity," sees aging as something negative. Comedian Jack Benny said it best, though, when he uttered, "Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter!"
Life for older people can be complex. Various factors determine how society looks upon, and deals with, the numerous challenges facing older people today.
My parents had been getting older, but I never paid much attention to changes in their lifestyle. My father had heart surgery, but recovered to continue living what I considered a "normal" lifestyle for people of his age. My mother, who prided herself in the fact that she was seldom ill, lived independently, took care of my Dad and her two older sisters, and ate whatever she wanted. Together, my parents traveled to Italy for vacation.
So, when they both unexpectedly died on the same year, I was shocked. My mother passed away, while recovering from heart surgery, and my father died eight months later.
My Dad lived the last eight months of his life with me. We moved him to Chicago, from the East Coast, after the death of my mother. As a career-oriented person, who chose not to have any children, I never expected to be the one caring for him. After all, my Dad and I were never really close, and I detested my strict upbringing.
When my Dad moved into our condo, my life changed. I prepared his food, gave him medicine, and knelt down on my hands and knees to scrub the floor of his juice spills, scattered food, and toilet accidents. He was unable to care for himself. (He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which, as we will come to find out later, was incorrect.) I saw how difficult it was for him to do routine tasks such as eating, bathing, and buttoning his shirt. Caring for my father made me realize the special needs of older people.
Learning about the lives of aging people becomes more important as the world's population ages. Unfortunately, older people are, too often, marginalized in our society, and others, where the emphasis is on a youth culture.
I realized, from caring for my Dad, that the person inside doesn't change. Only your outer shell does. Think of yourself ― how you are today ― but wearing the skin and wrinkles of an older person. While you may think and act the same, the way others treat you will differ greatly from how you may have been treated, ten years ago, by that same person. It's so unfair, isn't it? Time is the great equalizer. One day, we will all get old.
As a society, we need to be more educated about aging so that we can better understand, and respect, our older loved ones and neighbors. And to learn to treat them as individuals. Too often, older people get lumped into the same age category when, in reality, they lead lives and have varying needs with each decade. Just as people in their teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, differ, so do people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. I cringe when I see television commercials which make fun of older people.
Gerontologists define 35 as the last year of "youth." But, some people have been known to do their best work as late bloomers. The next time you think that you're too old to do something important, just remember that Peter Roget invented the Roget Thesaurus at the age of 73. ✿