Someone asked me recently, “why doesn’t anyone care about people in nursing homes?”
Little did they know that I have a rant up my sleeves reserved for just such an occasion. “Because,” I said, “when a technologically advanced, production – focused society like ours can ‘medicalize’ something in order to find a pill for it to get better or go away, they’ll literally capitalize on the opportunity at the expense of quality of life and dying with dignity.”
More like, when a nation thinks it can be God and eventually hope to advance beyond aging, things get problematic to say the very least. Medicalization is to give something a medical name, a diagnosis because where there is a diagnosis, there is either a cure or a lasting hope for a cure.
The medicalization of aging (think anti aging creams, vitamins and supplements targeted at slowing the aging process) has created a booming anti aging industry, pulling in about $80 billion per year.
I wonder how differently we could spend those dollars if we stopped acting like everyone isn’t gradually aging from the moment they are born. What will it take for “aging” not be a scary word that we avoid thinking or talking about?
How could healthcare dollars be better spent in service to the life stage of elderhood – that stage after adulthood that so many people assume is just a limbo where people who can no longer “contribute to society” wait around to die?
Aging is an opportunity. For the young, an opportunity to gain wisdom, hear stories of a time past that our elders are taking with them when they die. Failure to spend time with the keepers of our collective lore is feeding the monster of self-sufficiency we’ve come to accept as normal, every day, ever more.
We need to change the way we think about aging, the way we assume skilled nursing facilities exist to be holding cells for those stuck between life and death. We need to get comfortable with the word death. We are not immortal, and that’s a gift. To recognize our finitude is to recognize the limits of time, making each moment we are alive precious.
The aging in America, those isolated in their homes alone because of physical limitations or ailments, those who live in facilities that help to care for them when they can no longer care for themselves deserve that opportunity to continue to embrace precious moments.
They deserve the dignity of aging as a celebration of crows feet denoting a life of smiles, of worn hands bearing the marks of service: to country, to family, to God; the blessing of rest without judgment for “not doing anything but draining our medical system,” and the joy of imparting wisdom and story to younger generations who will carry the stories with them, thus creating a legacy.
I hope our legacy becomes more than anti-aging cream.
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, by Ashton Applewhite
The Birth of the Clinic, by Michel Foucault