No Country for Old Age
June 5, 2020 10:47 AM   Subscribe

The Evening of Life In our society, to come directly to my point, old age is understood and framed in ways that lead inevitably to its devaluation. Its status is low and arguably is falling. On its face, such a claim might sound preposterous. Surely, the opposite is true. From the Social Security safety net to the Americans with Disabilities Act, from the positive portrayals of older people in popular media to near-record life expectancy, this is unquestionably the golden age of the golden years, a time of “No Limits. No Labels,” to quote an AARP slogan. -- Joseph E. Davis goes long in The Hedgehog Review
posted by dancestoblue (11 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you account for class in the USA, life expectancy is increasing for the rich, and declining for the rest, literally rendering the "average" life expectancy fairly useless because its an average of extremes.

As a young person, this is dead-on about what older folks are dealing with in America. These are the things that make me panic about taking care of my mother in her old age. It's like all the responsibility of having a child, but none of the support structures like you get for having a child because the attitude is "well, they're old and they're gonna die anyway, why dump a bunch of money into them?"

Like, cool that most Boomers are "property owners." Whatever. Plenty of them are sitting in rotting houses of which they cannot afford the upkeep. Doesn't sound like they're living the life of luxury because they're property owners to me.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2020 [15 favorites]

I don’t disagree with the general thesis of this piece that “we do a bad job of valuing old age”, and the specific points are interesting, but the essay feels more like a litany of complaints about how we aren’t doing old age right rather than an identification of what exactly that entails. None of the points are wrong, but they don’t feel unified into any kind of helpful whole or course of action, and the ending feels frustratingly vague. Saying that aging sucks is old news - give me a model of a society where aging is handled better and I’ll be really interested.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

none of the support structures like you get for having a child

I'm not sure what you mean by that. They are way more support structures (and of varying pricing structures all the way to free regardless of income) for the elderly than there are for children, as long as you live in a large-enough city (I guess).
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:19 PM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what you mean by that. They are way more support structures (and of varying pricing structures all the way to free regardless of income) for the elderly than there are for children.

A parent gets an effective tax cut to take care of their child. I get no such tax cut when my parent is old and I am now officially caring for them because there isn't enough money to hire an actual caretaker, as they can no longer care for themselves.

Yes, old people enter a "second childhood" from which they do not return. And dealing with them is way the fuck harder than dealing with a baby:

1. because they're a full grown adult and until you've dealt with an old person you don't understand what kind of crazy strength they can pull out of nowhere if they're having some kind of episode. When a baby throws a tantrum, you can control them. When an old person throws a tantrum watch the fuck out.

2. they literally have a full life of memories of being able to do things themselves and being completely capable and that's all getting mixed up with the fact that they are no longer capable and are losing their minds. Last I checked babies don't have a whole lifetime of being able to do shit fucking with their subconscious.

As an individual, I get very little help directly. The help that is available would go directly to my parents, because they are adults. Meaning I have to jump through legal hoops to be able to help them, like getting power of attorney. Also, if my parents are living off a fixed income like social security, its likely that they're not actually getting paid enough to cover the costs of the ever-increasing medical needs of a person of advanced age. So the "free money" I'm getting to help my old parents is honestly a fucking joke. (Considering how many old people are losing their minds and don't have families they can trust to turn to, this means that old people are ripe for exploitation, which is way more common than you might think)

But sure, having a child is somehow harder than taking care of your parent in their old age because old people get money? Give me a fucking break with THAT shit.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:26 PM on June 5, 2020 [11 favorites]

Just reminded me of the little old man who was approved and on the waiting list for assisted housing, and he was on SSI and he was on the street for five fucking years waiting for them to work through the list to be able to actually live somewhere.

We may no longer have orphanages, but we have a foster care system because we recognize that children need homes. We do not have a similar system for the elderly.

But sure, it's harder for parents. /s
posted by deadaluspark at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Deadaluspark, your frustration is palpable, and valid, and it breaks my heart. It is absolutely not a joke what family caregivers are expected to do with so little support. It's really not a competition between what support exists for family caregivers of the elderly vs. babies - however, since you did make such a comparison, The_Vegetables made a valid point imo. There are fewer structural supports for babycare in comparison to eldercare.

The reason for this is, it's usually only mothers i.e. women who engage in babycare, so this work is neither considered work nor is it even visible to society at large, so we simply don't have structural supports in place for baby-carers. In contrast, everyone gets old - everyone knows they are going to get old - and so there has been a concerted focus on "What the hell do we do when we get old?" by society as a whole, by everyone from lawmakers, to the healthcare industry, to insurers and other financial actors, and all the way down to grassroots citizen efforts. That sheer visibility and pervasive awareness of the fact that old age exists and the need for caregivers in one's own old age exists, makes an enormous difference to the structures of support that spring up.

Babies don't get social security payments every month, babies aren't covered by Medicare, there is no only no government or welfare program which covers the cost of childcare even partially, there is no such thing as being able to buy insurance to cover childcare costs, and - here's where it gets hilarious - there is rampant employment and wage discrimination against people who are CAREGIVERS for babies - or even merely perceived to be caregivers for babies. Nobody's refusing to hire folks who are suspected of being caregivers for elderly relatives!

Your comment remains hauntingly articulated. You're extremely right that the emotional and legal challenges in caring for adults are immensely greater than the emotional and legal challenges caring for babies. The elderly are surely cherished and valued infinitely less than babies are... and this attitude in and of itself is corrosive to the support systems that exist. Your frustration is valid.

There is no family caregiver who is getting a fair shake in our communism-for-caregivers-and-capitalism-everywhere-else system, and not even any paid caregivers of any kind (elderly or children) who are paid just wages. It's a crisis of care-work all around.
posted by MiraK at 1:36 PM on June 5, 2020 [12 favorites]

MiraK, thank you for the wonderful and well articulated response. That's all I really have to say about it. I agree that it's not a competition and that everyone suffers. Thank you.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:45 PM on June 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

Quite possibly a lot of y'all are familiar with this already but I'm here to do the obligatory plug for Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The posted article is spot on, but it doesn't exactly offer guidance for how to deal with the terrifying issues it raises. Gawande's book does. There's a ton of research in it about what type of care is most effective in old age, what type of life is more fulfilling for old people, and how we can bring those ideal ways about.
posted by MiraK at 1:56 PM on June 5, 2020 [12 favorites]

A parent gets an effective tax cut to take care of their child. I get no such tax cut when my parent is old and I am now officially caring for them because there isn't enough money to hire an actual caretaker, as they can no longer care for themselves.

That's not exactly true. You can count an aged parent as a dependent, and an aged parent generally has an income, which is subject to various tax reductions that can be appropriated to cover a large part of their care.

Fine, it's slightly less direct, but the EITC for children is nowhere near enough to cover the cost of a child.

And I'm taking care of kids and aging parents (one with dementia possibly same as you and one with serious physical limitations), so please don't act like I don't know what I'm talking about.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:04 PM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

as long as you live in a large-enough city (I guess).

Yeah, that last bit is key. My father, after taxes, got about $4000 a month between social security and a military pension. He lived in a small, poor town in the deep south, and this was not enough money to pay for nursing home care when he needed it. There was one place he could have afforded, with like $50 a month left over, and it was so heartbreaking and gross I would not have been able to stand having him there anyway.

So he stayed in the home, with his underwater mortgage. Louisiana has a long list of things people with Medicare are eligible for. But you know what Louisiana does not have? Anyone to actually provide the elderly with those services. Waiting lists for meals on wheels, personal care attendants, home care attendants, are so long that he died on several of them, several years into his "wait."

For years I watched him fade, for years I had to monitor his phone calls and mail because his brand of dementia meant he would literally say yes to any scam, any loan, any request for information. For years I called him every day to make sure he picked up, that he hadn't fallen, or died, while I was trying to earn a living, because he had no choice but to make it through on his own.

Let's talk about his family doctor, too! The person who never bothered to check on him after an ER visit or hospital admission, who spoke so fast and so softly to my mostly-deaf father that half the time he could not tell me what the doctor had told him to do - this after multiple reminders from me AND dad that he COULD NOT HEAR. And no, he could not see another doctor in the clinic, it was against policy to move people around, so important to have a regular doctor! And everyone else was so booked, of course. Did I mention this was the only clinic in the town, period? His only other option was a clinic 30 miles away, and he couldn't drive.

It is a fucking nightmare, trying to take care of an elderly, ill parent in this country.
posted by invincible summer at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2020 [11 favorites]

Our culture overwhelmingly favors the child and adolescence. It sees no spiritual value in aging. The second half of life, as Carl Jung stated many times, is an inward turning where the values of the first half of life are no longer valid. We don't engage much or at all in ancestor worship or filial piety in the west. There should be universities for people over 60.
posted by DJZouke at 5:12 AM on June 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

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