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The Elderly Are Only Burdens if You Think They Are

The Elderly Are Only Burdens if You Think They Are

The World Bank recently released a story about the economic, social and cultural impacts of an aging population, namely in Europe and Central Asia. The picture that the World Bank paints is full of downsides, mostly economic.

Instead of focusing on how the elderly will burden our society — does Japan’s finance minister’s comment about the elderly “hurrying up and dying” ring any bells? — let’s focus on the ways that they enrich our families and communities. It’s not just about monetary enrichment either. I’ve learned from my own family about the value of having an older loved one around.

Why I Care

From an early age, I had no choice but to confront the realities of old age. At first, as my grandpa aged, he was still able to remain active and help the family out by picking me up from school. Eventually, however, my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease, a series of strokes and the weakness of old age eventually left him immobile. My grandpa didn’t always know who we were, including his own son, my dad. He wasn’t in control of his bowel movements. He couldn’t bathe, groom or feed himself. Yet we still didn’t devalue him.

Anytime that he was hospitalized, he would immediately fight and be a “problem” patient. I couldn’t help feeling heartbroken for the patients without family support. Many of the patients had a dull look in their eyes probably from the all of the unnecessary drugs, while my grandpa never did. Many of them were also very angry and overly aggressive; this only happened to my grandpa when he was outside of our home.

I believe that not even the best staff or medical facility can replace a family’s warmth. Let’s be happy and grateful that our elderly loved ones can still contribute. And even when they are no longer physically or mentally able to contribute, throwing them away isn’t doing them any justice or favors.

Why the World Bank Cares

Whether we want to think about it or not, the world is getting older. For instance, Europe’s fertility rate has fallen. A new analysis forecasts that “the average age in Europe will be 42.2 by 2020, compared to 39.8 in 2010.”

Our changing demographics result from two major lifestyle changes: 1) People are living longer; and 2) People are having fewer children. As a result, there will be more middle-aged and elderly than those in the 20s- 30s bracket.

While it’s hard to predict the impact of a new demographic, researchers and leaders can pinpoint some economic downsides of an overwhelming aging population:

  • There will be less of a labor supply.
  • There will be a possible loss of labor productivity.
  • The elderly aren’t the best equipped to save their income.
  • If there’s less saving, then there’s less investment opportunities.
  • Even though there will be economic dulls with an aging population, there will be a high demand for social services, e.g. long-term health care.
  • More social services will stress public finances as a whole.

How the Elderly Care About Society

I don’t believe for a second that the elderly want to stop contributing to society. No one ever wants to feel like a burden or lose their autonomy. It’s especially hard to leave one’s own well-being in the hands of a stranger.

We shouldn’t approach the situation from a purely economic perspective. While my grandfather’s case of immobility was an extreme, fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case for every older person. The elderly can add tremendous value if we give them the opportunity. Here are a few ways that senior citizens can still contribute:

  • When age 65 hits, not every senior citizen is jumping at the chance to retire. As reported in Gallup, since the end of the U.S. recession, there are more seniors still in the workforce. In some instances, there are more seniors than 18 to 29-year-olds in the workforce. Poor planning and living paycheck-to-paycheck mean that the elderly aren’t financially able to retire.
  • Senior citizens can still make economic contributions. They can still retail shop, employ services and pay their own taxes. Evidence Network explains how the elderly also make ample donations to charity.
  • They play a core role in volunteerism. Volunteering can fulfill their needs for human connection, and it can give them a sense of purpose.
  • The elderly can be some of the best artists. Mental Floss lists the impressionist painter Claude Monet, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and composer Elliott Carter as a few senior citizens who still churned out chefs-dœuvre in their old age.
  • Like my grandfather, they can play important roles in the home and family. They can be teachers, wisdom sharers and helpers around the house and in the rearing of children.

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Photo Credit: Mario Mancuso

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56 comments

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5:14PM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Thank you Gareth M. Getting old is not for sissies.

8:40PM PDT on May 13, 2014

Old people are as different as young people, Some change for the better as they age/mature emotionaly, some change for the worse.Pain, poverty and helplessness can do that. Every person, not just the elderly needs to have the option of conscious suicide.It is their life and their death, let them handle it how they will and help them if they ask,Also, don't forget, us oldersters can spot recycled BS when it comes around dressed in modern jargon.Some times ideas are ahead of their time. Some ideas were based on false premeses to begin with and their distortion only grows.

3:59PM PDT on May 12, 2014

This is nonsense being promoted by banksters that we have a problem with aging population when for every elderly person we are getting children born and besides its time to wake up and let the elderly return to their original role which was to educate the grand children with their wisdom and experiences of life this was the last right of passage that the grandmothers were responsible for in ancient times and in still is in native tribal groups not infected by religous zealots or banksters.

6:11AM PDT on May 12, 2014

Do you believe the elderly can still meaningfully contribute to society? No, I KNOW they can. My beloved late uncle paid more in taxes than he consumed in services, volunteered at the local library and loved us. He is sorely missed.

Remember, we all become old some day (if something untoward doesn't take us early). Treat your elders as you would want to be treated yourself.

7:13PM PDT on May 9, 2014

we will all, hopefully, have to live with the issue of getting older......I wish some of the wisdom of the elderly would be obtained by us when we are young.......we can learn much from those who have gone before us......on the other hand many elderly need to be able to look more forward to how their choices/beliefs/wishes will effect their children in years to come, too.......

1:03PM PDT on May 9, 2014

They´re not! I miss my grandparents so much.... People (mostly young ones) don´t know what they´re missing... At least mine were awesome :)

5:26AM PDT on May 9, 2014

Unfair claim

12:11AM PDT on May 9, 2014

As an American, I have never been treated so rudely and bad by younger citizens after I turned 50....and they have been so rude and snotty and prejudicial that I hope none of them end up with any more than I have now.

12:04PM PDT on May 8, 2014

thank you for sharing this

10:24AM PDT on May 8, 2014

"For instance, Europe’s fertility rate has fallen."

If only that was the case everywhere.

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