What Bothers Old People?
WHAT do elderly people themselves regard as their most serious problems? Most often mentioned are: not enough money; poor health care; fear of crime; loneliness; being considered useless; the huge change in their life-style.
Many elderly persons are troubled by the drastic change in the rhythm of their life, especially after retirement. Their lack of a daily routine causes problems. It becomes a chore to fill free time, particularly if interests have not been sufficiently varied during earlier life.
Also, when a married man retires, it can have a profound effect on his wife. With the husband around the house every day, offering comments, making criticisms, wanting attention, a strain can develop between them. It has been found that about one third of all marriages deteriorate after retirement.
In many lands a mandatory retirement age bothers large numbers of the elderly. They are able to work and want to work. But they cannot get jobs. In the year 1900, fully 70 percent of American men over the age of 65 were working. Now only 20 percent are. Yet a third of those over retirement age say that they would work if they could find a job.
One teacher shows what can happen:
“My mind is teeming with ideas, but no one wants them. I don’t want to fill in the time before I die. I want to use the time. I need to work, not make-work, not a hobby . . .
“To be considered unfit for the very job for which I was trained, in which I have many years of experience, is the cruelest kind of rejection.”
But while problems such as changing life-styles and enforced idleness are very real, they are often overshadowed by more urgent ones. Foremost is the problem of money.
What often brings an immediate financial burden is retirement. The income suddenly drops, perhaps to only about half of what it was. Now retired persons must live on a company pension or government assistance, such as “Social Security.” But this is not anywhere near their previous income. This, plus inflation, may create money problems.
For example, in the United States, the magazine U.S. News & World Report reveals that in the city of New Orleans, 69 percent of those over the age of 65 have incomes below the poverty line. In many other cities, too, a quarter to a half of the elderly live that way.
A typical case is in the ‘gray ghetto’ of San Francisco, where a 72-year-old man thought he had an ample pension when he first retired. But inflation shrank its buying power. So now he says: “When the end of the month comes, I am usually down to my last few dollars. When that happens, I sometimes skip supper.” In the same city, an elderly woman said:
“There are people out there starving in the street. There are people eating out of the garbage cans. Do you believe that? Right out of the garbage can!”
Is that an exaggeration, or an isolated case? A letter to the editor of the New York Times declared:
“Without additional income, as is the case for many of New York City’s elderly, life cannot be sustained. . . .
“Immediate relief is required to prevent actual starvation among the elderly poor.”
Then there was the 80-year-old woman in St. Petersburg, Florida; as a widow she had to live on a small pension. She skipped meals, doing with less and less. Finally she collapsed in her run-down room, and at death weighed 76 pounds (34 kg). An autopsy found no trace of food in her stomach. “Malnutrition” was the coroner’s verdict. But an elderly friend labeled it: “Surrender.” He said: “She just stopped believing tomorrow would be better.”
While heredity plays a part in health during old age, an important factor is how a person lived during his younger years. If he smoked, then the price in later life might be lung cancer, bladder cancer, chronic heart disease or emphysema. Overdrinking brings on the premature death of brain cells, as well as liver disease. Overeating can contribute to heart trouble, diabetes and other diseases.
Poor nutrition is an important cause of poor health in the elderly. Particularly is this so because many cannot afford to eat properly. Yet, even when they can afford it, some elderly people still neglect their diet, especially when they live alone. This makes them far more vulnerable to disease.
As for senility, a Duke University study indicates that only about 15 percent of the elderly ever become senile. And some conclude that it is not the direct result of old age, but of disease.
Tragically, the onset of poor health, boredom, fear and depression lead to a mounting problem among the aged: alcoholism. Nearly one out of 10 elderly people in America is now an alcoholic.
Fear of Crime
In many places, such as in the large cities, more elderly ones than any other age group are the victims of crime. They are less able to protect themselves.
An anticrime official in New York said of the city’s 1.3 million elderly: “Most are afraid and view crime as one of the most serious problems facing them.” Common crimes against elderly people include purse snatching, mugging, fraud, forcible entry for robbery or even rape. Thus, a San Francisco resident said: “You can’t protect yourself. Most older people stay off the streets after three o’clock.”
One of the most grievous problems of the aged is loneliness. All too many feel unloved, unwanted. This can become acute when one marriage mate dies, especially where the couple had a good relationship.
In the “old days,” elderly parents usually lived with their grown children, providing companionship. In various lands, such as in Africa, Asia and Latin America, this is still true. But even there, change is evident. For instance, in Japan the number of older persons living alone has increased to more than a million, 20 percent more than the year before. Of them, Tokyo’s Daily Yomiuri said:
“Japan is clearly turning steadily into a society full of old people, but both public and private housing is largely closed to them so that many are having difficulty finding a place to live. . . .
“Although Japan is supposed to be trying to become a welfare country, hardly anything is being done to provide old people with what they need most; namely, housing.”
In Western societies, more older people than ever before live alone, or are put into homes for the elderly. And a parallel trend is that more grown children are unable to care for their aging parents, or do not want to do so.
How do you feel about such trends in today’s world? Indeed, what is your view of the elderly? And what is God’s view?