Posts Tagged 'United States'

Aging America: An Ideal Scenario?

demographicsAnti-ageism activist, Ashton Applewhite, writing for The Society Pages, has figured out what an Aging Baby Boomer generation truly means for America. Perhaps it is not doomsday. Perhaps it is closer to an ideal scenario.

Applewhite declares:
The Census Report includes an oft-cited statistic: “An unprecedented shift will occur between 2015 and 2020, when the percentage of people aged 65 and over in the global population will surpass the percentage of the very young (aged 0-4) for the first time.” This means that by 2020 there’ll be one older adult for every child—far better for children’s welfare than the inverse, as well as for the women who once had to produce enough of them to survive famines, wars, and epidemics.

Could a 1:1 dependency ratio mean age equity across the board? No more obsessive focus on youth, youthfulness, youth generations? More funding for preschool programs? More intergenerational schools, parks, programs, and friendships? And wonderful, long-lasting grandparent/grandchild relationships into the future, as Ariel wrote about last week?

One can only hope.


Grandparents’ Invisible Work

ist2_2897117_scribbles_grandparentsDuring a recent family vacation, the grandparents were busy as usual. They were working in the background, so their labor was mostly invisible. But their efforts made for a successful trip. Without them, I’m not sure what we (adults and kids) would have done.

*The rental kitchen was stocked with foods we all like (including the picky grandkids).

*Kids had library books to read, piles of them.

*Local restaurant menus were available on the counter. (Who do you imagine picked them up?)

*The youngest kiddos had playmates and general supervision at all times, even while slumbering.

*And believe it or not, the grandparents had even more to give – including compliments, hugs, and intelligent commentary at all times – even when you knew they must be exhausted.

Try to thank them for their efforts, and they’ll likely turn it back on you, saying they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But this is my attempt to value that work – the work they do on a regular basis for us, their kids.

Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8th. So let’s honor the fact that:

According to the Census Bureau, growing numbers of children in the United States are living with a grandparent. In 2010, about one in 14 U.S. children (7 percent) lived in a household headed by a grandparent—for a total of 5.4 million children, up from 4.7 million in 2005.

Whether they live with grandchildren or not, grandparents are more involved in their grandchildren’s lives than ever before, whether they live close or far.

Let’s take time to acknowledge the important impact these inter-generational relationships can have.

Thanks to you, grandparents!



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The racial gap in life expectancy

We have new data on mortality and racial disparity from a report by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Unfortunately, the results seem to be related to black or white racial identity only.

Life expectancy differs by 4 years, on average, between these two ethnic groups. This gap has narrowed over time, but still persists. What accounts for this difference in mortality rates?

The report shows how “Black disadvantage” is largely linked to heart disease – the single biggest drag on black life expectancy. The second-biggest factor was cancer.

Better news: The infant mortality rate for blacks fell by 16 percent from 2005 to 2011, compared with a 12 percent drop for whites.

Lesser-known: Whites have suffered a setback in a category known as unintentional injuries, which includes the surge in prescription drug overdoses that has disproportionately affected whites since the 1990s.

Blacks also had lower death rates than whites from suicide, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and respiratory diseases like emphysema, as well as chronic liver disease.

Important note: this research focuses on official cause of death, rather than taking into account the social factors that may undergird such material realities. For an example of this, see this recent NPR report on location and life expectancy.

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Ruth’s 100th Birthday Party

My five-year-old daughter and I attended Ruth H.’s 100th birthday party this past weekend. It was just as Ruth H. had wanted – a big white tent in her side yard, teeming with people and finger foods, and there she was, perched on a high chair in the middle, receiving guests in a long-sleeve blue and white lace dress her mother wore when she celebrated her big day. A big sign at the entrance thanked the community for being so caring.

Ruth had wanted all of us to “get the word out” in any way possible. So email and paper invites were everywhere. In a town of 3,ooo, I’m guessing at least 10% showed up for this celebration. And many visitors came from out of town too. It was hot, and a wonderful low-key way to mark a rare and important day. Perfect for a woman who believes in giving back.IMG_1162

This same weekend, I read that the oldest woman in NY (the third oldest in the world) celebrated her 114th birthday. She also greeted guests on her home turf (the senior center where she lives), in formal attire.

How do these women do it? 1) Live that long, and 2) celebrate in the heat of summer!? They are models of resilience, that’s for sure.

The next morning Ruth was on her porch opening cards and gifts. It was a time of nostaglia; stories and memories. “I didn’t sleep at all last night, but I have the rest of my life to sleep!” she announced.

For more on Ruth H’s 100 years, and daily life, see my book, Aging Our Way.

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Oliver Sacks Reflects on Turning 80

A well-respected professor of neurology at NYU weighs in on what it feels like to turn eighty…

Most interesting for me is when people like Dr. Sacks have always been the youngest one in their workplaces, their school cohorts, etc. – as my daughter is now in her kindergarten class –  they still feel like the youngest one in old age.

Does that make confronting the mortality of one’s peers easier or harder, I don’t know? Confronting one’s own mortality must be harder in that case. What do you think?


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Hospice in Rural Kenya

This is a guest blog post from Colgate University student Michelle Van Veen, who
has spent the last 4 months in Kenya (through the MSID study abroad program), where she worked with a hospice team. I am thrilled that she has taken this opportunity to reflect on her experiences.

The Hospice TeamHow does one begin to talk about working at a hospice in rural Kenya? When Professor Loe asked me to write a blog post for her, I struggled with this question. So, I decided to share an experience that has affected and taught me the most: a story that brings together a wide range of topics I encountered including family, spirituality, poverty, illness, mental well being, hospice care, and cultural sensitivity.

First, I feel that I must start off by giving some background information. I am a double major in Psychology and Women’s Studies at Colgate University. I went to Kenya last semester for my study abroad experience and was given the opportunity to work at the hospice while I was there. A hospice provides palliative (holistic) care that addresses the physical, spiritual, social, and psychological needs of people living with terminal illnesses. I was assigned to the hospice so that I could learn about the psychological aspect of living with cancer in rural Kenya.

On a typical day, I would accompany a nurse on a home visit. We would conduct these home visits to dispense medication, provide psychological counseling to the patient and their families, assist with any other medial needs, pray for the patient’s wellbeing, and offer social or legal advice. Each patient and their family had their own story and even though all of the patients I saw were unified under the label “cancer patient,” they all lived with different realities.

On this particular day we went to visit a patient who lived in absolute poverty. His wife had died, his children abandoned him (for unknown reasons), his house was falling apart, and he was bed ridden with esophagus cancer.  A neighbor came to cook him food once a day, but otherwise this man was alone and helpless. However, while we were there, things started to look better (in my eyes). His sister had come to convince her brother to live with her and her family in another town where she could take care of him. But, much to my amazement, the man refused. The nurse later explained to me why this man was being stubborn and refusing the care of his sister. Apparently when the patient’s sister got married, a dowry wasn’t given. This man believed that he would be cursed if he went to live with his married sister because it would be seen as if he were the dowry price (if I understood the nurse correctly). Thus, the fear of being cursed was stronger than his fear of living his last few months alone. When I heard about this, I was initially shocked which turned into frustration because I couldn’t even begin to understand his reasoning. But, the nurse reminded me that we have to respect the patient’s wishes because psychological pain can rival physical pain in many instances of those living with terminal illnesses. I agreed, but still didn’t understand.

The next day I learned that after we had left, the sister had successfully convinced her brother to come live with her. However, on the way to his sister’s house, the patient took a turn for the worse and instead they took him to the hospital. Later that night, he passed away. When I heard about this, my jaw literally dropped and I couldn’t believe it. To some it may look as if he was in fact cursed. But, what I learned from the experience was the importance of culturally sensitive psychology and respecting people’s wishes. Do I think he would have died on the particular day if his sister or we hadn’t visited him? Probably not. He was sick, but I thought he still had a few months left in him.

michelle van veen

This man’s story made me realize that while symptom management needs to be the first thing addressed and taken care of, mental health is equally important. Morphine can take away the physical pain in most instances, but we don’t have a miracle drug that can take care of the psychological pain of the patient or their family. Thus, we will never know what would have happened if the man had stayed home rather than gone with this sister. But, learning from his story, I do know that we need to continue placing an emphasis on mental health that accounts for all our differences (including cultural): a lesson that applies to not only Kenya, but the United States as well.

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The Art of Aging – Israeli Children’s Museum Exhibit

The Israeli Children’s Museum has an exhibition on aging called Dialogue with Time.

How smart is that? And one of the goals is to facilitate intergenerational dialogue. As a student of mine shared, “I particularly liked that in establishing the museum they created jobs that could only be held by elders (70+) as guides and experts.”

Why not counter age-based stereotypes from day one, and honor how one will age and grow and change with time…

Watch the testimonials here.

Perhaps a Children’s Museum in the US would be willing to take this traveling exhibit on as well?

Here’s the info from the website:

Dialogue with Time – an exhibition about the art of aging

Dialogue with Time is an interactive exhibition, the first of its kind in the world that deals with aging from an original perspective.

Dialogue with Time is a groundbreaking exhibition that allows its visitors a glimpse into the world of the elderly. Through experiential play, using latest technology, a creative intergenerational dialogue is produced dispelling stereotypes and clichés of old age.

The guides of this exhibition are aged 70 and above. They are the mediators and experts in all facets of aging and act as role models.

The Author

Meika Loe

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