Monday, January 02, 2012

"Demographic Winter" and an aging population: it definitely gets personal

It’s been a little more than a year since my own mother passed away at 97 – and in fact, a year ago today I left the house (fallow) for a week long journey associated with a “new job” as I “landed” into a new environment.

I’m still struck by how eldercare responsibility can turn “on a pinhead” our individualistic conception of relationships within the family.

We’ve developed a world of pre-nups and hesitancy for lifelong commitment (I won’t even guess how prenups work in same-sex marriage – the same way, I guess). Okay, it started in the world of “fame and privilege scarcity” of Hollywood and spread to “the general population” in the last three decades of the previous century.

We’ve also grown a world where the cost of raising children is extreme and the responsibility put on parents, until somewhat recently, was absolute.  No wonder people put off having children forever.  For women, the biological clock is a serious matter.

And we find we have fewer children – in middle class families and up – to pay into Social Security and Medicare funds while our elderly live even longer because of medical advances.

And we face an explosion of Alzheimer’s Disease which will become the nation’s Number One public health problem unless it’s wiped out first by H5N1.  Everyone will have forgotten the hazards of HIV. Why is Alzheimer’s increasing?  Because it may be inevitable if someone doesn’t die of something else first as a normal event after a normal life span, that used to be expected and accepted by previous generations.

That’s not to say that healthy lifestyle habits won’t increase longevity without disability. The experience of “Blue Zones” presented on Oprah prove that.  I recall in a small California community a  male surgeon was still practicing at 94, and so was a female attorney (another attorney in Texas is 102).  But one fact that permeates Blue Zones if strong intra-family and community ties, not the hyperindividualism or pre-nups.
And, just New Year’s Eve, on the Metro, I had a conversation with a pre-med student. He wanted to do oncology – to extend lives even longer. Geriatrics hadn’t occurred to him.
What “demographic winter” predicts is that more childless people will wind up with “family responsibility” thrust on them anyway. It’s not a nice feeling to have it dumped in your lap when you were too “self absorbed” earlier in life to have a family of your own.  I have to quote Philip Longman (“The Empty Cradle”) here. And yet I must "confess" that relating to people "in their own space" (for the moment) is not my own cup of tea.  It makes effective and credible "volunteering" difficult and turns it into "community service". 

It strikes me also that the whole issue of eldercare brings back the question of what “we feel about” in others – and the permanence of that feeling.  The capacity for complementarity and permanence in passion is being lost.

In the meantime, expect cash strapped states to wake up to the idea that they can start enforcing their filial responsibility laws. 

Also -- today, from a day trip, in the Potomac Highlands in West Virginia, the (private) "street name" there is "Retired and Broke".  I didn't use a high enough resolution for the letters to show.
There's also a "Goldsworthy cairn" in a front yard on Braddock Mountain (above Frederick MD), didn't get the photo this time.  

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