Are eighty-year-olds and even seventy-year-olds the new children?
The days when elders were seen as wise and important contributors to their communities vanished long ago. Thanks to advertising and social media, eighty-year-olds and up are associated with diapers, dementia, and a mountain of hospital-looking equipment that reduces them to their “Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)” needs.
Our exposure to information like this has shifted our perception and elders have become victims of this change in our society.
The same thing could be said for kids in their twenties. It used to be that twenty-two-year-olds were adults—from going to war to getting married and having children.
Those days are long gone, too.
Eighty-year-olds are physically different from forty-year-olds. Just as forty-year-olds are different from eighteen-year-olds. That’s the nature of life and every age has its pros and cons: children under 12 can learn a language as if by magic, someone in their early 20s can run a five minute mile with much more ease than anyone over 50, and those over 80 have deep insights into life that can only be gained through eight decades of living.
Bottom line: our bodies, including our brains, are constantly changing no matter how old we are. However, changes -no matter if they’re for the better or worse- are no reason to turn an 85-year-old into an infant. As I see it, we’re constantly setting up our elders to be treated like helpless babies. For example, when balance is compromised (such as when the inner compass lags behind the speed of body movements), transitions in and out of couches, bathtubs, and beds can be complicated. Yet we overreact by insisting on making their houses look like hospitals by putting in countless medical-looking devices. Nothing will sap a person’s self-confidence and ultimately impair their real mobility like making them feel incompetent. It is true that most people face some challenges with their balance late in life, but they certainly don’t need their old age to be turned into disease.
This situation makes me think about those twenty- eight-year-olds whose mothers worry about what they eat, how much sun they’re exposed to, and actively find them jobs and internships.
Are twenty-eight year-olds that vulnerable? Really? Not long ago that used to be the age when people changed the world.
So, the question is: Why does our society infantilize people in their twenties and their eighties?
Some say it’s because we live so long now that society has no room for so many adults. Meaning, leave twenty-six-year-olds with Master’s degrees at their barista jobs and turn eighty-two-year olds into little babies surrounded by hospital-ware. Is this real? Is it fair? Does it make sense? And who is doing it?
This is happening as I write. Both the wise elder and the independent, self-sufficient twenty something have vanished from our conversations, our social media, and the television screen. It isn’t fair. In fact, it’s one of the most damaging views our society could have about itself. But, who’s doing it? We all are. There is no one to blame but us. Yes, pharmaceutical and hospital equipment makers make more money this way, and yes, our current economy can’t create jobs fast enough for the young beyond the never-ending need for baristas and tattoo artists. However, none of that is set in stone. Cultures and perceptions can be changed when we, as a society, decide to do so. Plenty has changed for the better in just the last ten years.
What’s the solution?
Don’t treat anyone but little kids as kids. Winston Churchill used a cane to help himself with his own transitions while defending his country from impending doom and defeating the worst man of the 20th century. Roosevelt led the free world from a wheel chair! No one, not even today, ever defines Churchill and Roosevelt as helpless sick old men.
Napoleon, on the other hand, is credited with his first victory at the battle of Toulon, at the young age of 24. No helicopter mother needed there either.