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The crisis of old age....everyone's problem

Senior citizens have more of almost everything — more health problems,
more financial problems, more housing problems,
more need for transportation, and more loneliness.
They lack what they need most — a meaningful place in the mainstream of society.
Can the problems the elderly face be resolved?


AS A Senior Citizen, what is your biggest worry?" PLAIN TRUTH staff writers asked a number of elderly interviewees. Almost all gave "not enough money" as their chief concern.

Others mentioned related problems — difficulty in finding a job, rising health costs, a housing shortage.


The Problem of Money

We asked James Carbray, an expert on the problems of Senior Citizens, "What is the major problem facing our elderly?"

His answer: "If you wanted to confine it to the greatest problem, I think you would have to say in great measure it's a lack of sufficient income."

Ted Ellsworth Administrator of the Center for Labor Research and Education for the Institute of Industrial Relations, UCLA, answered the same question. “The main problem," this administrator said, "of course, is INCOME, the high cost of living, high taxes, inflation, with incomes that are no longer flexible — they're set incomes — and this, of course, is the main problem.

"Health is the secondary problem, secondary only in the sense it's secondary to income." He also mentioned lack of good nutrition and poor housing as problems of Senior Citizens.


Getting to the Root Problem

There is no doubt that these are grave physical difficulties. They do cause the elderly anguish and suffering. But consider a moment — these are only effects — not causes!

Poor health is merely an effect — an effect of the lifetime habit of poor nutrition or of physical injury. Loneliness is an effect — an effect of not being wanted or needed. Poverty is an effect—an effect of the inability to save money throughout life in preparation for old age.

Poor health, loneliness, and poverty are also effects of a yet more basic, underlying cause. These effects could be removed if we understood the purpose for life and grasped the proper role of the elderly in our society.

But few are concerned with such long-range issues in a youth-oriented society. Being old in a society that worships youth can mean loneliness, isolation and poverty.

Most studies and plans to solve the problems of the elderly have not been able to center any reforms around this basic concept. The reason, of course, is easy to see. It would require putting into practice a revolutionary new social order.

Most programs to help the aged deal with their immediate physical problems only. They have ended in frustration, a frustration that has plagued nations throughout history.

Many nations and governmental leaders ask, "How do we solve the seemingly insurmountable problems of inadequate income, poor health, lack of proper nutrition, lack of housing, not enough transportation?"


Presidential Conference on Aging

U. S. President Nixon has called for a White House Conference in late 1971 to consider the needs and role of the elderly.

When first discussing the conference, the President said: "We have made progress in meeting the needs of older people, but there still are many serious and UNSOLVED problems. . . the major and overriding problem is that we as a people have not developed a real philosophy of aging."

A "philosophy of aging"? What would it mean in a society that is primarily concerned with — and indeed worships — youth?

Where do the elderly fit into our society? What about their skills and wisdom? How can those in middle age prepare for the future?


A Massive Problem

The problem of aging is massive — both from the magnitude of the difficulties involved and the sheer weight of numbers of citizens involved.

There are 20 million Americans, 8 million Britons, one million Australians and over one and a half million Canadians aged 65 or older.

In Britain, tens of thousands of older people are living in abject squalor, without even basic amenities.

According to a recent report published by the British Help the Aged Organization: "One and a half million old people live alone and 300,000 are in urgent need of sheltered accommodation — groups of flatlets supervised by a warden.

"350,000 are without any of the three basic facilities — the use of a bath, kitchen, or indoor lavatory.

"Two million old people have access to only an outside lavatory. Nearly 300,000 have no lavatory at all.

"Well over one million have only piped cold water.

"Britain has nearly 8½ million people over the age of retirement — but there is no overall plan to ensure their health, welfare and general comfort should their family circumstances leave them vulnerable."

The report went on to say: "With the annual increase of some 100,000 in the number of retired people, we can only ignore this situation at our peril." For many of these British senior citizens, health, poverty and loneliness are problems now!

The elderly in other lands have similar problems to one degree or another.


Future Senior Citizens

In the United States, 18,000,000 Americans in the 55 to 64-age group will soon face the problems of retirement and health.

Behind this group is another army of 24,000,000 men and women in the 45 to 54-age category. Within 10 to 20 years they too will be Senior Citizens.

Every day some 900 Americans — 330,000 persons per year — are added to the rolls of the Senior Citizen group. Many quickly find themselves wrestling with the problems of making ends meet on a fixed income, finding new constructive goals in life, and caring for their health.

What should be done to solve the financial problems, the problems of shelter, transportation, housing, education — especially a proper place in society — which cause so much anguish among the elderly?


Place in Society

These problems would be solved if man understood the proper role which the elderly should play in society. The raw loneliness of many ill the older generation — stemming from a feeling they are no longer a part of the mainstream of life — is so very often a direct result of misunderstanding the proper role for the elderly. Theirs becomes a give-up attitude.

Not all, of course. But for the broad majority the feeling that there is no future — that life is already finished or just about over — is constantly in mind.

Many elderly feel they have not been successful at life and that life is not worth living any more. They often feel unwanted or unneeded by either family or society. They feel they are contributing nothing to this world.

A few busy themselves spending their savings, shutting out the reality of life — poor health, poverty and imminent death become inescapable realities. Only the few feel they have lived an abundant, satisfying life — and live out their remaining years in productivity and peace of mind.

Where does loneliness lead the elderly? Often it leads to suicide! The highest rate of suicides for any age group is found among the elderly, particularly men.

WHY? The answer is quite clear. The elderly need success as any other person of any other age group needs success. Yet, often the elderly are the least successful people on earth!

But WHY? WHY are the elderly discarded from society to live generally non-productive lives? The answer is twofold.