I just finished reading SHOCK OF GRAY by Ted C. Fishman, NYT bestselling author. The writer closely examines the not-so-distant future for a time when the world's population over the age of 65 is expected to reach 1 billion and discusses the ramifications of such a change in demographics. It's a very compelling look into what it will all mean for families, the workplace and even the nation,
The million dollar question becomes "Who will take care of them?"
or what could be more accurately asked as "Who will take care of us?" as many join the ranks of the elderly in another 20 years.
I was particularly fascinated by a state in Germany that has a novel solution to the existing problem of thousands of unfilled caregiver jobs despite the high rate of unemployment there. Prostitutes are being retrained to fill these roles. Apparently, the job skills acquired in their former profession translate nicely to skills necessary to care for the elderly. They are used to listening, empathizing, and are not deterred by the less sanitary aspects of the position. I wonder if such a program could work over here.
Ted C. Fishman also raises the excellent point of the importance of providing interesting and worthwhile activities for senior communities. Sarasota, Florida is used as an example of a city offering fine arts, academic lectures and good restaurants. A personal pet peeve of mine is seeing age-inappropriate art in nursing homes. Do we really need to end life the way we started - making macaroni art?
The Mediterranean diet has widely been accepted as the healthiest in the world. In Spain, it goes a step further because it is quite unusual to see a person eating or drinking alone. According to the author, there is a complex link between Spain's diet and longevity but since the people are recognized as the most social eaters in all of Europe, strong social networks logically play a role in happy, relatively healthy and well-adjusted members of a community.
There are no easy answers to the many questions that are likely to come up as we prepare for this unfamiliar world. For now, acknowledging the challenges ahead is enough. Opening the dialogue is a stepping stone to future solutions.