The Older Americans Act of 1965 states that the elderly will be entitled to “Retirement in health, honor, [and] dignity – after years of contribution to the economy.” Is this really the case in today’s retired community?
With the elderly having to work to supplement their retirement incomes, and many aging adults wanting to “age in place” rather than be taken care of in a nursing home or assisted living facility, the nation is not prepared for the 11,000 Baby Boomers per day who already have and will be turning 65 years old this year and for the next 19 years. The Baby Boomers have been called the “sandwich generation”—taking care of their children as well as their own aging parents. Now the question is, who will take care of them?
Martha Jacob, Ph.D., with the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Dominican University, along with two of her colleagues, Julie Bach, Ph.D., and Adrian Kok, Ph.D., opened the eyes of a full classroom of students to the study of geriatrics and Baby Boomers.
A Baby Boomer herself, Jacob described the struggles that the elderly go through, from the confusion with government aid such as Medicare and Social Security, to the decisions that need to be made concerning living arrangements for the elderly whose families cannot or will not take care of them. “Every life experience, every opportunity, every non-opportunity…” contributes to the process of aging, she said.
Jacob went on to say that there are techniques for successful aging, such as social engagement, not only within the family but also with the community. She stressed the fact that Baby Boomers these days are not as reserved or submissive as the previous generation; they are not afraid to voice their needs, and because many are educated, they are better researchers and therefore know what resources are available to them. They need motivated young minds to help them reach out to the community or government in order to receive what they deserve.
Though the purpose of the presentation was not to persuade students to change majors to social work or gerontology, it heightened awareness of the growing and needy job market that is out there in this particular field. Now is the time to educate ourselves on taking care of the elderly, several speakers emphasized. If not to pursue a career in it, then simply for ease and knowledge in taking care of our parents or grandparents.
“Why am I here? What’s going to happen when I’m gone?” Dr. Julie Bach asked. She helped us to gain some perspective on the thoughts of the elderly, and what they need in order to better cope with disease or mental illness.
Bach posed the question, “How many of you can’t wait until you’re 50?”
The room filled with chuckles as the audience looked around and saw no hands fly up in the air. “We can’t wait until we’re 16, we can’t wait until we’re 21, but nobody looks forward to turning 50,” she said. “Trying to make policies easier is difficult when people are denying aging.”
The ongoing issue of who should be responsible for aging parents still stands. Should the government take control, or should it be solely the family’s responsibility? The trio suggested that many people don’t realize the problems we face as a society, especially with providing quality care for the growing population of the elderly.
Education is imperative in order to provide assistance to the elderly and their families with decisions related to care, living arrangements, a social life, and dealing with aging successfully overall.
A very enthusiastic and smiling Dr. Kok concluded the presentation with the fact that most sociology majors prefer to work with children. He acknowledged that “students are not entering into the field of aging because it’s not attractive.”
– Kinga Kasprzyk, Contributing Writer