Who will shoulder aging population?

December 28, 2008|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

There is a story which comes from ancient Japan about a tiny village at the base of a tall mountain called Mount Narayama.

In this village, so the story goes, when an elderly parent reaches the age of 70, it is the responsibility of the eldest son to carry on his back the aging parent to the top of Mount Narayama. There he leaves the parent to die in the cruel elements at the peak of the mountain.

How should a society care and prepare for an aging population?

The demographic statistics associated with this dilemma should be concerning to the American public. Some of these statistics are really staggering when pondered.

Consider a few of them:

* Between now and 2030, the number of Americans between 55 and older will almost double from 60 million today to 107.6 million.


* At the turn of the century, life expectancy was 46; today, it is 76.

* The number of citizens over the age of 85 will also double by 2030.

The aging population will also create some significant challenges for our society.

How will we respond to those challenges?

As I read the papers and look at some of the budget problems associated with the operation of Holly Place, I have to admit I have some obvious concerns in regard to our response to dealing with our seniors who are sick and require some assistance.

Do we place them on our shoulders and carry them to someplace and conveniently drop them off and forget about them, or should we be a little more responsible because one day we might be in the same situation?

I have witnessed in different communities, mine included, how some children totally ignore an aging parent. Many of these siblings could care less if their parents are able to go get groceries, can make it to the doctor's office for scheduled visits, or even notice if they are sick or need some kind of care.

The children, as described above, would probably have little difficulty living in the village at the base of Mount Narayama.

Other children are just the opposite and want to make their aging parents as comfortable as possible in old age and keep them going as long as they can. Routine telephone calls, visits and offers for assistance are noble behaviors.

As the moral threads of our society and family unit seem to be unraveling, who will step up to assist a population that is quickly growing older?

What happens to the elderly citizen who can no longer care for themselves and has no immediate family? Are those churches who speak volumes about helping people really ready to approach this problem of aging which has mammoth implications? Is our government the least little bit concerned about what the future holds for seniors?

There are far more questions than answers to the problem. The path of life's journey can be filled with many days of sunshine, but as the clouds of a long life start to gather, it would be reassuring to know that someone is outside the door with a little help.

Many seniors are staying active longer and will continue to make many contributions to our society, if permitted.

For others, there are some significant medical and financial problems that will arrive. Assistance will be needed. For those parents who have children, a little responsibility on the child's part will go a long way to helping with this problem.

Our government, too, should share in this responsibility.

After all, it is those aging citizens who have helped to make this country great. Ignoring their needs in the twilight years is inexcusable.

As a continuation to the story above that began this column, there is another part of the tale.

One day as the eldest son was carrying his mother to the top of Mount Narayama to die; she would continually grab a small tree branch and break it off.

After laboring to carry her to the top of the mountain, the son finally paused and in a state of agitation said, "Mother, why do you continue to break those branches from the trees?

She responded, "I do it, son, so that you might find your way back to the village".

Parents, grandparents, or significant others have looked after us for a lifetime. Isn't it time we looked after them for a little bit?

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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