Today’s elderly enjoy a better life

Monday, August 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:39 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

One doesn’t have to spend much time around retired people before you get the message that life after work can be what you make it. I’ve been making the rounds at reunions and other mostly senior get-togethers, and it’s been fascinating listening to people talk about their new adventures. For many, traveling has become a way of life. Some spend summers on the road, while others are on the go year-round, opting for warmer climates during the winter. A lot of them spend endless hours in volunteer work in their communities, while others are committed to a variety of civic and social causes.

I ran into a number of people who have gone back to work and begun to carve out careers in fields far removed from their old ones. Some have sold their homes and moved across country to be near children and grandchildren. A few have purchased apartments in retirement communities.

Still, most admit it’s not all fun and games. They worry about money and what can happen in the event of a major illness. Concerns of rising prescription rates and the high cost of health care are never far from their lips. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that things will get any better in the near future.

Whenever I spend a few hours with a group of vibrant, enthusiastic and generous older people, I find myself getting annoyed at the way seniors are often portrayed by the media. I often hear some being criticized because they didn’t plan better for every possible eventuality, which might occur during their retirement years. Many magazines tend to focus their attention on middle-class retirees, rather than offer suggestions or support for those who have to live on less money. One could easily be led to believe that many of these folks chose to live on a meager income. How soon people seem to forget how many women and minorities endured much of their work life without equal opportunity in employment. Millions lacked access to the kind of jobs that would have provided them with a comfortable retirement. Unfortunately, there is no way at this stage of life for them to be able to recoup their losses.

Some people get really upset when others bring up reparations. They seem to feel that it is some kind of personal affront and get hung up on the word and miss the point. I think there is more at stake than what could be accounted for by the payment of money. I think it is infinitely important that people recognize when individuals or classes of individuals are damaged by laws or social codes. I feel that is basic to the retention of one’s humanity, that one must always be aware when he/she has harmed others. And there is no way to downplay the role of repentance in order for an act of forgiveness to occur. It is simply not enough to discontinue whatever hideous infringement has taken place, an acknowledgment must be made and an apology must be offered. Otherwise we arrive at the point where we are, where a new generation feels no responsibility for the ignoble acts of its predecessors and those who have been harmed refuse to forgive.

Older people continue to make valuable contributions to society. People who have older relatives, friends or neighbors in their lives have a definite advantage. They have a wealth of wisdom from which they can draw. I know this from experience, because I was always one of those fortunate enough to be able to profit from the advice and instruction of the elderly. Even today, I’m honored to keep company with 90-year-olds.

And, in spite of the fact that many with whom I visited lived on less than adequate incomes, they still manage to scrimp along and take advantage of opportunities within their churches and communities, to participate in activities designed to make their lives more meaningful. For the most part, even those whose children are able to help them out financially, prefer to remain as independent as possible, to socialize with their own circle of friends and enjoy their own hobbies and interests. Most seem to remain associated with organizations that lobby the government on their behalf. They appreciate the advantage of bargaining as a group.

Overall, I think seniors have a far more positive outlook today than they had in previous generations. While we remember when many households had as many as four generations, we sometimes forget that the quality of life for the family was not always great. For example, a particularly potent strain of influenza during that time could have easily wiped out the entire family. While we might live more separately these day, we also live healthier, and progress, of course, always comes at a price.

I think most of us would have to agree — older today is definitely better.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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