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Comparing Elderly Care 1900 versus 2000s

Updated on August 16, 2012
In the pre-Social Security generations, care for the elderly was often provided in the home by family members.
In the pre-Social Security generations, care for the elderly was often provided in the home by family members.

If you were elderly in previous generations, you were handled differently than today. In the generation prior to social security, your family took care of you. During that time, when you provided poor care or avoided caring for your parents, you would be considered a pariah. Families were responsible for each other. There was a greater interdependence among family members. The elderly were seen as part of the household. They often assisted in the running of the home and the raising of children. That way, if you were elderly, you did not see yourself as a burden. You were a valuable and important part of the household.

In the pre-social security generation, the physicians made house calls. The home was the center of health rather than the hospital. When your health faded, it was family that cared for you rather than strangers or immigrants from third world nations. When it was family providing care, you knew your care takers.

Besides having family provide care taking, the church was also more important. Shunning was often used in disciplining those families which did not take care of their elderly. Although the shunning may have started in the church, it continued in the community. Those who did not care for their own were viewed as ‘worthless’ and ‘unchristian’ and were often treated that way. In some communities, vigilantes stepped in, tarring and feathering those who were negligent in their duties.

In some cases, when families could not take care of you, there were sanitariums or old age homes. These were ways of providing care that was beyond that of what the family could do. Although the name sanitarium was used, the facilities were more akin to a nursing home rather than a mental health facility. Since there were fewer medications, life was not artificially prolonged nor were there addiction problems among the elderly. Medications were limited and given only as needed, not just as precautions. The medications were based on your health needs rather than on the modern limitations of insurance formularies.

If you were wealthy, you could hire nurses or care givers from the local community to help you. These could be set up either on a daily, weekly or permanent basis, depending on what you needed. Since care was provided in the home, they came to where you lived. In this way, you were cared for in your own home and in your own bed when you were bedridden.

In situations where you were a veteran, elderly veterans in the South often chose the option of living at the Confederate veterans homes rather than with their families. They often wanted to spend their final years alongside those they served with. Homes like the Confederate veterans homes were established to care for the elderly veterans, without federal assistance. The homes were often supported by the local communities or with State support. These homes were open to veterans no matter which State they served with.

In the pre-social security generation, when you were elderly, there was a network of other elderly in the community. You knew that you had to help each other. At that time, being elderly was considered a respectful position. The community made way for you and treated you in a mannerly and respectful fashion rather than try to mug you on the streets. The elderly held a position of respect in most communities.

With the advent of social security and other federal benefits, caring for the elderly has changed. The role of family has changed drastically. Some families continue providing care, yet the kind of care they provide has changed. Since care is now often provided in retirement homes, nursing homes or hospitals, the options for family are fewer. The elderly are now cared for in specialty locations rather than the home. The elderly now have the burden of travelling to the physician rather than the physician coming to them. Changes in the cohesiveness of communities have also changed the kind of care given to the elderly. Since communities are less cohesiveness, the support network they provided has lessened as well. With greater mobility, many communities are not as supportive as they had been in the past in caring for their elderly members.

Veterans homes have been replaced by the Veterans Administration. Although many promises are made to young men and women about caring for them when they sign up for military service, that care now has more bureaucracy than care in many cases. Gaining access to care now has greater burdens of paperwork and approvals than in previous generations.

What do you think?

In comparing care for the elderly between 1900 and the 2000's, which model was better?

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    • Sue St. Clair profile image

      Sue St. Clair 5 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      kj force,

      I am glad that you asked the question. It is a shame that the elderly are often treated as a disposable commodity. Rather than deal with the needs and trying to understand them, it is easier to medicate them. Medications help with some conditions, but they will never be a substitute for human contact and connection.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image

      Sue St. Clair 5 years ago from I would rather be in Paris


      Thanks for your comments. In putting the hub together it was eye-opening to see the shift in caring for the elderly. There has been a lot of change and I do not think that all those changes have been for 'the good'.

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      Sue St. certainly did your homework on this hub..nicely really is a shame that the elderly are tossed aside like a used kleenex in todays are correct as to the overuse of meds..many feel it's a way of control.." keep'em medicated" less work. I feel there are alot of ways elderly could be a plus to education, as aides ( dividends) turtoring and assisting teachers, due to budget cuts...oh well that would be in a perfect world...enjoyed the hub...

    • mjboomer profile image

      Mike Elzner 5 years ago from Oregon

      Great Hub, I think is some way the shifting of care from families to institutions reflects the changes associated with societal movement from the agricultural age to the industrial age. However, I came across an interesting statistic recently, only about 15% of elders over 85 live in retirement communities with support services.