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American attitudes toward the elderly

Updated on August 31, 2012

Why don't Americans treasure the elderly?

The idea for this Squidoo lens came to me the other day when I took my 94 year old Mom out with me; I had to run an errand and had no one to stay with her so she didn't have a choice to stay home this time. Now, I don't mean to say that I don't take her with me anyway but, this particular day, she wasn't feeling up to getting dressed so we made an executive decision - we decide that, at almost 95 years of age, she could go out in her nightgown, robe, and socks. Yep, that's right. She's never going to make Blackwell's best dressed list anyway so, WTH?

The reactions we got were amusing and will be detailed further in this lens. And a disclaimer: the opinions in this Squidoo lens are strictly mine and I'm opinionated! So, if you have a beef, let me know. I'm a big girl - I can take it.

As with all of my elder care articles, I don't expect to make any money from this Squidoo lens, but I do hope to get some readership and spark some interesting conversation which you may add to later. Please leave me comments at the bottom of this Squidoo lens so I know you stopped by. And, if you're interested, you can see a list of my elder care articles by clicking this link: Caregiver and Elder Care Articles.

The accompanying picture is of my Mom (Gert) in what she calls her "double header" post. Gizmo and Matee are her almost constant companions in her easy chair. They move at the same speed she does - s-l-o-w.

Speaking of which, please read this excellent article Respect your elders.PeppyPatricia has some great ideas here about how to show respect to our elders.

American attitudes toward the elderly
American attitudes toward the elderly

How the Americans we saw saw us.

My errand was to run to the Benjamin Moore store and get paint for a room. Now, you might not think that this was an important enough errand to make my Mom accompany me on but it was. You see, we have a caregiver now living with us full time, and we had to get the room ready. So, off we tottled.

As we entered the paint store, there were two American women picking out samples. They were dressed well and obviously the kind of women who spent hours in a paint store. Not our kind of chicks. I'd do much better picking out paint if someone gave me just five colors and said "pick one." I hate picking out paint. Anyway, I've digressed...

As I wheeled Mom into the store in her thick white robe and pink polka dotted socks, the women looked up. Their faces registered a bit of shock at seeing us and then they both tried to force a grin. I forced one back.

The gentleman behind the counter, on the other hand, was Indian and greeted us very warmly. He came out from behind the counter, shook Mom's hand and asked how her day was going. He even helped me pick out some beautiful paint colors. He obviously was brought up in a culture that cherished the elderly. Americans? Not so much.

Nursing home problems in America

Why do we Americans allow nursing homes to be so problematic in dealing with the elderly? When I was young, my grandmother had to be placed into a nursing home for her own safety. I'm sure, looking back, she had Alzheimer's but there wasn't a name for the disease at that time. I remember walking in on a surprise visit to see her strapped in bed, half naked, crying. My father hit the roof, as he should. A search of Washington DC nursing homes showed us that the same problems existed over and over again.

We finally sent my Bubbie to live in the Jewish Home for the Aged - one of the nicest nursing homes in the area. It was quite pricey back then but you get what you pay for.

The below links are articles that may interest you. These articles are all about the state of nursing homes in the US.

A few more good books on

These two books are about checking out nursing homes.

elder care
elder care

How the Chinese people we saw saw us

While the paint was being mixed, I rolled Mom next door to the Chinese grocery where we love to get our vegetables. Not only are the fruits and vegetables much cheaper than in the regular grocery store, they're fresher too. During our short visit, every single Chinese person we saw smiled at Mom first and then at me. And, these weren't forced smiles - there were warm smiles. One man even came up and asked me if she was my Mom and, in a very accented voice, told her how lovely she was. Now, remember, the woman was in a nightgown, robe, and socks! It was positively heartwarming.

Why the difference in attitudes between how Americans view elders and other cultures

I have my own theory about why we Americans tend to view our elders as lesser beings than other cultures. A few of my ideas are below.

  1. Other cultures live in extended families. I know my Chinese friends all had 3 generations living in the same home when they lived in Hong Kong. As they immigrated to the US, the pattern of generations living under the same roof was upheld. We Americans move out when we're young adults and that's that. Although, I will say, in recent times, I know of more and more "kids" living back with their aging parents out of necessity or laziness. Because we move out, we sort of lose touch with our elders. Visiting Grandma becomes a chore instead of the pleasure it should be. What a shame that so many young people don't know their elders.
  2. Other cultures see their elders as wise; we Americans tend to see our elderly as weak. Now, I know this is a stereotype but I believe it so it's ok for me to say ( that right?). Regardless, in talking with my friends of other cultures, they all ask advice of their elders. They may not always take the advice but they ask. This serves a two-fold purpose: 1) the years of experience give elderly a leg up in dealing with life in general so they are wiser and 2) asking the elderly their opinion keeps them engaged in life.
  3. The American culture glorifies youth and fears aging. All you have to do is pick up a magazine and look at the cover. How often is there a model over 30 on the cover? Almost never, unless it's, well, AARP...

    Americans are so interested in staying young they will do almost anything to appear that way - witness botox injections. I've had some friends get so much botox that their foreheads are frozen. I'd rather have wrinkles than not be able to crinkle my eyes in laughter.

American attitudes toward the elderly

I may be totally off base here and would love for you to set me straight. Anyone who visits this Squidoo lens may comment (eg, you don't have to be a member of Squidoo).

In America, is the attitude toward the elderly better or worse than other cultures?

It's way better - you don't know what you're talking about.

It's way better - you don't know what you're talking about.

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    Right on, Sistah. Glad you brought it up. We Americans honor, love and respect our elders more.

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      • Angelina 4 years ago from California

        So true, we treat the elderly like children or worse. They are adults that deserve to treated with dignity and respect.

      • anonymous 4 years ago

        I agree, both these options indicate we treat the elderly better in this country, which is far from the truth. Our attitude is definitely worse in my opinion. I am studying in the medical arena. The 20 somethings tend to be condesending in their manner. A comment was made unless crossword puzzles were worked, the elderly just wasted away and lost their ability to interact. Another comment was made by an instructor that due to metabolism slow down, poorly fitting dentures, they loose the desire to drink and only want to eat applesauce. The body looses its ability to regulate temperature so the little old ladies sit around in sweaters. I felt the tone was very disrespectful - especially for someone in the health industry.

      • LaurisB LM 5 years ago

        Actually, I don't understand these 2 choices. They both seem to say that Americans treat the elderly better.

      • LaurisB LM 5 years ago

        Absolutely right on. Having lived in Latin America during the last 10 years, this difference is so obvious to me. Here young people interact with older people comfortably. You see them out walking or doing other things together. In the US, it seems spending time with the grandparents is only done out of obligation, with no interest in them as human beings.

      • LivingLikeCrazy 5 years ago

        Kudos on addressing this! I am straight up and down American and though my circle is very respectful/appreciative of elders we have all noticed that our outlook is often unshared by our peers. The luckiest of our generation will all get older. It's time for old age to be something to look forward to, not fear. Mainstream/Media has gotten things backwards!

      • Joan Haines 5 years ago

        It's downright sad that we worship youth in America.

      • Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

        Unfortunately yes, different cultures view the elderly differently. It is indeed a sad fact.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        Our elders should all be honored, and well taken care of. It is terrible to know that so many seniors are not.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        We do need to honor our elders. It is really awful that elders are not respected. It makes me embarrassed, frustrated, and sad.

      • SteveKaye 5 years ago

        We have an epidemic of rudeness in America that's directed toward all generations. Thank you for making this lens on such an important topic.

      • hotbrain 5 years ago from Tacoma, WA

        I don't have enough worldly experience for a true comparison... but I've found that elders are often full of wisdom, and I try to ask for advice frequently. I'm always amazed when I think of how much life has changed for the elderly - the introduction of TV, internet, etc - and how well they are actually dealing with modern society. I treasure the elderly and think if more Americans did, it would be a better country.

      • Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

        I'm getting into the age bracket myself (you don't have to be 90) where you start to be invisible or less valued. There definitely is some age discrimination going on. Sad.

      • kathysart 5 years ago

        ohh your mom again... I so so get it

      • EMangl 5 years ago

        You would have experienced the same here in Vienna, Austria - more and more people treat elder people as if they are useless or something bothersome; they all forget that with every day the day comes closer where they might be in the same situation ...

      • Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        We need a slap upside the head. Good job, Lori.

      I love to hear what my readers have to say and the above poll says it all. I'm struck by the comments above and the fact that we, as Americans, really DO treat our elderly differently than they should be treated. What do you think?

      Please leave me comments!!

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          mariacarbonara 4 years ago

          I think you are spot on... somehow we have become a culture of youth and vanity... Strangely though, most of our leaders, judges and politicians etc dont reach their prime until they are in their 50s and 60s... Its definitely one thing that we need to change in our society... we need to value our elders more.

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          seegreen 4 years ago

          Most western cultures don't seem to value the elderly as many other cultures do. I didn't grow up around grandparents but fortunately my daughters were able to spend more time with theirs. I really hate the youth-worshiping culture we live in but I don't see it changing any time soon.