October 29th, 2006

ozarque figure

Eldering...

After I mentioned the idea of writing a "field guide to eldering," ziactrice commented:

"I would like to see the book on eldering. I am a post-Boomer who is about to hit later middle-age and be incredibly out-numbered by the senior population... who will then start to fall like an old-growth forest beset by pine bark beetles. Such a book would help _my generation_ deal with the tremendous societal change this will cause, I believe. I'm wondering if we'll be relegated to the sidelines, societally, or if we'll manage to hold the middle in positions of work and responsibility. Or will the vastly more experienced pool of people hold us back from our own gray-haired years of respect, by sheer numerical advantage? Will our systems of support for those who grow infirm be able to cope with the demands? Will there be enough nurses and care-takers?"

I've been pondering all those questions, and trying to decide whether I should try to respond to them with a post -- and here I am. Foolhardy, probably. But concerned. So many of my good friends are in their late forties or early fifties and I worry about them -- have been worrying quite a few years now -- because so far as I can tell they are not working on getting ready for their old age. They're not building a "cognitive reserve." [See post and comments on cognitive reserve at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/297072.html .] And I fully understand why they aren't -- but that doesn't make me any less concerned. Because the longer they put it off the harder it's going to be.

ziactrice asks: "Will our systems of support for those who grow infirm be able to cope with the demands? Will there be enough nurses and care-takers?"

And Colin Angle -- CEO of iRobot Corporation, the company that makes the robot vacuum cleaner Roomba and the robot floor scrubber Scooba -- says: "What our aging population typically wants to do is live independently in their current situation for longer periods of time. Central to making that possible in the future is going to be practical and affordable robots that can do basic tasks for them." [In an interview by Juston Jones at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/12/technology/12interview.html?_r-1&oref=slogin .] With your help, I had a few words to say about that robot-solution previously, in "Too Human By Half"; that's at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/298771.html . It's one possibility; it may happen. But despite what Angle says, it's all too likely to be a possibility that's available only to the genuinely wealthy... and perhaps to the desperately poor, who will qualify for a government-issue caretaker-robot.

I had to go back to my files to find out when I went on book tour for The Grandmother Principles; I was surprised when I saw that it was clear back in 1998 -- before George W. Bush. Time flies; at the moment I can only say that I find it hard to imagine a time BGWB.

Grandmothering is only a subtopic of the vast subject of Eldering, but it's relevant; roughly half of elders are women, and they tend to live longer. I was on book tour for more than a month; I went from one end of this country to the other, and spoke to every sort of audience (mostly women, obviously). In each group there were two or three women who were there because they were interested in what I had to say about the importance of grandmothering and about grandmothering techniques. But everywhere I went, the majority of the women present weren't interested in those things at all. They wanted me to tell them how they could be Stealth Grandmothers. How they could be of typical grandmothering age without looking as if they were or having any of the physical limitations associated with being that age. How they could have adorable and devoted grandchildren without going to all the trouble of doing the things I discuss in the book. Ideally, how they could achieve all this in some "instant" fashion ... by taking a pill, for example. They weren't shy about telling me that this was what they wanted, either; they were perfectly frank and open about it. The pitch was: "I've done my share; now I intend to spend my old age having a good time. Tell me how to do that, and how to do it without other people being aware that I'm an old woman, and I'll buy your book." I wasn't able to do that in 1998, and I'd be even less able to do it today.

ziactrice asks: "I'm wondering if we'll be relegated to the sidelines, societally, or if we'll manage to hold the middle in positions of work and responsibility. Or will the vastly more experienced pool of people hold us back from our own gray-haired years of respect, by sheer numerical advantage?"

Will today's elders get out of the Boomers' way and let them have the good jobs and the jobs where the person doing the work has some control? Will they get out of the Boomers' way and let them assume the elder roles that should be theirs chronologically? This is the first time in history when large numbers of grandparents reach that stage of life while their own parents are still alive and active and perfectly willing to go right on bossing them around. It's hard to be either a family matriach or patriarch when your parents are already holding that slot. And we don't, in our culture, have any patterns for the Great-Grandmother or Great-Grandfather roles, much less patterns into which their age-50-or-older children can easily be fit.

I don't know what's going to happen. I have not the vaguest clue. I do know I'm not comfortable with the idea that the way to deal with the problem is to pretend it's not there.