Friday, May 21, 2010

Aging in Isolation

I recently journeyed to Co. Clare, Ireland with Justin Weiler and John Murillo to explore the effects of aging in isolation and how the community is combating this problem. Kathleen Ryan was one of the older people we interviewed. She has lived alone in a small house for two and a half years since her husband went to live in a nursing home. He past away a few months ago and now it is just her.

Some of the biggest challenges she faces revolve around getting food and social stimulation. The local Family Resource Center that helps her get groceries and attend weekly social functions of tea and learning opportunities is facing budget cuts and may soon not be able to help her with these things. Without them it will cost her 35 Euro ($50) to get a taxi to do just about anything as there are no buses where she lives.

Kathleen was one of many older people facing this isolation in Co. Clare and all over the world. Discarding the stories and wisdom of the older generations is not unique to any one place and is one of the biggest cultural mistakes of our day.

1 comment:

  1. I was really touched by this post, Guru.

    It reminded me of what's happening in my country, Bulgaria, in the past 20 years of Democracy - the cities grow as young people move there in search for work and better life opportunities, and thus small towns and villages become depopulated, with the old people left to struggle alone.

    Old age is just the least of their problems. The lack of services and social interaction takes its toll on elderly people. Winters in the mountain can be harsh, and since most provincial houses are usually old too, people can't afford to have proper heating or abundance of goods and food. They are left on their own devices, and their traditional lifestyle fails them.

    On personal level, the relatives of old people living away in the cities are often too busy to visit or help, and connections are severed.

    It's a sad situation.

    This isolation is a syndrome of how the modern world has changed. Businesses and services are now almost a 100% oriented to young and able people, and life has become too fast for old people to keep up. Technology, media and social tendencies exclude old people, and even the idea of being old is frowned upon. As if modern day humans want to be forever young! Just look at the celebrity culture...

    I can remember the times when I was a child, and it wasn't too long ago. I believe that my generation is really the last to actually have some genuine connection to their grandparents. The generational gap was bigger, yet we managed to travel to the country every summer and spend three months in the wild.

    What I'm getting at is that most city children nowadays don't even know how a sheep looks like. It's probably not a big deal, but I feel that the connection with Nature is being lost in modern days. And that's because TRADITION is being lost. Old people are not just old, they have the life experience of different times - those of hand made bed linen and soap, or compotes and garden tomatoes, of crafts and arts, and mainly - beliefs. Superstition and wisdom, and even magic are almost completely obsolete because old people's heritage is being ignored and marginalized.

    I agree - isolating old people is a cultural mistake. That's why it's important to keep trying to collect as much as we can of the memories, experiences and knowledge of old people around the world - you do it in images, and I do it with words - and to attempt to preserve what's left of their traditions.