In Nazi Germany, the “New Order” included disposing of persons the Nazis deemed unworthy. The most famous group of people was, of course, the Jews, who were exterminated by the millions in concentration camps. Less well known is the fact that the “New Order” of the Nazis also deemed people with mental illnesses, disabilities, addictions, and plain old advanced age as being unworthy of life and candidates for the Nazis’ ungentle style of euthanasia.
Euthanasia is illegal throughout the United States.
In our society, we respect and care for older people. We support them through Social Security, which keeps many elders above the poverty line, and Medicare, which provides multiple free services to seniors. Euthanasia is illegal throughout the United States. In addition to these social and legal protections, many families arrange humane and compassionate care for elderly family members out of love, loyalty, and respect and at considerable sacrifice to younger family members.
At the same time, there is a tendency in society to view the elderly as no longer being able to contribute much. This attitude makes elderly people feel useless, shunted aside, and as having no value. Obviously, such feelings may contribute to depression and disillusionment on the parts of elderly people. Lacking motivation to live, many older people may simply give up taking medications, doing exercises, or fighting illness.
Bill Thomas of The Eden Alternative(r) has noted that three plagues afflict older people: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. Thomas’s work involves introducing vital elements of life into senior institutions: plants, animals, and children. The effects on the residents of Chase Memorial Nursing Home, Thomas’s experimental “Eden,” were electrifying. An independent study showed that after two years of interacting with living beings, prescription use at Chase Memorial Nursing Home was only half that of a comparable nursing home nearby. Psychotropic drug use for mental illness dropped, and even deaths were 15% lower than at the control comparison institution. The seniors at Chase Memorial Nursing Home had a reason to get up, to get well, and to get going because they were taking responsibility to nurture life.
Why not allow seniors to nurture younger members of society?
Why not allow seniors to nurture younger members of society? After all, their wisdom, experience, expertise and knowledge are valuable things to share. In an experiment by researchers at Kansas State University, in intergenerational classrooms, preschoolers and kindergartners interacted with nursing home residents to good results. A three-year study showed that the nursing home residents were helped; their skills stayed sharp and their health sometimes improved because they had something for which to keep well in serving the children. Researchers also noticed improvements in the children’s social skills by interacting with the elders, leading to the conclusion that the program was mutually beneficial.
The time comes when many seniors require assisted living. Yet they also need “assisted giving”-to be given opportunities to share their wealth of wisdom, experience, knowledge, expertise, and love with the world.
Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal. New York: Metropolitan Books. Henry Holt and Company. Pp. 115 – 125.
Kansas State University. (July 25, 2015). Ageless education: Researchers create guide for intergenerational program at nursing homes to benefit students, residents. Available online at: http://www.k-state.edu/today/announcement.php?id=4201.
The Eden Alternative(r) (website). http://www.edenalt.org.