Old, but not out-dated: Why we need the elderly more than ever

The idea of living in a retirement village has appealed to me ever since I was in my early twenties. As an introvert at heart, I find the large houses and loud noises of modern civilisation tremendously unappealing. Give me a quiet corner of the world, and a community of people who move slow enough to notice the beautiful details of life, any day of the week.

Lately I’ve come to realise living within an aged community would not only fulfil a desire, but also a tremendous need in my life.

When I was 22 my father passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, I moved away from my home in Melbourne to begin my current job in Sydney. When I reflect on the years since then, what stands out to me is the absence of adult mentorship in my life. Sure, I have some older friends and work colleagues with whom I can chat, but these conversations tend to stay at surface level. The fact is there are few people in whom I can confide and seek advice from when things get messy in my life.

That’s not to say living within a retirement village would magically solve this problem. Yet there is something extremely comforting in the idea of being surrounded by people with so much wisdom and life experience.

We are seeing evidence of this in the Netherlands, with a number of nursing homes offering free accommodation to university students who are willing to offer some of their time to their elderly neighbours. These programs have not only benefited the residents in their 80s and 90s, who feel more loved and less isolated as a result of the new friendships1, but also the 20-year-old students. One student grew so close with an elderly resident that she asked her to be the flower girl at her wedding.2

Stories like this are a welcome change from the usual distance found between the young and old. In fact, one could argue these intergenerational relationships are becoming all the more crucial as the political powers of our world flex their muscles and trade threats of war. Anybody under 72 years of age will never have tasted the horrors of world war, and so it is crucial we listen and learn from this “disappearing”3 generation.

Isaac Newton, in referencing Bernard of Chartres (12th century), said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. It’s an attitude that flies in the face of our culture obsessed with standing “on our own two feet”. But as the Bible says, “someone who falls alone is in real trouble” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

To best walk the road of life, the best thing we can do is learn from those who have gone before us.

—Linden Chuang

  1. http://theconversation.com/heres-why-some-dutch-university-students-are-living-in-nursing-homes-68253
  2. http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/10/the-nursing-home-thats-also-a-dorm/408424/
  3. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/the-ranks-of-the-greatest-generation-are-becoming-very-thin-20160414-go6o3k.html

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