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old wine is highly valued, but when it comes to …

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… old people — you know, people like you and I, your grandma and your dad — there’s little enthusiasm. Getting old, being old, is not a sexy topic, unless you’re Robert Redford or Oprah makes it so. A centre-fold (!) article in yesterday’s Globe & Mail reports on the medical speciality of geriatrics. Apparently it makes sense — medically, economically, and otherwise — to bring care to elderly, frail patients in their homes as it “often results in better care for less money.” Duh!

But who wants to practice such medicine? Who wants to make house calls and see patients one at a time (instead of having them stacked waiting in cubicles for profitable efficiency? Who wants to enter the messiness of ageing?

Each year, across this country, almost half of the geriatrics residency places (15 of 31) sit vacant for lack of interest. This year only 3% of doctors selected geriatrics as a first choice for medical specialty training. Young doctors, it appears, are more drawn to lucrative specialties, relegating family medicine and geriatrics to the bottom end of desirable careers.

Health Canada tells us that we face “significant aging of [our] population as the proportion of seniors increases more rapidly than all other age groups. In 2001, one Canadian in eight was aged 65 years or over. By 2026, one Canadian in five will have reached age 65.” Chances are that I’ll be dead and gone by then, but what about you? Who will care for you? I’ve already concluded that we (as individuals, as a society) prefer not to talk about dying. Getting and being old (especially old and sick and dependent) are equally unpopular topics for conversation.



3 responses »

  1. It’s amazing to me how death aversive we are here in North America. Forget about death; we’re age aversive. Botox, plastic surgery, hot cars and clothes, searching for youth in younger mates and dusty memories. If we could hold our deaths with the preciousness we hold a new infant there would be honour and grace in aging and dying.

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful words.

  2. kinda of shallow but thanks for the picture of Robert Redford I have always admired the man more for his choice of movies and his activism but he is not hard to look at…with regards to the other part I think it is sad that old age is no longer respected and accepted….I have no idea who will look after me…..2026…I will be 64 just into the prime of my retirement….

  3. A few pertinent poems by Ryokan (1758?-1831)

    An old and useless body,
    I have seen many generations of flowers in this
    lonely, borrowed hermitage.
    When spring comes, and if I am still alive,
    Surely I will come to see you again–
    Listen for the sound of my staff.

    To an old man, dreams come easy;
    I let my thoughts drift.
    The room is empty and both the sake and the oil are used up–
    The long winter night.

    For more than seventy years, I have been making
    Myself dizzy observing men.
    I have abandoned trying to penetrate men’s good
    and bad actions.
    Coming and going is a sign of weakness.
    Heavy snow in the dead of night–
    Under the weather-beaten window, one incense stick.

    from: One Robe, One Bowl: the Zen Poetry of Ryokan


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