How do most senior citizens in the United States actually live? Not together -- only seven percent of seniors live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and supportive retirement communities. Not with their kids and grandkids -- only 20 percent of seniors live within so-called intergenerational families, dramatized for this viewer by 1970s TV shows such as The Waltons. Today, almost three-quarters of seniors live alone or with a spouse/roommate in a house, condo or apartment.
And then the spouse, friend or sister dies. Another person is added to the nation of solitary elderly, segregated from mainstream society. In fact, half of women over 75 live alone. Alone, watching TV for an average of seven hours per day. Alone, struggling to care for themselves and their property. According to a 2019 Pew study, Americans over age 60 exist alone for more than half of their waking days, not including time for personal grooming. Alone, with their thoughts and memories. Alone, with their anxiety and grudges.
Is there a TV show that dramatizes this sad reality? Who would watch it?
On a simmering, subconscious level that's just too painful to access, many senior citizens are angry at their children and grandchildren. Screw 'em. Let 'em figure it out, invent some fancy App to fix the planet. Then the big shrug: what's the difference, I'm gonna die soon anyway. Such feelings are understandable, but also run counter to the powerful, universal urge that motivates most parents: to create a better future for their children. Moreover, abdicating responsibility violates the rules of courtesy, a virtue prized among older generations. You clean up your mess before bugging out.
Yesterday, after visiting my mother at her nursing home, I stood in the lobby waiting for my ride. Grimly I mulled over the difficulties of getting her the hearing aid that she needs and will probably reject. Nearby I spied Rose, one of my mom's bingo pals, in her wheelchair. Across from her sat a young man in his twenties. He was dressed in black, his hair cut in a slant that seemed both futuristic and retro. His arm was stretched out and in his hand he held Rose's hand. He looked into her eyes, nodding as she talked. No glances at his smart phone, nothing else but her.
Okay, I thought, there's hope yet.