How Do Different Cultures Take Care of Seniors?
People have been aging since the beginning of time. Although different cultures have separate aging attitudes and traditions, perspectives on aging can be very different across the world.
Learn more about how different cultures take care of seniors.
Aging in Different Cultures Around The World
“Respect your elders.” Many people hear this sentiment, but what does it actually mean?
When examining a universal human experience such as aging, it can be both interesting and helpful to see how people in other and places and times approached the topic. For example, today people are living much longer across the world, so people’s perspective on aging is different. However, some cultures treat their elderly with more respect and dignity than others.
Many cultures view age 65 as senior status, or officially “getting old.” However, the connotation of what this means as a member of society is viewed differently. For example, in Japan, seniors are highly respected and even celebrated. Japan even has a national paid holiday called “Respect for the Aged Day” to show appreciation for seniors, and there’s a “no-elderly-left-behind” attitude to celebrate everyone. China and India also honor their elders. Most countries have an appreciation for their elders, but unfortunately ageism is present in some cultures.
While America’s seniors are arguably happier and healthier than ever before, they are still subject to prejudice and stereotyping. Unfortunately, some younger people perceive anyone with wrinkled skin or gray hair as old, and many elders report feeling ageism among society and the workplace. While many families and religions honor and value their elders, America is one of the places around the world where seniors are not always given the respect they deserve.
On a positive note, America is starting to take action to honor seniors and provide for them, especially as the aging baby boomers reach senior status at record numbers each day. Many religions in America regard the elderly with the dignity and appreciation, and good samaritans volunteer to help the elderly at senior centers or senior living communities. Society is taking measures to remember that senior citizens are knowledgeable people who have lived through both the heartache and jubilation of life, shown through Senior Citizens Day and Older Americans Month.
Elders have something to contribute to society in the wisdom they’ve gained from their life histories, even if it’s a story about life or history. American is also putting a lot of focus on preventative care for seniors. State-of-the-art senior living communities have evolved to support the need for a rapidly aging population.
Respecting the elderly is part of the actual law in China. In fact, elderly parents in China can sue their grown children for both emotional and financial support. Companies are also required to give workers time off to see their parents. Given the dense population and growing elderly population this makes sense, as families need to take care of elders so as not to put the economy in jeopardy.
China is projected to have 636 million people over age 50 by 2050, or nearly 49% of the population— up from 25% in 2010, according to a report in USA Today.
While obligation is one of the driving factors to care and show dignity toward elderly, the Chinese culture has always stressed respect toward elders. So practices of honor and kindness toward seniors is normal life in China.
The Japanese culture values the elderly. Appreciation for elders has been engrained in families and their children, making Japan one of the most kind places in the world for seniors.
Many Japanese families have several generations living under one roof. This arrangement is believed to be one of the many reasons the elderly in Japan live longer than any other population. In fact, there are more elderly citizens than young people in Japan as the population is comprised of more people over the age of 65 than any other group, according to the Administration on Aging.
Happiness and longevity, well into the latter part of life in Japan, have been attributed to strong community bonds, family and healthy living that includes plenty of exercise and healthy, low-fat diets. Honoring tradition to care for and respect family members, especially seniors, doesn’t hurt.
Older people are valued as asset in Scotland. Their voices are heard and they are supported to enjoy full and positive lives in family settings, according to a new program called “Reshaping Care for Older People.”
Scotland has pledged to hear the elderly, and the cultural thinking, and money, has shifted away from hospitals and toward preventative care. This paradigm shift has allowed this culture to value life, rather than treat ailments.
Scotland also adapts homes so that people can age and stay in them. Families do their best to care for their elderly loved ones, and keep them as valued members of society. Honoring old age has become a tradition.
The Vietnamese truly value the “respect your elders” sentiment. In fact, elders are considered the carriers of knowledge, tradition and wisdom in the Vietnamese culture.
Elderly grandparents live with their families for support and care, and they contribute to the household by preparing meals and caring for grandkids. Elders are considered the head of the family and their advice is valued to the point where they are the decision makers in the household.
In Vietnam, being old is considered an asset, not a liability; a shift of perspective that helps make a long life harmonious in this culture.
End-of-Life Practices in Different Cultures
End-of-life decisions vary drastically across cultures. Some societies do everything possible to keep their elderly alive. Other groups, however, see old members as a burden, and thus take steps to end their lives. Eldercide typically happens in communities that are either nomadic, or that live in harsh climates with limited resources.
A study in American Ethnologist, the Chukchi of Siberia practice voluntary death, in which an old person requests to die at the hand of a close relative when they are no longer in good health. Also, many native Americans in the U.S. and Norse tribes in Scandinavia follow similar practices to voluntarily choose to end life — so the elderly put themselves in an impossible situation — like setting out to sea on a solo voyage.
Some cultures use spirituality to try to extend lives. For example, the Greek island of Ikaria seems to have life-extending magic in its soil, according to The New York Times. In fact, residents of this small Mediterranean island are four times more likely than their American counterparts to live to 90, and they live on average 8 to 10 years longer after being diagnosed with cancer or cardiovascular disease. The practices in this Greek culture are to not rush through life, but instead savor every second. For example, they stay up late “eating Kalamata olives, drinking mountain tea and swimming in the crystal-clear water,” according to the Times article. The answer to this island’s longevity probably lies in its eating patterns and relaxed lifestyle, but nobody can definitively explain the magic behind this island of centenarians.
How do you plan to increase engagement and become more involved with a loved one? What are your thoughts on how seniors are treated differently around the world? Share your story with us in the comments below.
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