All over the world, millions of people are enjoying their "golden years". How they spend those years often depends on their culture, and the traditions passed on from generations before.
Here in the West, we've adopted an age culture where youth and beauty are idolized, and older adults are casually dismissed. Many celebrities undergo plastic surgery to cling to the vestiges of youth, while the media tends to perpetuate the stereotype of older people being targets of jokes and mockery. In other words, it seemingly spreads a message that there's no honor in aging.
This short-sighted attitude is quite concerning. Not only do we risk isolating older adults from mainstream life, but we also deny ourselves the wisdom that those who have lived longer and experienced more can offer us.
In contrast, cultures worldwide recognize that the value older people bring to society can enrich our lives, create stability, and guide us toward a more prosperous future. They celebrate the wisdom that comes from decades of living and treasure older adults with respect and affection.
Here are some examples of cultures that keep their hearts, minds, and homes open to older people:
Japan has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the best places for older people to live. It's also a land known for longevity – when the media covers the "oldest person in the world", chances are they live in Japan. Japanese culture is rooted in strong multi-generational family bonds and respected roles in the community for older citizens. Children are expected to care for their parents when they age and encourage them to be active household members. It's widely accepted that the way older people are treated in Japan contributes to the country's stability, health, and overall happiness.
Koreans respect their older generations and consider the wisdom imparted from them treasured gifts. They celebrate aging and view 60th and 70th birthdays as significant life events worth marking with large-scale family parties and feasts. As in Japanese tradition, children are expected to care for their parents when they get older. For Koreans, caring for more senior family members is an honorable duty that they carry out with pride.
In India, multi-generational families live in the same household under the older adults, who remain the heads of household for life. Their children care for them as they age, and the older generation participates in helping to raise their grandchildren or great-grandchildren. When younger generations need advice, they actively seek out the wisdom of the older adults in the family. The older person's opinion weighs so much that they often have the final word in a dispute or when an important decision has to be made. Indian families are models for true collaboration where the family structure is revered and everyone benefits from everyone's contributions.
Historically, Chinese families have considered filial piety - respect for parents and ancestors in society – as a foremost virtue in their culture. Since 1996, snubbing or ignoring your parents has actually become illegal under a law called Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Children who fail to frequently visit their parents face fines, decreased credit scores, or jail time. Fortunately, many Chinese families have revered older family members since the time of Confucius, who was known to dialogue frequently about how societies succeed if people treat older people with kindness, respect, and dignity.
• Mediterranean and Latin cultures
In Latin countries across the globe, it's prevalent for multiple generations to live under the same roof, with everyone sharing household duties. In many cases, the oldest generation looks after the youngest while the middle generation goes to work. In this way, older family members are well-integrated into the family structure for life and treated as valuable contributors to the family dynamic.
• The Philippines
Respect for older people is a crucial part of Filipino tradition. It's custom for Filipino children to greet older family members by taking the older person's hand and placing it on their own forehead to express deep, unwavering respect for the person. As in many Asian countries, it's expected in the Philippines that children will look after their parents as they age, which is why multi-generational homes in this nation are widespread.
What can we learn from these other cultures?
Cultures in which older people are venerated as sources of guidance and wisdom consider family as the source of strong, vibrant communities. Older adults in the countries – and many more around the world – don't suffer from loneliness or isolation and continue to have active, respected roles in society.
In the West, the negative perception about getting older seems to be rooted in fear of aging. In other cultures, this fear isn't as intense, as people realize that as they get older, they're getting closer to the pinnacle of their community. This is a healthy attitude to have about aging that fosters an enhanced joy of life as years pass.
Aging in the United States
Although mainstream American culture seems to frown upon aging, older people in the United States have a wealth of opportunities to enjoy their vintage years to the fullest. Older adults have the freedom to enjoy hobbies, traveling, and volunteering, feel less stressed than during their working years, and can invest more time in their families.
Older people in the United States also have access to world-class medical care, making aging much more comfortable and helping add to longevity.
For those who don't live with their families, senior living community options provide older adults with the support needed to help with age with happiness and comfort. Whether they will live independently or need assisted living or memory care, senior living communities give older people the opportunity to thrive and have the best possible quality of life.
When you need assistance finding the right assisted living community in Southern Maine, call Assisted Living Locators of Portland, Maine. Our team specializes in connecting older adults and their families with assisted living options that best suit their needs and budget. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.