They say there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes. Thanks to unbelievable gains in medical technology in recent years however, most Americans are now able to delay the former inevitability for decades longer than their ancestors. Because of this, at a time when America’s real estate industry is struggling, there’s one market sector that’s proving to be recession proof: senior housing.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, “[d]emand for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and retirement communities is expected to balloon in the next two decades as baby boomers retire and the incidence of progressive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease increases. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double to 71 million by 2030, and 7.7 million of them will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a 50 percent increase from today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.”
In the words of one industry insider, “it’s a great time to develop senior housing.”
Why the commodification of aging? Well, as the article points out, America is undergoing a remarkable demographic shift that is changing the face of our nation. Because people are generally having fewer children, there are fewer young people to take care of their aging parents. There are more elderly men and women requiring long-term care and fewer young people to provide it. Thus, the only resource available to meet this need – aside from our crumbling entitlement infrastructure, of course – is the profit-driven real-estate industry. This is how denigrated the aged have become in our culture’s eyes. Because we have failed to enact responsible entitlement reform, and because we have increasingly eschewed traditional family arrangements in favor of a uni-generational, “me, myself, and I” mentality, the fate of our parents and grandparents now rests in the hands of an industry that time and again has chosen the bottom line over the health and welfare of its elderly wards.
Indeed, many today speak of the elderly as if they are merely parasites draining our time and money. Older men and women are often treated with little respect. I see it every day in my law practice, where I frequently represent men and women who are victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Weak and helpless elders are at the mercy of caregivers who are often underqualified and overworked. The result is an epidemic of preventable pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration, and falls among the institutionalized elderly.
There is no doubt that the Roe v. Wade ethic has had a striking effect on how we view the aged. Other than the unborn, no single age group in the United States suffers from a diminished view of the value of human life more than the elderly. Rather than viewing our aging relatives as persons worthy of our utmost reverence and care, Roe has taught us to look at other people in terms perceived convenience. If someone is wanted – if we feel that they contribute to our overall quality of life – then their life has worth; if not, it is permissible to store them away somewhere for others to care for until they die. Out of sight, out of mind.
Now that we are facing a future where elderly men and women will be seen as economically inconvenient, where some will be unwanted and unloved, and where many will lack the mental or physical capacity to defend themselves, it is clear that the elderly are in danger of abuse, neglect, or perhaps even worse… unless of course they are lucky enough to afford a unit in one of the new, ultra-luxurious assisted living facilities currently under construction in some of the nation’s wealthier enclaves.
Will we allow ourselves to see our mothers and fathers, our grandparents as inconveniences to be managed, or as people who are to be nurtured, cared for, and cherished? Will we see the dignity in their lives even when they are no longer “useful” to us? Will we love them regardless of their abilities, recalling the intergenerational debts that bind us all?
In the increasingly utilitarian age in which we live – an age where moral absolutes are mocked and the notion of transcendent truths is ridiculed – the answer to these questions can be terrifying. Heaven help the aged when even money ceases to be an effective bargaining chip and society forgets them completely.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
Publication date: September 12, 2011