There are unnecessary burdens that today weigh upon those who are elderly. These burdens come from the current order of societies, from common behavior that does not meet social approval.
The loss of value, for those who leave the productive world is one of these unnecessary burdens. Added to this is the great change of the family, moving from the patriarchal to the urban mononuclear family, which is narrower and more fragile. The result of this is that the elderly person finds himself increasingly alone in facing the difficulties of old age. With their necessities, the elderly person becomes a burden for a small family, in cities that do not facilitate proximity and relations. The elderly person ends up as an exile from their family, from their history, their own house. The extreme case is that of the elderly in an institute. Ours is the first generation that considers it normal not to live with one’s (elderly) parents.
The condition of those who are elderly is aggravated by the way in which the society in which we live is organized, above all in the city dimension. The condition of the elderly is similar to that of a survivor, of an undesired one. The public services are lacking and very rarely offer solutions adapted to the requirements of the increased fragility and the dignity of the elderly.
The character of a real generational conflict is emphasized. We think of the debate on the reorganization of the Social State: the elderly with their social and sanitary needs take up too many resources, they are a burden that makes it difficult for young people to invest. This is said or supported by many people, but they don’t consider the fact that younger generations are indebted to oldest generation for the well-being of today’s society as well as the freedom and democracy in which many countries live.
The condition of many poor, lonely and abandoned elderly people, say a lot about the utilitarian orientation of our society. The message that hammers the elderly is that it’s best to get out of the way. Progress lengthens life, but society says that they live too along. Therefore, when autonomy is lost the most obvious solution is to resort to the institutes, to the houses of rest or care and to the structures for long-term patients.Institutionalization is often a sentence to isolation that lessens the elderly person’s will to live. Some institutes accommodate up to 500 people – it is easy to lose one’s own individuality there. The freedom of living one’s own habits is frustrated by fixed rhythms and living with people they don’t know. One must follow the rules: it is difficult to satisfy even the smallest desires and to carry out particular activities. In reality, many elderly could live in their own home or avoid ending up in an institute if they had simple medical treatments at home, rehabilitation, and the necessary support for the recovery or maintenance of their own autonomy. As far as the sick are concerned, tend to discharge those who need long-term care, giving precedence, in specialist departments, to younger people. Often, there is a true denial of the right to care for the elderly person. More and more frequently in this context, we hear about euthanasia.
The demand for euthanasia from some elderly is often the extreme outcome of a widespread attitude of abandonment and lack of consideration for the elderly. What Cardinal Martini calls the "euthanasia of abandonment ". Whoever has been close to the dying knows that in the presence of adequate and careful treatments to lessen the physical pain, and of proper attendance and closeness that removes the causes of desperation, there is no desire for die but to live.
Loneliness is a great problem that doesn’t just concern elderly living in the institutes but also those who live at home and/or with their family. Loneliness brings discouragement, depression and sadness, states of mind that accelerate psychological and physical decay. An elderly person who lives in a rich atmosphere of human relationships becomes ill less often than one who is alone. The affection of friends and/or relatives removes the negative perception of old age and that causes so much anguish for the elderly living alone. Loneliness becomes even more painful for poor or sick elderly or those who are not self-sufficient. Often loneliness is accompanied by inactivity and passivity that accelerates the aging processes.
In recent years the problem of poverty for many elderly has increased: some live on very low pensions, insufficient for anyone’s survival and especially the survival of those who face increasing health and welfare needs. In western countries, the community centers run by associations or parishes receive many demands from the elderly for food, clothes, medicine and sums of money. In some societies, such as those of Eastern Europe, after 1989 a significant drop in the quality of life has been recorded. The elderly in these countries pay, in terms of insecurity and poverty, for the difficult transition to a market economy. In the Southern hemisphere, particularly in Latin America and Asia, where the old population is growing rapidly, societies in the short term have no systems of social protection. This will represent a crisis that will add to the already existing tensions in many countries.