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Americans need to re-evaluate culture of retirement homes

By Omar Allam
On December 4, 2012

It is 9:57 p.m., as the call for another Code Red crackles through the emergency department hallway; I sigh, dreaming that maybe one day I could observe the Code Red. Instead, I'm confined to less dramatic calls at the blue and green pod on the emergency department floor at Hartford Hospital. I look down the hallway as I realize I have one more room left before my volunteering shift is over. I knock on the door, and enter a softly lit room. A pair of old, golden eyes follows me as I walk into the room. I introduce myself and ask the elderly patient if she needs anything. She smiles weakly and offers me her frail hand. Surprised, I shake her fragile hand, but instead of shaking, she weakly grips my hand, and tells me how much she misses her daughter, her home and how much she despises being at a retirement home.
In an age where Kim Kardashian gets more publicity then Stephen Hawking, American culture is shifting towards the concept of valuing beauty over wisdom. This cultural norm has resulted in what some might say the inconceivable, placing human beings in a social deprivation and confining them to more or less a prison. Retirement homes are place where the elderly are placed until they "retire." Although some elderly do belong in nursing facilities, as they require necessary medical intervention to live, the concept of placing the old in institutions until they die, stems from how we as Americans are too self-centered, and too careerist. We don't have the time to care for the ones we love, so we pay for them to be put in 8 by 6 feet cement rooms with a window (if they're lucky), with a strict schedule and a confined social life. If our society has come to the point to where we as Americans do not have time to care for our loved ones, then what do we have the time for? Money? Stress?
We should cherish the last couple of years our loved ones have, and appreciate the contributions they have made to our lives.
As the leading global power, we should set a precedent to other nations with our accepted social norms.
My Middle Eastern roommate has never heard of the concept of sending the elderly to a home to retire. He expressed to me that families in the Middle East often go into feuds over who should house the eldest in the family, as accommodating the eldest is the highest form of respect. And families that disrespect their eldest are often shunned by society.
However, this is not only true in the Middle East but all over the world. In China, the tradition of "filial piety" is the value of utmost respect for elders, which was advocated by the famous philosopher Confucius. In Vietnamese, Korean and Hispanic culture, respect and hospitality for the elderly is widely practiced. And expectedly, these cultures have a deep reverence for wisdom.
I, however, am not stating that Americans are intentionally disrespecting the elderly, by placing them in retirement homes. Instead, by placing the elderly in retirement homes, we are showing the world that these deeply intellectual individuals with almost a century of experience and wisdom behind them are simply senile and have no place in our society. We should reverse this ideology, thank and appreciate them for what they did for us, and the sacrifices they have made. In 50, 60 or even 80 years from now, where do you want to be? Stuffed in a gray old building left to "retire" or honored by society for all your hard work?  

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