Print More

(Host) The national debate on Medicare has reminded commentator David Moats of the many challenges we face in caring for our elders.

(Moats) Most of us take for granted that we have to spend a lot of money and devote a lot of time to bring up our children. Whenever I’ve been confronted by another bill for college, I tell myself, “Well, that’s what my money is for.”

In many parts of the world, extended families take care of their old people with the same sense that that is just what you do. It helps that in traditional cultures there are usually a lot of aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters to help hold things together.

In our country people of a certain age are discovering that without a large extended family, it isn’t always so easy to take care of their elders in their later years.

The recent debate about Medicare is all part of our effort to confront the responsibility that is taken for granted in most parts of the world.

Unfortunately, our system for taking care of the elderly has so many holes in it, it sometimes seems – well – mostly holes.

I was lucky. When my mother needed help, I had a brother and sisters nearby who could take care of things. I was 2,000 miles away.

Not everyone is so lucky. The mother of a friend had a stroke not long ago, and the mother had no insurance, and she was ineligible for any assistance. She had trouble finding a doctor to see her even though her life was in danger.

It so happens that these responsibilities usually fall to women, which is one of the obstacles women face in trying to keep up with men in pursuing their careers. Often at critical times of achievement in professional life, women suddenly have to shoulder the demands of children and elders both.

Most of us look forward to getting out in the world, in becoming independent of our families and establishing families of our own. We assume our parents can take care of themselves. They always have. So it comes as a shock when it turns out they depend on us as completely as our children did.

But it can be more than a shock. People unwilling to turn their back on their parents sometimes watch as their lives are consumed because of the slapdash way our system of health care and elder care has been put together – or not put together.

In the absence of the traditional village and the traditional family, we are on our own with our compassion and our inadequate programs – with their long waiting lists and their impossible costs – that might otherwise fill the gap.

There are resources in this country. We’re the richest country in the world, as people say. But our resources are not allocated in such a way that people’s basic needs are met. And I don’t know why not. After all, isn’t that what our money is for?

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

Comments are closed.