May 28, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

No Country for Old Women

Almost over now-the trials and tiny pleasures of a three week visit with my ageing mother. At 86, she manages,but only just. Things fall off the trolleys of shopping, home maintenance, nutrition, and above all, planning and paper work.

As always, the inbuilt contradictions of US society confound me. There is endless news, but so little real information. There are abundant social services available, but very little attention to better urban design that might ameliorate the problems of an ageing society. For that matter, the lack of good design for living means that the growing population isn’t very well catered to either.

One example flows by my bedroom window every school day. The old brick school where I learned to read and write (and do square roots the long way) has given way to a ginormous integrated school that takes the place of the other two schools in more distant parts of this small town.¬† With typical American pride, fierce but short-sighted, they describe it as a ‘green’ school. I forget why, since its main axis seems to face west. No doubt it has wi-fi and laptops for all.

But this supposed leap forward in ecological sensitivity has been accompanied by a permanent surge in four wheel drive vehicles creating a traffic jam in this previously quiet neighborhood twice daily. I see them jamming the intersection a block away, where I look out in wonder. No one here seems to have a problem with queueing across the intersections, but they will stop on a dime to let pedestrians cross. Polite, but misguided.

The supermarket just a 10 minute walk away is replete with products that the elderly might require. Listing those options would be too depressing; my point is that my mother gave away walking to the shops decades ago, and the traffic (yup, lotsa huge SUVs, not a smart car in sight) intimidates anyone who isn’t up to cage fighting with robots.

(Had to throw that in, as I’ve been watching world class cage fighting with my son late at night, and it is rather fascinating. In fact, it kind of stirs a primal urge to get down and wrestle with something other than words. Long ago, in my tomboy days, beating up boys was not out of the question.)

This area in northern New Jersey is still a melting pot, but now it’s not her kind of migrants that are running the shops and providing services. The total numbers are greater than before, presenting problems for an elderly lady who can’t say ‘hola, que tal?’ Luckily I can, but sadly they still mostly answer in English. There are large numbers of Koreans, too, and here’s hoping they get along with the Mexicans. The population¬† is also becoming more mobile, with fewer people settling long-term. All of these changes present challenges for the elderly, or anyone for that matter who isn’t adaptable.

There are suburbs loaded with new buildings full of medical services, many of them catering to the elderly and their specialist issues. None seem to be accessible without a car, and public transport is meagre. My mother’s current main issue is macular degeneration, and the probable end to her legal right to drive. That’s bad news for anyone, but especially for someone becoming ever less able to accept change. Yeah, it’s been fun. There’s road rage, and there’s the rage that comes from being kept off the road. Budget problems and deficits at all levels of government mean public transport is being cut back.

Her medical insurance is excellent, and her finances are more than adequate. But who can understand the bills that come in? There are requests for proof of who is the primary and who is the secondary insurer. There are itemisations on her cable TV account that run for pages, many of them duplicates.  I overheard a couple of oldies discussing a phone bill in the post office, they were both bewildered.

Makes you ponder what structures will be available in one’s own home town when the joints get weary and the eyes more bleary. I think I’ll just keep walking.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 1:58 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: General


  1. Is there any country or government really friendly to old people?
    Is the Australian government at all three levels friendly to old people?
    I think not.
    Very little government provision,thought,or assistance is given to the problems of aged people who wish to, and are still physically/mentally able to live independently.
    In Western Australia where I live, transport, as just one example, is a huge problem for the elderly, upon reaching the age of 75 years one must undergo a medical examination & physical driving test for driving license renewal yearly. No provision is made for the fact that without a driving license simple everyday pursuits like supermarket shopping becomes an horrendous task for the elderly. Yet absoluely no provision is made by government to accomodate, assist, or overcome this problem.
    Everyday house and garden maintenance becomes increasingly more difficult, yet again no community help is available, unless one of course is financially well off.
    The list is almost endless, making elderly independent living very difficult.
    End result forcing quite independent elderly people unnecessarely into aged peoples homes already grossly over loaded.
    The answer is obviously more community involvement in assistant schemes for the independent elderly still able to manage their daily affairs.

    Comment by Jack Randles — May 31, 2010 @ 5:34 am

  2. There is a town service that will pick up oldies, take them to appointments, and retrieve them. Not all towns in the state of NewJersey offer this, and budget cuts now limit this to four days per week. There are also licensed companions, carers, and cleaners, probably at subsidised prices for those more cash-strapped than my mother.

    I think community design is the limiting factor, and would like to know how the Scandinavian countries handle these issues.

    Ultimately, cities that don’t work for the elderly are don’t serve other age groups optimally either.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — June 6, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

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