Monday, February 15, 2010

Rural America.

Living with my grandparents last year showed me a whole new side to growing up, and more specifically, to growing up in a rural area. One of the biggest changes to my "city-life" was the need to drive anywhere I needed to go. I drove 30 minutes to work, at least 10 minutes to any restaurants, and 1-2 hours to any hospitals, shopping centers or cities. Now, I'm not really a fan of driving because it mentally wears me out. Which leads me to wonder how people can live their entire lives driving!

Further, it is amazing how strongly people can be emotionally tied to a place. My mom and I are constantly trying to get my grandparents to consider moving to a larger area, so they wouldn't have to drive numerous hours to get healthcare, go out to eat, go shopping, or basically do anything that isn't in their small town (which is almost everything). I even tried to get them to move back to college with me when I moved out last year to start my master's degree so that we could still be roomies, but my grandpa just laughed and told me to learn lots at school and spend my money wisely.

An article in the New York Times describes just how much harder things are, physically and mentally, for elderly people growing up in rural areas as opposed to urban areas. Though I always thought this was true, it was somewhat disheartening to read this article that confirmed my suspicions. Living alone in isolated areas, injuries and accidents can become much more life-threatening and even for people living "in-town" and around other people, there is often a lapse in time between the injury and the length of an ambulance or car ride to any hospital.

Like I stated earlier, driving is essential to life in rural areas, which means that the elderly growing up in rural towns must drive or get rides in order to do anything. Like one of the men highlighted in the article, many elderly people worry about getting their license renewed; if they don't pass their test, they not only lose their independence, but lose ability to provide for themselves. Along with this loss of transportation often comes isolation and loneliness. According to research, there are links between isolation/loneliness and disease outcomes and health, that state. And according to my grandma, old people who are alone too much start to lose their mental capacity and ability to relate and converse with other people. Sure, that's not a published fact, but if I learned anything from my elderly friends last year is that they know more than me.

Interestingly, the concept of "loneliness" is not dependent on isolation, but rather, is "the more subjective feeling state of being alone, separated, or apart from others" (Tomaka et al), meaning that a feeling of loneliness is different for everyone. For some, a connection to their home and environment is enough to diminish the solitude, as is the case for Ms. Clark in the NY Times article. Ms. Clark says that she sits and stares out over the landscape where memories of her deceased husband and raising her daughters fill her mind. To Ms. Clark, she is not lonely, but another person may feel incredibly isolated and alone in her same situation.

The question then comes down to, when should people worry about isolated elders? Or should we at all? Is it our place to decide if someone is happy or content, even if they live in complete solitude? Back to the issue of driving; do we have the right to take away someone's mode of transportation and independence without providing them with an alternate way to get around?

Soft Spot.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the elderly. Maybe it's because I lived in a small, rural Missouri town with my grandparents last year, where we hung out at the Lion's Club and all my friends were over the age of 75. Or maybe it's because they know so much more than I do and I can't help but respect them and value them for their wisdom and experiences. Either way, I love old people.

Thus, I plan to delve into the health successes and struggles that the elderly face as they grow up (not "grow old"...why should older people have to "grow old" while young people get to "grow up?").