Society’s changing views on senior citizens


A caregiver for 15 years, Tina Zimpelman has devoted her career to helping the elderly.

America has become an increasingly fast-paced society with the addition of cell phones, computers, and other technological advances. Unfortunately, time slows for no one, and the elderly are often left trailing behind in such progressions. The question, then, is whether or not we, as a fast-paced society, have forgotten our elders in the midst of change.

Dorothy Gardner, a 93 year-old mother of seven and grandmother of thirteen has always had family to tend to her needs as she aged. After suffering several major health scares in 2013, however, she had no choice but to spend some time in a nursing home.

Her experience at a nursing facility in 2013 was perhaps the lowest point in her life. She remembered one night, unable to get out of bed on her own, she called for a nurse to help her to the restroom. She was left unanswered, however, as the workers continued laughing in the hallway just outside her room.

“They were on their own time,” said Gardner.

Gardner eventually recovered enough to return to her home and has since hired a caregiver, Tina Zimpelman, to help around the house four days a week.

Gardner admits that the nursing home was necessary at that point in her life. For some of the other residents she met, however, it was not.

Zimpelman, a caregiver for Comfort Keepers, shed light on the issue by sharing stories from her firsthand experience. As a caregiver, she is hired by individuals who need help taking care of themselves either in their own homes or in nursing homes. More often than not, those individuals are senior citizens.

“I have dealt with people whose families just could not [take care of] them anymore,” Zimpelman said. “That’s who nursing homes should be for.”

Indeed, nursing homes should be for those elderly individuals whose families just are not enough to tend to their needs. Unfortunately, that is oftentimes not the case.

“Some people think when they do not want to deal with older family members, they will just ship them off to the nursing home because they’re a burden,” noted Zimpelman. “People are so busy nowadays that they just do not have time to deal with another person’s life. I have heard so many people in nursing homes saying, completely lucid, ‘I don’t understand why I have to be here. I can take care of myself.’”

Herein lies the issue. Many elderly patients who are capable of caring for themselves are forced into homes by family members to whom they have given their power of attorney, or the right to make legal and financial decisions on their behalf. In doing so, they are not only deprived of their freedom and privacy, but also overcrowd already understaffed nursing homes. Consequently, the patients who truly need the help receive less individualized attention than they ought to.

Now, that is not to suggest that nursing homes are filled with careless attendants. Rather, Gardner and Zimpelman’s experiences demonstrate just how jaded we as a society have become to the needs of the elderly. Families are becoming less likely to adapt their lifestyles in order to support their aging relatives, and though not all attendants, nor most, would stand idly by as seniors such as Gardner call for their help, such problems do persist.

There is a greater need than ever for dedicated and caring aids as the input of elderly residents continues to rise in nursing and retirement facilities, yet the interest in such a field appears to be lacking.

Zimpelman admits that the idea of working with the elderly was never of particular interest to her, either. After being laid off from her job in retail, a friend had hired her- temporarily- to stay with her Alzheimer’s-afflicted father until he could be moved into a home. Though initially just a means of making ends meet, she quickly learned just how rewarding this line of work could be. “There was one day when he was really struggling, and he put his forehead on mine and cried. It’s making those connections, even for a split second, that’s so rewarding.”

She also recalls having struggled emotionally after losing her first client. On the verge of quitting, her boss shared some words of wisdom that have stuck with her ever since: “Don’t stop. You’re doing God’s work.”

Having personally witnessed the impact that caregivers such as Zimpelman have had on Gardner, I have to agree that such work is indeed admirable, if not God’s work.

“I hope to live and die in my home because I know what it’s like on the other side,” Gardner said, referring to her time in the nursing home. “I don’t know what I would do without [Tina]. I guess that’s why I’m still living in my house.”

Many senior citizens want nothing more than to be treated with respect and maintain their dignity. For Gardner, such needs have been met. For seniors as a whole, however, their freedoms are being stripped away at a shocking rate. It is up to us to change the harsh precedent that has led to the premature moving of seniors to and the overcrowding of nursing facilities.

So, give your grandma a hug from time to time, don’t curse out the 80 year-old driver going five miles under the speed limit, and never forget that one day you too will be a senior. Set the precedent today for how you would like to be treated tomorrow.