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I recently watched a TED Talk by Jared Diamond and thought that it would be a great opportunity to share some of his ideas and concepts that he shared. His talk was about the differences between traditional and modern societies in their means of caring for the elderly.

Jared is an author who has spent several years in New Guinea experiencing tribal lifestyles. While he believes that they shouldn’t be seen as primitive, they also shouldn’t be romanticized either. But understanding how we can learn from some of their main concepts are key in growing old and how we treat and find care for the elderly.

Tribal societies


The way that tribal societies view the elderly is much different then others. In some extreme cases, they neglect or abandon the elderly due to their nomadic lifestyles. But on the happy extreme, older people are cared for, fed and remain valuable to their tribes. They provide usefulness of caring for the younger children, making weapons and tools. The elders are also usually the leaders of their societies due to their knowledge and experience.

Traditional societies

In traditional societies, they lived their lives with their family and life long friends. They used the elderly as means of information and experience that would allow them to assist with education, research and other political advocacies. Families stayed connected and wouldn’t let age become a factor to drive them away from their parents or grandparents.

Most individuals lived socially richer lives, even though they were financially poorer. Many young people were socially skilled, confident and were more realistic about dangers in the world. There was also an extremely low death rate of non communicable diseases such as diabetes or strokes.


Modern societies

In our current society, most of the elderly are experiencing two different extremes. While things are better in terms of health, health care and longevity of life, things are becoming much harder because there are more older people around then younger. They are breaking social ties as they age while their children and old friends scatter independently around the country.

On average, Americans move every 5 years. This is certainly not long enough to continue with their connections.

Not to mention with all of the technological advancements that have been made, it becomes harder for seniors to be more involved in finding a job. Instead of using their knowledge and experience, people are simply reading a book or Googling for answers.

Jared shared a story about how when he was 15 years old, he was extremely good with numbers and logistics. Today, his skills are useless due to calculators and smart phones. His family had their first television set back in 1948. It only had three buttons: volume, channel selection and the on and off switch. Now, he needs to call his 25 year old son to be able to help him work through a 41 button remote that is daily daunting him.


What can we do to improve the lives of the elderly in the US?

According to Jared Diamond, there are a few steps that we can take to start making better use of the value of older individuals.

1. Families should be increasingly using grandparents for offering high quality child care. More young parents, especially women, are entering the workforce and are trying to find babysitters or daycare for their children. Your grandparents are the ones who already have experience raising children and are eager to spend time with the grandchildren. Not to mention they won’t leave you for a higher paying position caring for another child.

2. Society should be utilizing the experience and the knowledge that seniors can provide for their community. They have the most unique of experience because only people over the age of 70 can remember living through the Great Depression, World Wars and terrifying atomic bomb threats. Most of the current voters and politicians are too young to have lived through it. These problems could come back, and if they don’t we need people who are able to help prepare and plan for the worst.

3. We need to create ways for the elderly to live much socially richer lives, where they can feel confident and put their social and professional skills to the advantage of others.In his talk, Jared expresses that he is not suggesting that we turn our entire modern society over to be more like traditional or tribal lifestyles. But he does suggest that we take a few lessons and queues from them to better the lives of the elderly for many years to come.Watch Jared Diamond’s TED talk, and learn more about his book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?How do you think we can start making the world a better place for seniors? Share your thoughts on Twitter @HomeHero or share a comment of Facebook!

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