By Kelly Martincin, M.A.
Over the holidays, I visited my grandparents and had the opportunity to give my grandfather a ride in my new car. I’m putting the finishing touches on my PhD and earning a livable wage for the first time in my life. So, by “new” I mean used, but unlike my old car, this one has its original transmission and an odometer reading that won’t give my grandfather heart palpitations. As I proudly showed Grandpa all the nice features, he “oohed” and “aahed” attentively, but the conversation quickly turned from gas mileage and horsepower to his earliest memories of being a young boy in a time when cars were still somewhat novel. He was a child in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In his small, farming community, many of the more well-off families had cars, but some of the more hard-pressed families did not even have running water. He fondly reflected on becoming a young man and finally having a vehicle of his own, and told me about various cars he’d owned over the years, noting how each improved the quality of life for the family or prosperity of the farm.
I’ve always enjoyed my grandfather’s stories, primarily because each tends to make me reflect on my own in life in a profoundly different way, and his stories of cars and trucks over the years were no different. He and I clearly have different views about transportation and the meaning of cars in our lives, and we grew up in very different environments. I began to reflect on age as a facet of multiculturalism. The man sitting next to me enjoying my new heated seats provided a significant portion of my DNA and was an integral part of my upbringing. Despite these commonalities, we have dramatically different worldviews. When one considers the definition of multiculturalism, most would define the terms as “relating to or of many cultures“, and “culture” as “the beliefs and customs of a particular group.” Despite being direct relatives and having so much in common, our beliefs and customs related to many things are vastly different, and when considered in that light, age is clearly an aspect of multiculturalism.
When one peruses a search engine for scholarly literature on age as a facet of multiculturalism, it’s hard to find any articles. Why is age less commonly studied than other aspects of multiculturalism? Perhaps it is because many different people will become old, and with the nation’s largest age cohort crossing into older adulthood, many do not consider older adults to be special or different in any way. I clearly argue otherwise, and would encourage others to acknowledge age as ubiquitous diversity factor, one that demands our attention.
First, older adults are included in every other category of diversity – ethnicity, sexual preference, religious preference, disability status, and more. Growing up in age that was, in many ways, less accepting of differences, they have unique experiences and worldviews from people who face similar challenges related to diversity today. Intersectionality of age and other diversity factors (e.g. ethnicity or sexual preference) can have profound impact on the lives of many people, and should be more thoroughly addressed in scholarly literature.
Another point to consider is that older adults are an at-risk population for many reasons. They are more likely to have complex medical problems, and more likely than any other group to be experiencing cognitive decline. In the United States alone, 13 to 15 million people have conditions that impair cognitive function (Whitlatch, 2008), and most of these people are older adults. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which is the most common kind of dementia, affects approximately 5.2 million Americans. By 2050, this number is estimated to be 13.8 million Americans. Currently, 11% of people over the age of 65 and up to 32% of people who are over the age of 85 suffer from AD (Alzheimer’s Association, 2014). While AD is the most common form of dementia, it is still only one kind, so there are millions more individuals suffering from other forms of dementia. There is evidence that the rates of dementia will double every five years once an individual reaches age 60 (Krishnan et al., 2005). Also of concern, many elderly individuals live on a very limited income. Without Social Security, 43.6% of older adults would live in poverty. Even with this assistance, 8.7% still live below the poverty line, putting them at risk for hunger, homelessness, and limited access to adequate healthcare (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2012). All of these considerations make the lack of available literature on this topic alarming.
With these concerns in mind, it is easy to make the argument that insufficient attention is paid to older adults when it comes to better understanding their experiences and worldviews. Age should be considered as an equal aspect of diversity and receive the same academic consideration as other facets. My grandfather would agree that he and I have formed our worldviews and personalities in very different time periods. Despite the many commonalities we share, we are not the same, and these differences should be respected and better understood. He’d also be happy to tell you stories about his cars over the years, should you want to stop by.
Alzheimer’s Association (2014). 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/downloads/Facts_Figures_2014.pdf
Van de Water, P. N. & Sherman, A. (2012). Social Security Keeps 21 Million Americans Out of Poverty: A State-By-State Analysis. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org//sites/default/files/atoms/files/10-16-12ss.pdf.
Krishnan, L. L., Petersen, N. J., Snow, A. L., Cully, J. A., Schultz, P. E., Graham, D. P., … Kunik, M. E. (2005). Prevalence of dementia among Veterans Affairs medical care system users. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 20, 245-253. doi: 10.1159/000087345
Whitlatch, C. (2008). Informal caregivers: Communication and decision making. American Journal of Nursing, 108, 73-77.
About the Author:
Kelly Martincin is a post-doctoral fellow at the Cleveland Clinic’s Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program. She received her master’s and doctoral training at Cleveland State University, and her undergraduate education from Ohio Dominican University. She currently serves as the Div. 17 OA SIG Membership Coordinator, and previously served as student representative for this group.