In the last several decades the world has undergone a quiet revolution when it comes to attitudes toward the growing number of older people, but it is a revolution that has bypassed Israel almost completely. That is particularly ironic in light of the fact that life expectancy in Israel is among the highest in the world.
"Over most of human history, life was short and brutish," said Prof. Israel Doron, 50, head of the University of Haifa's gerontology department. "People were born, and many, who lived lives that were not healthy, died young," he said, adding, "The romantic view of the healthy life of the farmer, who gets up with the birds and goes to sleep with the chickens, flexes his muscles at work and eats only organic food has no basis in reality."
With the exception of the nobility, Doron said, throughout history most people never reached old age. The population pyramid, showing the distribution of people by age, was broad at the bottom and very narrow at the top.
But in the past century human life expectancy has doubled, from 40 to about 80, totally changing the shape of the pyramid. Israel, like the rest of the world, must recognized this reality. The average life expectancy in Israel is 79.7.
People should already face the future with the expectation of living to 100, Doron said. "It's a personal and public perspective that totally changes the rules of the game," he said. "The extension of life expectancy gives everyone a 'bonus' of 20 to 30 more years and requires rethinking how we live. When centenarians are the standard - and their numbers are already growing - careers will be 50 to 60 years long, marriages will last longer and decades of leisure will be added that will need to be paid for," he said.
We will all need to adjust our attitudes to work, health, savings, marriage and many other issues, Doron said, adding that planning is essential on all levels, from the individual to national policy.
Doron proposes a sweeping plan that would consolidate all the agencies that deal with the elderly under a single national authority. He calls for drafting a national plan to accommodate the changing needs of Israel's aging population. It would offer comprehensive custodial care to all old people and increase social security allowances to reduce poverty among the elderly, as well as expanding retirement coverage to all self-employed and salaried workers.
Doron also advocates eliminating mandatory retirement. He seeks to declare "war against ageism," in part through a public education campaign. He also advocates allocating more resources to training gerontologists. In Doron's vision of Israel, the traditional barriers between age groups would be broken down and people would continue to study, work and pursue new social contacts throughout their lives.
Doron acknowledged that Israel already has a Pensioner Affairs Ministry - its titular minister is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the deputy minister, Lea Nass, is acting head - but he said its resources are inadequate and it takes the misguided approach of treating the elderly as powerless.
While acknowledging that some old people are indeed helpless Doron said the majority of Israel's elderly are healthy both mentally and physically.
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