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Restoring The Role Of The Elder

Restoring The Role Of The Elder

I recently watched Ken Dychtwald’s  Four Observations on the Future of Aging and thought his presentation was really interesting.  

Ken spoke about the increasing need for building a purpose for maturity.  

He shared that historically we had the role of the Elder. The Elder previously played an important role within the family however this position no longer really exists in our society.  

Another interesting point he shared was that in the US, the average retiree watched 49 hours of television a week.

When you think about it – that’s an average of 7 hours a day, 7 days per week – that’s actually more than a full time job .  

As I thought about these two points and all the untapped potential knowledge and talent potentially sitting in front of a television, I couldn’t help but think that the idea of restoring the role of the Elder could be extremely valuable.

I had a vague idea of what an elder does, so I looked into the topic a little further.

I discovered a research paper titled What is an Elder: What Do Elders Do?: First Nation Elders as Teachers in Culture-Based Urban Organizations written by S.M. Stiegelbauer.

In this paper, there was an extensive description of the role of the Elder.  There was one particular sentence that I thought really well positioned the role of an Elder;

“Elders should be role models for everyone else. Elders should be teachers to the grandchildren and all young people because of their wisdom.”

Unfortunately today I think so many of our elderly are either ignored or shuffled out of sight with very little thought as to the value that they could contribute back to society.

Could you imagine how much our youth could benefit from learning more about another generations history, heritage and experiences.

What if we had more programs to share this underutilized knowledge and wisdom to support future generations?

What is inspiring is that there are some programs already in place that are actually bringing together seniors and young people to share and help build knowledge with each other. Here are a couple of examples;

In one program, students from Brazil were paired with seniors in the US with the intention to have conversations together via the internet in order to help the students learn English.  Here are more details of the initiative;

This is a great example of how to engage people of different generations to work together and help each other. The lessons helped to keep the seniors connected to others, learn some technology skills and provided them a feeling of contributing to the development of younger people. The younger people were able to benefit from older people’s experience and knowledge and in turn increase their own capabilities.  The added bonus to them both was that they actually began to develop relationships with each other.

Another wonderful example of the role of the Elder being implemented was found in a housing complex in Oregon. In this example, the older generation receives some reduced rent in exchange for supporting their “adoptive families” in raising their children. 


We need to actively find ways to leverage and share the knowledge, wisdom and memories of our aging population. It certainly sounds much more appealing to me then spending 49 hours a week in front of the television!

What do you think?

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.