Monday, May 21, 2012


Solution for Senior Over-Population 

(Please note this is a much abbreviated version of an article I had written about this film which may be better.  I’m relying heavily on extracted quotes from the Producer’s email to me in the interest of publishing tonight.   My much more  original content escaped into the digital netherworld during a transfer process to publishing.)

Life after death is a familiar topic often discussed from the view of religion, esotericism, and metaphysics.   Science Fiction often recounts stories of life and afterlife in other dimensions.  A  film I recently viewed suggested the possibility of life continuance in a digital world.

Life Begins At  Rewirement,” written and directed by Trevin Matcek, is a short film recently premiered at the NYC Tribeca Film Festival.   You may view this film by clicking on the title (24+ mins. - a several sec. promo precedes.)   Public Broadcasting (PBS) is airing the film on many of their stations Futurestates series now in its third season.  

“Elder care in the future and the challenges of taking your loved one into a revolutionary retirement home” is the film focus.   Our goal was to engage and entertain while presenting a thoughtful portrait of one very difficult day for a family."

“Set in the near future, LIFE BEGINS AT REWIREMENT follows a man named Simon Ender on the day he checks his 100-year-old mother, Jessica, into a revolutionary senior care center. The strained relationship of mother and son is put to the test as Jessica transitions from her aging body and declining mental state to a data bank with infinite access to all of her memories. Simon comes face-to-face with feelings of guilt, insecurity and ultimately love, as he decides on his mother’s welfare and what is best for her.”   Related by the film’s Producer, An Tran.

Writer/director Matcek was inspired to create this science fiction film as he considered his own aging parents and health care’s future.   His hope is to stimulate conversation on some of these issues frequently not discussed in mainstream media.  

I found the film to be entertaining, thought-provoking and disturbing pending some unanswered questions deliberately left to each viewers interpretation.   Also, the mother’s dementia is actually Alzheimer’s according to the director in a post viewing chat room conversation in which I participated.  This difference did somewhat alter some of my perceptions and reactions.  All Alzheimer’s patients develop dementia, but not all dementia patients have Alzheimer’s. My view of her communication skills and prognosis allowed for a different perspective.  
Depending on how I viewed aspects of the ending my attitude toward the choice made by the son could be accepting or, possibly strongly rejecting. 

So the questions follow, including:

Is this “eternal life” option a choice you would select for yourself or a loved one?
What do you think of the language “senior over-population?”
Exactly what sort of “life” is this and is it preferable to a nursing home?
What exactly are we proposing here as a way to resolve out-of-control health care costs?

The essence of the elder or senior "lives" on as ...... 

UP DATE 5/23/12

I want to clarify that "Senior Over-Population" is a term not used within the film itself.  "Over-Population" does appear on a screen in part of a welcoming to the retirement community  introductory message the Mother receives while waiting for her son to return to her side.  There is accompanying brief comment about the burgeoning number of centenarians like her.   "Senior" added to it I encountered elsewhere, which I've learned may be attributed to others than the film's writer/director.      . 


  1. You have motivated me to see the movie. In the last several months I've been connected with individuals who have made the transition to an assisted living home. Watching these people gain and lose various aspects of their life is not a pleasant scene to view. The loss of independence appears to be the most significant loss.

    The drive to lower end of life medical costs will steer people in a direction those in that age bracket may not want to go but will have little if an to say about it.

    1. Bob, glad to hear from you again. Yes, the needed transition through several levels of care does require adjustments for individuals and their loved ones going through the process. Providing services for many years in retirement communities with multi-levels of care, other settings, I've had some exposure to the highly varied manner in which these elders (50 yrs and upward) travel this road. Loss of independence is probably the issue of greatest concern -- certainly one uppermost in my mind.

    2. I meant to note your final comment about escalating medical costs influencing care and decisions is a highly pertinent point. Pressure for elders/seniors may, indeed, increase for unwanted, or even inappropriate, life changes necessitating safeguards against such individual rights violations. What are the moral obligations to each person? What is this nation's priorities?

  2. Senior overpopulation? Says who? When I developed statistics on the population age 65+ a decade ago for the Census Bureau, there were several 10s of thousands of folks over the age of 100. There are even more today.

    On the other hand, my professor Conrad Taeuber, a noted demographer, developed an estimate of life span as oppposed to life expectancy. The number he and Lynn Chiazzi (his co-author and a biostatistician) projected was age 120. This means that the longest any human can expect to live is probably 120 years. Cancer will claim the majority in the end, because most of the infectious diseases are pretty much under control.

    The real issue is an extended life with poor health and no money. All the more reason to take care of yourself and enjoy those years while you can. Dianne

    1. Those demographic numbers, and especially all those aging individuals with serious debilitating health needs resulting in their being unable to live independently, are precisely what this science fiction film's solution is about. Would any of us want this option if it were available? Why or why not? What are the issues, if any, with such an option? Decision-making for a loved one determined to be incapable of doing so themselves is a challenge more and more family members/partners are, and will be, increasingly having to make.

  3. Joanne, You were certainly a good person to take on the challenge this film presented. When the request came to my mailbox (perhaps they mailed to all Elderbloggers on the TGB roll), I tried to watch. To begin with, it was hard to see, like an old movie.

    “Senior over-population” immediately put my teeth on edge. Told me where the filmmaker was coming from and I was not inclined to follow his bias. For me the problem is that we, the elderly, are not doing what you encourage. We have no forums for asking the questions. And, yes, they are very hard ones.

    For years I have been talking about the how robots might be a better alternative for care than many of the people who will end up in these jobs--working with us leftovers. Recently a physician where I live, nationally known as a supporter of the right to die, ended his own life in a respectful manner. Possible, of course, because he helped to bring about Oregon's "Death with Dignity" legislation.

    Do you believe that other bloggers would be interested in talking at further length about the issue of how long/in what condition do we see living our coming years? Thanks for starting the conversation.

    1. Naomi, I assumed the email I received regarding this film likely was sent to a number of bloggers, just as I think other promotional emails I've received likely have been, too.

      My teeth grated, also, when I read the "...Over-Population" phrasing. I decided it was rather important to examine the envisioned science fiction solution proposed and wondered if the language reflected a particular attitude. Language, terms, words have power.

      Yes, I liked the use of technology, such as the robot and the speech synthesizer in a beneficial manner for special needs.

      Oregon's "Death With Dignity" legislation passed years ago prompted me then to think maybe I should move there if California didn't eventually adopt similar legislation. I recall reading about the physician's death you mentioned. I would like to have had more specific information about his complete medical status since I wondered if his act might have been a bit premature.

      The really difficult decision-making time occurs in deciding when ones health is such as to warrant considering taking that final step. The criteria for making such a choice is not simple and can be variable for a multitude of highly individual reasons. I say this based on having encountered many experiences in my professional work. I resist a cookbook approach that ignores individual differences. I strongly support patient's rights and am extremely concerned that they be protected. I'm sure that's a vital element in Oregon's legislation and application.

      I think elders are the ones who should take the initiative in discussing this topic rather than leaving it to others to frame the discourse. We're the ones affected. We're the ones to define the conversations central focus. We'll see how much interest is generated in this conversation the film's writer/director hoped to stimulate and I wanted to introduce to bloggers.

  4. I'm afraid I just cannot deal with this subject right now---or, maybe ever...! My brother is very ill and the prognosis stinks, to put it mildy. So...perhaps some other time I can address this...or...maybe not!

    1. OldOldLady: I do empathize with what you must be feeling. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother and can only wish that his medical condition changes for the better. I do understand this blog post's topic can be difficult to think about under the best of circumstances.

  5. I don't think this film was meant to be taken at face value, as presenting any kind of solution to the dilemmas of old age. The end of the film shows the son and his virtual mother embracing, and this to me meant it was about the son's love/hate relationship with her and his guilt feelings. About him, in other words, not his mother. It was a creepy SF horror film.
    So now can we start talking about serious and intelligent approaches to the dilemmas presented by extreme old age? As Joarad says, it is we elders who must frame the discourse.

    1. Hattie, yes, as science fiction the film isn't likely to be intended to be taken at face value. I think perhaps by preserving his mother's memories from times she presumably could no longer remember, he thought he was giving her "eternal life" (though likely that would be only with those stored in her memory bank.) He perceived this revolutionary retirement community as preferable to her going into a nursing home, since she was no longer safe to live at home and was mentally incapacitated. Also, apparently this setting was less costly to the burgeoning health care budget. He was unprepared for the realization that possibly his mother had still connected with him on some level despite her memory and communication deficits. So he rushed back to see her, encountering her virtual self.

      We're still left with questions about this "process" and what about her physical body? Does this raise moral and ethical questions? What are the challenges which adult children encounter in decision-making about caring for their parents -- especially a parent who's being is absent, in this case due to the continuing ravages of Alzheimer's? When a person's conscious memory is gone and they have a terminally deteriorating physical body, what if science and technology could retrieve that person's memory, should we ... at what cost (and I don't mean dollar cost)?

    2. Right. You really do think things out carefully.

  6. sorry got your name wrong again!

  7. i watched this without sound. which meant i didn't know what was going on, other than the mother's state and the son's reaction. "senior over-population" seems to me to be a Republican descriptor. I really don't know what to think about this. I feel the resolution for whatever the problem might be does NOT lie in thinking. Does this film suggest we should wind up in the care of robots? (ha...that makes me laugh). i am losing my own marbles one by one, and the more i lose, the more it terrifies my offspring, who respond by backing away. I dunno. this film does not do much for me. it feels sterile and hopeless.

  8. what I want to add is that the solution for me has been to let go of anything but nature. we still have nature. there are still dandelions in the grass, and clouds in the sky, and stars in the night. and beloved trees, who i have come to realize, raised me. how do you say THAT in english?? i was raised by trees? yes. their presence has sustained me from childhood. it's one thing to feel separated from other human beings, which everything tells me is WRONG and also my fault, but despite that, i feel woven through and through by nature--birds, trees, flowers, animals--and people, if they are not so hung up on the way they think things OUGHT to be. well, now you know i am a total nut case. ha. i never said i wasn't. *:0)

    1. Perhaps PBS in your area will soon air the film with captions as part of their Futurestates series though it hasn't shown in the Southern California area.

      Think of this film as a doorway opening into a larger arena that provides viewers a distancing mechanism through science fiction to discuss some broader social issues. The issues may be difficult to discuss directly for some in terms of loved ones, elders/seniors, parents and their adult children. So the approach to these topics is by commenting on the film's Mother whose conscious memory is practically gone, her physical decline requiring 24/7 care soon, her son's choices and final decision about her care which he perceives as giving her "eternal life"-- viewers reaction to that choice, their support or concern. The story incorporates imagined future technology based on some known to exist today to facilitate the story's telling.

      The robot is one such example, but the extent of the service it supplied was unclear beyond, probably, what some service animals like dogs and monkeys are known to provide. Whether or not, or how much care was given by a human aide, friends, or family members wasn't known. I'm sure there were time logistics with telling the story limited to just 20 mins.

      You can and should be part of any such dialogue wherever it surfaces. Adult children are concerned about how to approach providing care for an ever-increasing older population such as those who have that terminally progressive Alzheimer's. Health care costs are expected to magnify. More issues which certainly impacts we older people, most immediately the generations on our heels and every generation to come, eventually.

      You're not crazy! So many of those with hearing issues I served when our profession was able to provide them more intervention (I never encountered those with cochlear implants) said they must be crazy and/or others thought they were.

      I've always had a problem with shoulda, coulda, woulda, and oughta. They often sap energy needlessly that could more happily be focused elsewhere.

      I share your love and appreciation of nature -- visual music to the eyes.

    2. The older I get the more important nature becomes to me. This is something I observed with my mother in law, too.

  9. UP DATE:
    I want to clarify that "Senior Over-Population" is a term not used within the film itself. "Over-Population" does appear on a screen in part of a welcoming to the retirement community introductory message the Mother receives while waiting for her son to return to her side. There is accompanying brief comment about the burgeoning number of centenarians like her. "Senior" added to it I encountered elsewhere, which I've learned may be attributed to others rather than the film's writer/director.

  10. Thanks for interpreting. I was just too tired to plug the old C.I. back in when I saw there were no captions. Nevertheless, I got the major drift, which is the "problem" that aging parents present to their adult children, who seem to feel they are supposed to provide "eternal" life to their parents when all the parental systems fail except the heart.

    As any aging parent knows, parenting is a lifelong job. (And slightly off the topic, but I glanced at Frank Bruni's Mothers Day column in the NYT just a few days ago. Among other things, Bruni said "Mothers Day [is] the feast of assumptions." I laughed in delight. Yes!).

    Back to parenting as lifelong....By the time we aging parents get into our 80s and beyond, we've already been on the job full time for at least 25 years, and part time for another 25 or more, depending on the ages of our children. The children, most if not all, have produced grandchildren, and that's another job, albeit delightful, for the aging parents.

    The pinch comes when we ask, "OK, fine. Mom's too gaga and frail to stay by herself now, so where's she going to go? Who's going to take care of her?" And the answer is, "NOT ME. I can't afford it, and she drives me/my spouse nuts. And besides, we still have college tuition to fork out for our youngest ones."

    If Mom has a big pile of money, then this is not so much of a problem. She can go to a high end "retirement" facility, and the paid staff, which includes nurses if needed, will take care of her every day--bring her meals, make her bed, change her diapers, bathe her, chat with her. (Ha...the paid help won't feel crushed if Mom can't quite figure out who they are.) The aware adult child can see past a few years of wheeling Mom through the mall on odd visitations to a lovely inheritance.

    The rub comes if Mom has run out of money, and our elected representatives have decided that the real work of our nation is not the care and nurturance of its citizens--its real wealth--but rather bombing the hell out of other nations' citizens who are far, far away and can be reached by guided missiles. The average cost of just one BGM-109 Tomahawk, used way back in the first Gulf war and later in Bosnia, is $1,400,000. Multiply that by the stockpile of 4000+, and you've got serious bucks. For that kind of money, a true drop in a huge bucket which is not only murderous but totally wasteful (you can't use them twice), you can hire nurses and even doctors for lots of aging parents and never have to miss tee time at the OnePercentCountryClub golf course.

    It's a matter of priorities, and this country, founded on people who came here from somewhere else, leaving their families behind, has never quite gotten the knack of community. Especially now, when elected officials (think Wisconsin if you can stand it) are backpedalling on social gains as fast as their little legs can pedal.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to return to comment. You're correct, of course, that a major challenge arousing dilemmas for all is when a loved ones mind and personality becomes altered for whatever the reasons. Quality of life is a primary concern.

      I'm also concerned that even memory loss, word finding problems, hearing loss, difficulty speaking, as examples, can be disconcerting to well-meaning, or some not so well-meaning, family members, even some professional caregivers, who may erroneously attribute to the loved one that they're becoming demented.

      We think of this as an elder/senior issue which we're focused on with this film, but such mental changes can occur at any age if the brain suffers an insult -- is damaged in critical areas. These individuals and their loved ones also cope with sometimes insurmountable obstacles.

      Certainly, financial resources are a critical factor which a family and the loved one (if they're still capable of meaningful participation in the dialogue) must consider given our present health care system.

      Of course, financial issues are not a concern for the 1%. The 99% are the individuals who face the challenges of quality care and/or assistance for their loved ones.

      All generations need to seriously consider these issues to find a solution. Every generation ages unless they die early, so everyone has a vested interest in helping devise an approach that benefits each person.

      Absolutely, this nation of peoples is long overdue for living the values professed. Tragically, for many those words are hollow.

    2. Able to afford solutions, we have bought a condo near where our children live. It's small and convenient and we could live there if we had to, with perhaps someone to do basic chores for us, should it come to that. In the meantime we love our home in Hawaii and will stay here as long as we can. We're in our 70's.

  11. Hattie: Right on! Trying to think....have I ever met or HEARD OF anyone who does NOT love living in Hawaii? At any age? Long may you wave!!