Aristotle pointedly expressed "learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age". The West struggles in its prosperity to both learn the lessons of those who go before us and place value in advanced age.

Nothing is surer then the inevitability of ageing, if you have the privilege of getting there. Our elderly, however, are generally invisible, inhabiting a place swamped with that phrase of the moment, "unconscious bias".

Many of our young people actually quite hilariously subconsciously think that they were born young to stay young, and that the elderly were born old, to be old.

Why is it that the western world looks the other way in the whole matter or ageing and support of the aged? It seems modern culture and society finds it deeply uncomfortable to face the implications of advancing age.


It sits awkwardly in ideologies of consumption, worship of youth and political neo-liberalism.

In some cultures wisdom, respect and the acknowledgement of the social and cultural gifts of the elderly is revered and form a platform to later life support. In the modern West, though, it is a different story.

The area of the elderly is cloaked with an awkward silence; with their care better done by specialists, someone else and somewhere else.

New Zealanders are living longer and our older population is growing faster than our younger population.

Elderly people need more health, social and support services. With ageing comes other less measurable issues such as the risk of being socially undervalued, isolated and judged.

It comes with a raft of implications for our physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

It needs to be fully acknowledged that rest home care is extremely expensive and that levels of care and standards are all over the place. It has been said it is cheaper going on a cruise ship permanently then to stay in a New Zealand rest home.

Rest homes are new business where profits are the primary care. Self-funding aged care will be in the vicinity of at least $50,000 a year. For dementia or Alzheimer's sufferers it may be far more. It may mean that leaving paid employment to care for an aged parent makes good sense.

How the gift and value of caring for an elderly parent is recognised by other family members and society at large, however, is a whole different question.

Having recently resigned from work to care for my elderly mother I note some interesting points from people's reactions.

My employer rejected my application for six months leave without pay on compassionate grounds to care for my 82-year-old mother in her time of transition.

This is in a period when she had to move out of her own home of 61 years, her partner died and she required a heart valve and hip replacement.

While I respect the decision and the reasons, a part of me also nods to those who made the decision - your time will come in more ways than one.

Moving from work to care of an elderly parent makes sense on a number of levels. While English has only one word for the emotion "love", and it's almost always associated with romantic love, other cultures such as Italy's have up to 10.

It is priceless to be there for an elderly parent in their time of need and at their time of vulnerability. Not only is it an opportunity to return the love they gave you, but it is an opportunity to grow and heal yourself and possibly the elderly parent or relative you care for.

We all have issues with our childhood and there are a myriad of issues with being a parent, often an ill prepared parent. Somehow many of the great pains of your early life and resentments you carry back there feel insubstantial in the context of the bigger picture.

Nothing prepares you for care of an elderly parent. It is like a messy difficult divorce, until you have been through it you never really know what you are talking about. My new heroes are the friends I now realise have been through what I am going through.

Such care means the constant battle with emotions within a field of messy practical realities. It means to be blanketed with the constant anxiety that comes for care of the loved and vulnerable.

While district health boards are doing a great job generally in supporting people to stay home longer, there is a hole in the heart of modern western society around the value of our aged and vulnerable.

It only takes a minute to consider your own expectations of care when you are aged. When the ball lands in your court, who will be there for you to help you hold gracefully onto it.

• Russell Hoban of Ponsonby is a fulltime caregiver.