Nearly 60 years ago, in 1959, LIFE magazine ran a four-part photo essay that spawned national outrage and spurred the country toward change. Billed as a real-life kind of horror show, the magazine captured in stunning detail the harrowing experience of America’s senior citizens.
This was before Medicare, before Medicaid, before our modern medical advances, and just a couple of decades into Social Security. If the elderly are still fighting for visibility in today’s society, they were all but veiled then. Most Americans were blissfully unaware of the typical conditions in a senior care facility, which were far worse than the still-lacking nursing homes we know today.
Shot in haunting black and white, the pictures shook readers to their cores. There was nothing especially graphic or grotesque in them, but the stifling unhappiness of these people’s lives was nearly tangible. LIFE challenged readers to picture their own parents or grandparents “stored away like vegetables,” reminding the young that a similar fate awaited them, too.
Then the editors went beyond merely showcasing the problem. They called for action and solutions. Looking back, we might consider it one of the many impetuses for Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, in a new retrospective on the original photo essay, TIME/LIFE credits Medicare with much of the change we’ve seen since then.
Unfortunately, Medicare and Medicaid still don’t solve all of senior’s problems, and securing their benefits can prove entirely too difficult. In my office, I work with the elderly and their families every day to ensure that their own senior-care experience paints a much better picture. With the right strategies and plans in place, there is no reason that today’s elderly can’t enjoy extremely happy and fulfilling lives throughout old age.
If you’d like to look back into the past, you can view many of the 1959 photos on the TIME/LIFE website. Meanwhile, if you’d like some help with your own senior care planning here in the present day, please feel free to give me a call. I’m here to help.