If I were a native of Mali* and asked to address the issues of the aging population in the U.S., I might offer this strategy: treat your elders as we treat our beloved mud mosques, with great respect, continuous care and upkeep by the entire community. Consider how we care for our cultural heritage as a metaphor for how to approach your population challenges.
Every spring we have a big festival to re-plaster the mud walls of our Great Mosque of Djenné, the largest mudbrick structure in the world, re-built in 1907 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We must spread new banco (mud mixed with rice husks) on the outer walls to repair cracks and replace what was washed away during the rainy season. Our annual maintenance festival has music, food and much activity that involves the whole community, including elderly people who are given a place of honor to sit and watch the proceedings.
These annual re-plastering events take place all over our country, for both mosques and domestic architecture. Our adobe structures can last for centuries if properly maintained. Similarly, the U.S. could sustain an increasing elderly population by maintaining a proper support system. I admit this may be easy for me to suggest because only 3% of the Malian population is over age 64, whereas in the U.S. almost 13% of your population is older than 64, and that percentage will increase sharply as your Baby Boomers age.
The U.S. will need to invest more in healthcare and learn to better integrate the elderly population the way we do in Mali. Because your caretaking costs will increase over the coming years, you can save resources by living together in multi-generational households. We do this in Mali and believe it benefits everyone to involve our elders in the community, instead of putting them in secluded retirement homes like you do in the U.S. In Mali, we still have councils of elders who help make decisions for the communities where they reside; we respect their wisdom, and suggest you listen to your own elders.
The U.S. also should try to provide your aging population with some kind of meaningful work. Keep them involved and active to help them stay physically and mentally healthy. If they’re living with you, involve them in childcare and housekeeping; give them creative outlets and ways to contribute to society. Consider your elders your cultural heritage and give them a seat of honor at the renovation of your society.
*I am not qualified in any way to represent a native of Mali and I apologize for this poor attempt.