Dignity in aging is a human rights issue. Without social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, SSI, and local services, many seniors would be living in cardboard boxes just like at the turn of the 20th century. The aging and aged have paid their dues to society and it is our job as a society to make sure that they live in dignity.
A look back at LIFE’s four-part series on the plight of the elderly in 1959, for which a photographer was dispatched to take what one editor called ‘horror pictures’
When LIFE set out to do a four-part series on aging in America in 1959, the magazine’s agenda was abundantly clear. “The problem of old age,” the introduction read, “has never been so vast or the solutions so inadequate.” There were five times as many elderly Americans as there had been at the turn of the century, and 60 percent of them had an annual income of less than $1,000. Medicare was still two presidents away, and people who couldn’t live with their families or on their own were often sent to state institutions where, the story read, they “lie in bed or sit beside it, imprisoned by helplessness, waiting to die, yet clinging to lives of crushing emptiness.”