Do you ever gaze at the faces of seniors and imagine what they looked like in their prime? Or look at younger faces and picture them old? I do – a lot. Maybe it’s because of my nursing background, I don’t know.
I’ve looked after a number of elderly patients in my day, and their families would often bring in photos from the past to comfort them. It’s one thing to see a frail and vulnerable older woman all snuggled up in a hospital bed with a crocheted afghan over her. It’s quite another to see pictures of what she looked like in her late 20s dancing at Woodstock or holding her child in her arms.
The elderly had lives before we began discounting them; some of which were a lot more interesting than ours. They laughed, cried and agonized over big life decisions. They actually interacted and explored without technology, and they can teach us one hell of a lot about getting from point A to point B (and I’m not just referring to road trips without a GPS).
I can honestly say that my biggest pet peeve is our screwed up cultural attitude toward old people. Not only do we tend to pass them over for the most part; we actually talk to them like they’re children. I hear it all the time: in grocery stores, shopping malls, and especially in healthcare. It irks me to no end. And trust me, it irks them too.
Do yourself a favor: next time you’re in a room full of people, take a good look around. I’m in an airport right now, which is perfect for this exercise. I’m seeing high powered business people, lovers, backpackers, musicians, and families. Would you walk up to any one of them right now and converse in baby talk? I highly doubt it. Now ask yourself why it would be a good idea to do so when those same people have their hair turn white and their shoulders droop.
We talk a lot about prejudice in our society, but not enough about how that applies to our seniors. Don’t stereotype or condescend. That will be you one day, if you’re blessed enough to actually age.
Converse with seniors like you would a peer. They’re real people behind those weathered faces. Real people with souls and personalities, dreams and desires, and rich histories that deserve our respect. I’ll always give them mine. Join me.
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