Posted in Respect, Society

The ‘Invisibility’ of Old People

If it’s good enough for Ghandi, then maybe we should be touching Grandma’s feet, too?

I’m pretty sure it was legendary peace activist Mahatma Ghandi, possibly during one of his political passive-resistance ‘sit-ins’, who declared that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

But then, he would.

Smug in the knowledge that his beloved India already boasted a solid track record in the unconditional caring of it’s ageing population, he would have been totally confident bandying about such bold and impassioned statements.

In a country where taking care of one’s elderly parents in order to preserve sacred family values is not only tradition, it’s actually considered fundamental to society as a whole.

In fact, so great is the esteem and reverence bestowed upon India’s elders, that youngsters are expected to literally bow down and touch the feet of their treasured grandparents as the ultimate display of respect and adoration.

Eeek!  FEET?

TOUCH ME
TOUCH ME
TOUCH ME

The Chinese too, stay loving and loyal to their older family members by keeping them close, trusting in their vast spiritual wisdom and believing that great fortune will follow them and their household, because they are doing so.

Greeks and Italians also maintain endeared customs where elders demand intense respect from their offspring – including blessings that are sought from, and then held in the highest of regard. With several generations of one family all co-habiting, co-parenting (and frequently co-feasting on their magnificent cultural banquets) under the one, usually fairly large roof.

All the time sharing and caring galore for beloved Nonnie and Poppa – it’s just the way it is; the way it always has been. And not once are the words ‘Nursing Home’ or ‘Aged-Care facility’ considered… nor even dared be mentioned.

You look after your own and it’s a beautiful thing.

Becoming OLD and ‘being elderly’ as an Australian however, has up ’til recent times, been a whole different kettle of fish!

Not that we don’t care about the older adults in our lives (admittedly though, there’d be little chance of any feet-touching action)… and it’s not that we don’t WANT to look after dear old Mum and Dad when they can no longer manage on their own.

But with our frantic materialistic lifestyles, we fair dinkum Aussies barely have time to look after our kids, let alone take on care and responsibility of ‘the Olds’ as well. Having to sometimes move away from our home-towns to go where the money is (the hole for a new swimming pool won’t dig itself, you know) we abandon our ageing parents as we strive for bigger and better.

The once close-knit family dynamic is left in tatters and sadly, as our children grow up with little or no interaction with their grandparents (does Skype really count?) it means even less understanding of the issues older people face existing in today’s frenzied modern world.

BUT, thanks to an outstanding healthcare system and an unprecedented change (albeit, gradual) in attitudes toward ageing in general, there is a revolutionary new emphasis on embracing one’s Golden years. Older generations can now look forward to a potentially long, joyful and productive retirement with due diligence placed on seniors having rights, dignity and an invigorating abundance of empowerment HOORAY!

Yet, should we worry that our youth think it still acceptable to treat mature adults in a dismissive and disparaging way?

That our seniors, because they are retired from the workforce and are all (supposedly) sitting about idle and ‘being frail’, clearly can’t have creditable opinions and therefore have little to contribute to society anymore?

Well, today… as I stood waiting in the cashier’s queue of a large Electrical, IT & Furniture store (can we say Harvey Norman out loud?) I discovered all might not be as hopeless as we once might have presumed.

Amid the din and techno-bustle, I watched as a man of advanced years with white hair and rosy cheeks, walked tentatively into the shop… only to come to an abrupt halt.   I knew immediately what would most surely be going through this nervous bloke’s mind.

“Crikey… where do I start?”

Crowded shops – a nightmare at any age!

To be honest it was pretty similar to what I’d thought when I’d charged in earlier. Being one of these enormous retail outlets it’s always daunting until you get your bearings, as well we know.

Thankfully when I’d arrived, I was greeted immediately by an efficient middle-aged-ish customer services lady labelled ‘Brenda’, who duly pointed me in the required direction thereby saving me from a lot of time-wastery and roaming about.

Brenda, however, was noticeably absent in coming to the aid of this gentleman. 

Still hovering in her official capacity at the entrance, directing customers, dispatching them off to the relevant departments… I watched as she quite literally favoured others coming in, over helping him.

And STILL he stood there!

Was she blind? How could she not see him? Surely, she wasn’t outright ignoring this lovely misplaced chap on purpose? For goodness sake… it was like he was The Invisible Man!

OK, so being that I work in Aged-care and am used to attending to the whims of my elderly clients on a daily basis, you might argue that perhaps I’m just overly-sensitive to this type of carry-on.

Call it what you like, NEGLECT IS STILL NEGLECT!

And regardless of age, it was just wrong that anybody should be treated in such a blatantly disrespectful manner. Such a calm unassuming man… on behalf of all the rotten Brendas out there, I felt utterly pissed off ashamed.

By this stage, too, the poor guy was really getting jostled about. Customers were pushing past him with their large parcels and important busy lives. Finally, as I contemplated the ridiculous logistics of leap-frogging over the counter to go help this now visibly shaken senior, low and behold…a zippy young shop assistant guy appeared.

Fun (NOT).

I braced myself, dreading what awfulness might come from this juvenile whipper-snapper’s mouth. Would there be yet more disinterest, some degrading comments… in an equally degrading and patronising tone?

Or perhaps a reprimand for causing congestion on the shop floor?  Indeed, if Big Bad Brenda had trained him – he was doomed!

Blow me down, ‘Arden’ (as per name badge), turned out to be the loveliest, most patient and caring lad you could ever have wished for!  Upon touching the old boy gently on his arm so as not to give him a fright, Arden tactfully drew him away from the main thoroughfare and into the safety of the near-empty kitchen appliance aisle.

Looking him right in the eyes and talking directly to him, Arden was giving this most relieved pensioner his fabulously full attention!  And after asking how ‘Sir’ was, suggested that he might like to sit down?

Oh, it was just wonderful to see – I could have cried!

And as I watched them chatting away together and joking about last weekend’s crappy football results… I felt my faith in humanity (and young peeps everywhere) had been restored.

Hooray for you, Arden!   Maybe there’s hope for us all yet.

Indeed, if Mr Ghandi had been watching on from behind the row of chrome toasters and stupidly over-priced food mixers, I reckon without question, he would have been most peacefully and passively… chuffed to bits!

So, you’re saying it’s not all about ME then?

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie


Posted in Communication, Respect, Society

When Young People talk to Old People, BADLY

Getting our Kids Skilled-Up in the Art of Conversation

It must be wonderful knowing that your teenage son or daughter is mature enough to hold an ACTUAL conversation with your adult friends. Seeing them chat away freely when introduced; radiating confidence galore when asked if they are enjoying their new high school, all the time maintaining solid eye contact and without a dot of embarrassment or discomfort.

Whilst you stand alongside, glowing with pride and marvelling at what clearly must be some pretty bloody fabulous parenting skills, thank you very much!

Today I discovered that my 13-year old son did not possess such ability.

Not even close, in fact.

As a mum who thought she’d had it all covered: good manners, gracious conduct, appropriate behaviour and the biggie ‘respect for others’… it came as a rude slap in the chops, as I watched Junior’s social skills crumble and turn totally to mush.

You talkin’ to me?

Our visit this morning was to a medical centre, thanks to my son’s recent sporting injury (long story, don’t ask), was for follow-up x-rays and to be given the all clear to have the annoying brace on his arm removed.

An ideal location to meet and engage in friendly banter with seniors, it’s common knowledge in aged-care circles, that a doctor’s waiting room is ‘top of the pops’ to test even the most experienced of gasbags! 

It was as we sat bored waiting to be called, when an older smartly-dressed man with walking stick and twinkly eyes, leaned over to my son and asked in a fairly loud tone (hearing issues, obviously), what had he done to himself?

I continued reading my mag, confident that Chatterbox Charlie (as he is known at home and at school), would be equally as open and friendly. The two of them would yak away in ‘blokey’ fashion and by the time we left they’d be the bestest of buddies, possibly even a firm handshake farewell and promises to meet for tea and cake one day soon.

But what was this? 

Instead, no!  Junior was beside himself! Turning sharply to look at me, his face strained in terror… he was actually pleading me with his eyes, as if to say, “Oh god, please Mum, SAVE ME!”

Mortified, with the realisation that my dear beloved child was indeed a complete social flop after all, I attempted to verbally prompt him so he could explain to the nice inquiring man how he had sprained his arm in a game of football.

The old guy continued on, jokingly encouraging my son to join in.

“I thought you’re supposed to use your leg to kick the footy – not your arm!”

A sea of silver-haired ‘chattables’

As Junior turned bright red, awkwardly squeaking out some sort of inaudible response (all the time staring down at the floor, clearly wishing the tiles would open up and pull him down into the deep, dark depths of the earth where no scary old dudes could ever find him)… it dawned on me that some people might actually find conversation with an elderly person intimidating. 

Especially those they hadn’t met before. And I get that.

Growing up as a shy young teen, I remember myself, the feeling of horror when an adult would talk to me – especially one I didn’t know well. The worry of not knowing what to say, or sounding silly if I did say something, or being judged and thought an idiot. It was cause for real anxiety!

In lieu of that thought, I decided my son needed a lesson in the art of conversation, STAT!

Time for me to earn that Mother of the Year title and get him properly prepped and trained up on some good old-fashioned Communication Skills 101.

Yes, I would be doing this for ME (and my shattered ego), but more significantly, I was doing it for my soppy, socially inept son. It was imperative that in today’s frantic and fiercely competitive world, that he be an efficient communicator; to gain the advantage over his peers by being able to competently talk and earn respect from older adults.

To impress the pants off his teachers, his footy coach or even his own grandparents by engaging them in some light, but thoughtful bit of chit-chat for goodness sake!

And at the same time, emphasise to my son that it didn’t matter what age a person was. That all it took was a little friendliness and a smidge of empathy to show kindness towards another human being and to make them feel good. That many older adults spend days, sometimes weeks sitting alone in their homes, desperate for company and to feel part of the community.

Could he even imagine what that must be like?

Only the lonely

So, while the elderly chap and I laughed and chatted about the weather, his dreadful arthritis and the price of petrol, I felt Junior watching on taking it all in. I wasn’t completely daft though; I knew in reality my son’s interest would be only fleeting and that soon enough he’d tune out, switch on his iPod and go back to mindlessly picking at the tag on his arm brace.

But blow me down, before you could ask ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ my amazing little man surprised us all as he turned to the lovely white-haired lady sitting next to him.

Then, without missing a beat, smiling and looking her straight in the eye, in a big clear voice said, “Hello, are you having a nice day today?”

My faith restored, I nearly leapt out of my chair with the excitement of it all! My son was a lovely thoughtful person after all!

Unfortunately, I don’t think the poor little mite will dare go anywhere in public with his raving, lunatic mother again.  Possibly the cheering out loud and the ‘high five-ing’ with the receptionist were a little over the top, I’m not sure?

Hearing Aids are great
…WHEN THEY’RE SWITCHED ON!

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie