Bernie Siegel suggests in “Love, Medicine and Miracles” that it's the feisty, opinionated patient who stands the best chance of survival.
I recently gave a keynote address to a local caregivers’ expo. During the Q&A, one woman raised her hand and said, “What do You think about the way people talk down to old people?” I told her that it dumbfounds me, that I have no idea where people learn to think that’s the way to speak. And then I continued to wonder...
Why Do so many people talk baby talk to elders? Could an elder supreme court judge possibly enjoy being patted on the head? And for that matter, how do they get away with it? What keeps elder parents, pianists or Marines from kicking a few shins?
I remember when I would bring my still sharp Phi Beta Kappa mother out and about in her wheelchair, and doctors and other professionals would address me, speaking about my mother in the third person. Did they assume that her brain and self-respect had been gradually leaking away since she turned 70?
I guess people of my parents’ generation were so schooled in being gracious that they put up with such treatment without a fuss, but it’s going to be a bit different when the children of the 60’s enter elderhood. We broke the mold when it came to self-expression.
A nursing home filled with residents of the “Me Generation” will be quite a different story. We’ll be rebelling at every turn. We’ll be leading workshops to train the staff in providing truly respectful service. We’ll have a ringleader or two, and we’ll stage sit-ins at the nurses desk. We’ll demand that people knock before entering, bring breakfast only when we’re ready, and offer more opportunities for participation than sing-alongs and making cookies.
We’ll look for ways to improve the running of the place. We’ll take over the “activities program” and while we’re at it, we’ll come up with a different name for it altogether. Activities implies busymaking, as though all people need to feel enriched is to be kept active. We’ll have “life enrichment” programs maybe. Alive ‘n Kicking seminars. And if we can remember what we learned from Our elders, we'll do it with a bit of grace.
I daresay that "respecting elders" will mean something a bit different for us, the Boomers. It will mean something like listening to what we want, appreciating us for who we are, connecting with us on a personal level, and honoring our history.
If you were in a nursing home, what would you want your life to be like? What would you be doing? What new experiences will you be instigating? Who’ll be calling the shots for you?