Feb 8, 2015

How We View the Elderly

There was a good article written by Malkie Schulman entitled, "Old People Aren't Adorable."  She is bothered by a subtle disrespect that she frequently observes toward our elderly.  She thinks that the reason for it is that when we see someone physically incapacitated, we often assume they are mentally incapacitated.
She describes doctors and nurses not treating the elderly respectfully, though I have to say that I disagree with an example she gives.  Her friend wants to know why, when she takes her mother to the doctor, the doctor speaks to her, the daughter, and not to her mother.  She complains that he acts as though her mother isn't there or is a two year old.  Well, I think the answer lies in her question.  Did she "take her mother to the doctor" when her mother was 30? 40? 50?
This reminds me of an anecdote in "My Father, My Mother, and Me" (see here ) in which an elderly mother gently chides her daughter when her daughter says to someone, "I'm taking my mother to the wedding."  Her mother said it would be nicer if she said she was going to the wedding with her mother.  Likewise, saying, "I'm taking my mother to the doctor," sounds like taking a child, while "I'm accompanying my mother to the doctor" is altogether different. 

And did her friend sit quietly throughout the doctor visit or did she take charge? If her mother was the one who spoke to the doctor from the very start while her daughter sat in the waiting room, or if the daughter sat quietly in the examination room, the doctor would know to speak to her mother.
Another peeve that Schulman airs is the way people sometimes refer to seniors as cute or adorable.  She thinks it lacks deference and is appropriate for babies and little children.  And when kids went to visit a frum author in her eighties and came back saying she was "very sweet," she wondered whether this meant they did not appreciate her knowledge, her piety or talent.
I know what Schulman means.  I've also cringed at well-meaning comments.  For example, after seeing an elderly, ailing person, a young girl described him as "being alert." There was nothing wrong with that, but it rubbed me wrong anyway.  We often exclaim over certain newborns as being alert. 
I've cringed at an ad for a senior residence which described the activities available.  Maybe because it sounded like day camp.
Then there's "keeping the elderly occupied."  Like little children ...

No comments:

Post a Comment