The Myth of Aging and the Truth About Ageism

~ By Janice Michon, RN, BSN, Care Coordinator Certified in Gerontology and Mediation ~

When you consider a beautiful woman, whom do you ponder? Does Beyonce come to mind? Or do you think of a silver tressed woman with her years of experience etched into her face and her deep, knowing eyes? Our society values youth, and with it depreciates the value of our seniors. Believing or thinking in a negative manner about the elderly is “ageism.” As a culture we believe the old have less to offer. They’re not interesting. They don’t contribute to society. They use too many resources.

The myth of aging is that we will all be senile, disabled, lonely, and helpless. Just don’t mention that to my 85 year old patient who just completed her 4th book on horticulture, the 76 year old hospital “pink lady” who is in her 50th year of volunteering, or the 90 year old who passed me on the trail up Mt. Audubon last year (all true stories).

Studies have shown the root of ageism lies in our own anxiety about growing old and dependent; our own fear of death. To be effective and compassionate caregivers of our elderly is to recognize our own fears and prejudices. As we rush to do our job, making accommodations for the elderly can test our patience. Some walk slowly. Some can’t hear or see well.

Some take time to get their coats off or roll up their sleeves. Some need help with getting up on the exam table. Some forget what you just said. Take your time with seniors. Walk at their pace. Walk beside them if you can. Take their arm if it feels right. If they are hearing impaired, speak slowly and look at their eyes. It’s ok to raise your voice but do not shout. De-clutter patient spaces for walkers and wheelchairs. Provide verbal cues to the sight-impaired. Seniors with memory problems take a few secondsÉup to a full minute…to process what you said. Speak slowly. Pause between phrases. Keep concepts simple but remember, they are not children.

Recognize the strength, wisdom, and dignity they possess. Learn from them.

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