By: Myles McNamara
Aunt Leila was unusually quiet when Alice picked her up after a doctor’s visit. Finally, Leila sat up and took a deep breath.
“I’m 84 years old and they treated me like a child. The receptionist called me Leila. I’d never met her, never even seen her before! The staff talked to me in little high voices and led me around. They didn’t want to listen to what I had to say, either. Nobody, not even a child, should be treated like a child!”
Negative beliefs and attitudes about growing older are pervasive. We talk about dignity in aging, but what does dignity mean? How do we ensure that people are treated with respect?
Dignity is the quality of being worthy of respect. How do we confer dignity? The way a person dresses, speaks, and carries themself tells us. Occupation, accomplishments, wealth, and confidence may indicate that people merit respect, but it should be fundamental in dealing with people at all times.
Aging can cause a loss of youthful vigor, occupation, friends and family. In advanced age, people may experience declining health and mental capacity. As a result, elders can be considered to be of little consequence. Older people have much to contribute if given the chance. Old does not equal incompetent.
We all want to decide about and direct our own lives. Caregivers, family members, and professionals must help elders preserve autonomy even in the face of diminished capacity. Capacity varies and changes. Elders may be able to do some things, make decisions about some, and delegate still others. Allow them the level of autonomy that they can exercise. We can accomplish this by doing simple things.
1) Listen. Being heard is important. Acknowledgement matters. By listening and attending we acknowledge individual worth.
2) Foster decision-making within their capability level. Not being able to manage everything doesn’t mean they are unable to choose what socks to wear. Feeling in control is what’s important.
3) Show respect. Acknowledge, but don’t patronize.
4) Talk and act naturally. Elders thrive on the humor, teasing, and give and take of everyday conversation. They have a lifetime of experiences to share. Respect that. Take advantage of that. The best classroom in the world can sometimes be at the feet of an elderly person.
Myles McNamara, Certified Senior Advisor and owner of Comfort Keepers In-home Care, providing assistance to seniors in the comfort of their own home. Offices located at 24355 Lyons Avenue, Suite 110. (661) 287-4200 www.comfortkeepers.com