Typecasting, discrimination, ageism. However you choose to define the negative perceptions associated with someone’s increasing age, it doesn’t lessen the impact that senior stereotypes can have on someone’s confidence levels. While it requires a certain level of mindfulness to shy away from the assumptions of society, it’s within these stereotypes that we learn just how careless we’re being when we assume that seniors are incompetent, irrelevant, or out of touch. Even though those words can be shocking and make us think, “Well, I don’t think about the elderly in that way.”, the notion is stronger than you might think.
As our loved ones enter their twilight years and depend on us more, it’s natural to feel a lot of emotions over this confusing transition. On one hand, we want to be there for them in every way possible, while communicating this desire genuinely and affectionately. On the other hand, we understand that many seniors refuse to embrace the loss of their capabilities and capacities – such as loss of hearing, mobility, or wits – and do not want to be treated differently as a result. Even as seniors enter a calmer state during this phase of their lives, many people don’t know how to behave around this demographic.
As caregivers, we can sometimes resort to senior stereotypes, even if it’s unintentional. The most common ways that caregivers do this is by talking to seniors in a slower, louder, and simpler manner and providing assistance with tasks when it’s not needed, with the assumed stereotypes being that seniors are hard of hearing, slow to respond or understand, and are in constant need of help.
Even if our assumptions are correct, they can get us into hot water. What we want to do is tread lightly around sensitive issues, but not be too delicate so that seniors recognize a personality shift from when we talk to them versus when we converse with other people.
All in all, senior stereotypes are not good for anyone. For our loved ones, it makes them feel devalued, incapacitated, and less than. For us, we have to be mindful of our communication tactics and actions in order to balance the need to provide care, as well as not overstep when the need for care is a hot button issue.
Essentially, those who are above the age of sixty-five want to be treated with as much respect and dignity as we would give to someone of a younger age. They want to be spoken to directly – not through a helper – and be seen as a wise, experienced, and emotionally strong human. Instead of simplifying their lives, understand that most seniors still retain their intellect, sense of humour, style, and exquisite tastes as they age. In fact, these can all become exceptionally well refined.
Instead of entering a situation where you could be approaching senior stereotype territory, create an interaction strategy that appeases to their care plan, while also allowing them to feel appreciated, heard, and if possible, younger than their years. Offer them a tumbler of scotch (so long as their care plan allows for it) instead of a cup of tea or play an 18+ movie to appease their need for drama, foul language, and sense of adventure.
If there are ways that you have caught yourself leaning on senior stereotypes, we’d love to know your tactics for getting around this issue.