Monthly Archives: June 2012

Feeling Helpless (Speaking Down to the Elderly)

Everyone would love to stay young forever. In our youth-oriented culture the prospect of aging and dealing with all the complications that may come is frightening. Because of this as youth we often allow ourselves to subconsciously  feel superior to what we perceive as the frail and weak aged generation. This leads us to take on an almost ‘motherly’ attitude and often we may find ourselves speaking down to the elderly in a way that we might speak to a baby.

“And how are we doing today?” “Oh, you’re such a sweetie.” “Don’t you look pretty today!” And many other similar phrases are often used by the younger generation when addressing the elderly on a daily basis. Doctor Marian Dehlinger said about this type of speaking in her geo-psychiatric unit, “When [the elderly] come and they are under our care, and they are in this dependent role anyway, we can fall into this trap of using language and behaviors that can validate in their mind these negative views that they are helpless.”

When we speak down to the elderly we affirm to them that we believe they are frail, weak, and helpless. We damage their emotional well-being and as such we negatively affect their health. Elaine Smith, a 78-year old retired Chicago schoolteacher, was hospitalized after a fall and for two months she was subjected to condescending phrases and treatment. She said, “I often didn’t feel strong enough to answer back. But even worse, I felt that this sort of attitude and message was grinding me down. It reduces your self-esteem and at times I felt it was just easiest to give in to the stereotype that I didn’t know what I wanted or needed.”

Speaking down to the elderly only increases their sense that they are helpless. According to a ground-breaking study, speaking down to the elderly does more than just harm them emotionally; it also has a detrimental effect on their health. Researchers stated, “Verbal ageism can harm longevity by delivering a self-fulfilling message that older people are incompetent, frail and feeble, sending them into a negative downward spiral.”

The research went on to conclude that there is a clear connection between treatment of the elderly and their health and functioning. Those exposed to belittling language and negative stereotypes performed far worse on memory and balance tests than those who were exposed to positive, respectful language. In a town in Ohio, the researchers found that seniors who had positive perceptions about aging lived on average 7.5 years longer than those who had negative views. These emotional perceptions about aging and about themselves had a greater impact on the length of their lives than not smoking or regular exercise.

We have to understand that seniors in their later years are already struggling to feel good about themselves, and we don’t need to make it worse. A man who has provided for his family for fifty years then gradually finds himself unable dress himself and cook his own meals, may look at his family and state sadly, “I’m supposed to be taking care of you.” A woman who was at the top of her game in her career field and then finds herself unable to leave her home or the care of her caregiver, may find herself shaking her head and whispering to herself, “What purpose do I have now?”

These people that we often find ourselves speaking down to are adults, not children. They’ve spent their years working for their families, serving in their communities, and participating in their nation. They have earned the right to our respect, and we have a duty as the younger generation to show them that though they may not be able to drive to work or cook their own meals, they are still important and we respect them.

One day we will all age; it is the fact of life. We may fear it. We may not want it, but we can’t allow our fears and the gap between our generations to let us belittle the elderly we encounter each day. Miss Kelly, an 83-year-old New Yorker, put it bluntly, “I believe that the people who heap these endearments upon us are reacting to their own fears of aging in a youth-oriented culture. My advice, darlings – get over it.”

God Bless the USA (Supporting Our Veterans and Their Families)

“I’m proud to be an American.” These words were first sung by Lee Greenwood and now echo throughout ‘the land of the free,’ but what does it truly mean to be proud to be an American? When we think of honor and service, our thoughts often turn to our veterans or our soldiers currently fighting for our freedoms. We honor them because they place their lives at risk each day for love of their country, but do we often think to honor their families, those who fight emotionally each day because they too love their country?

Elmer Davis said, “This nation will remain the land of the free, only so long as it is the home of the brave.” If you gathered a group of people in a room and asked them to stand if they were, by marriage or birth, a relative of someone who is currently serving or who has served in our military, the number standing would astound you. These people who proudly stand are just as brave as the soldiers they support.

At a banquet honoring our veterans, a young woman named Brianna stood up to speak about her experience growing up as a military kid. She was brought to tears as she spoke of the day her father was deployed to Iraq. He wasn’t there for her first date or her first kiss. He wasn’t there for her high school graduation or to help her choose which college to attend. It was hard for her to recall all the events in her life that her father had missed, yet she did not blame him or our government. When she spoke of her father’s service, you could see in her eyes that she was proud of him, and she was proud to be an American.

As we honor our veterans and the country they so proudly fought for, let us never forget their families. Brianna was able to be reunited with her father after his time in Iraq. Some families lose their loved ones forever. If someone close to you has not served in the military, it may be difficult to understand the struggle they go through everyday, not knowing if their loved one will still be there to wish them goodnight, but we do not have to fully understand to offer our love and support.

Wars are not a thing of our past. There are still soldiers out there fighting for us today. As we honor and support them, we can never forget the sacrifices of their families. While it may be hard to reach out to the soldiers, we can always reach out to their loved ones who are living right here in our own neighborhoods and communities.

We have our freedoms because of the sacrifice and strength of our American soldiers, and they gain their strength from the support of those they love and care for back home. As July approaches and we will soon once again be celebrating our Independence Day, let us support our soldiers and their families and show that we are proud to be Americans.

Below is a slide show video of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. Please take a moment to listen to the words of the song that remind us of the patriotic pride we should all have for our country. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWC8liHX_G8

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