A few days ago, I got this text from a caregiver who has been with us since 2006: “I will be back in Jersey June 4th. Hope u have a job for me. It’s very hot here. I am ok, just very bored.”
Amazingly, this lady is 86 years old!
For the past few years, she has stayed with family in Florida every winter and returns in the summer. I never thought she’d be returning to New Jersey on the same schedule during Coronavirus, but you just can’t keep her in the rocking chair!
This woman is an excellent aide – smart and gracious – and she works harder than many aides a quarter of her age.
Moral of the story? Seniors can help other seniors – and we shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s ability and energy based on age!
Here are some ways we often underestimate seniors’ abilities and strength and what you can do instead:
We Meddle in Decisions
Do you often find yourself jumping into the middle of a situation where you don’t necessarily belong? Much like parents try to shield their children from harm and pain, we often do the same to protect older loved ones.
By making decisions for older adults (whether it’s what they should be eating or where they should live), we rob them of the chance to control their own lives. Don’t forget, seniors have overcome many challenges and difficulties throughout the years, and they’re often much more capable than we give them credit for.
We Don’t Recognize Strengths
Many of today’s older adults did not grow up in an easy environment. They’ve lived through wars, recessions, and social justice movements. They may have had limited resources in the forms of health care and education. If they are immigrants, they may have faced a language barrier or racism.
Even though these older adults are nearing their end of life, they still have a lot of reliance and strength. What you see as “protecting,” they may see as undermining.
We Limit Learning Opportunities
Growing older does not mean that a person is limited in their capacity to learn and grow. In fact, experts say that lifelong learning can help improve brain health!
Despite this, relatives and caregivers of older adults often underestimate the ability of seniors to learn. It is sometimes so bad that seniors are viewed as having child-like abilities, unable to understand simple instructions or comprehend normal adult conversation. Unless there is an underlying mental illness or significant health condition, this is not the case.
We Don’t Value Opinions
The opinions of older adults are often brushed aside as unimportant or trivial. We don’t recognize the importance of their views, even when it comes to their own finances or healthcare. An important first step is to take the time to actually talk to your older adult and find out what’s important to them. This can be a general conversation or about something specific.
Ultimately, whatever decisions you make for your older loved one should occur with their consent, as much as possible. In the long run, having honest conversations leads to better solutions!
Respecting seniors and involving them in the decisions surrounding their own lives helps to set the foundation for a honest, open relationship between you and your older loved one.