It read, “I’m old, not stupid – What older people think but don’t say.” The title of a booklet caught my eye recently.
This book is a popular and sought after read for family members with elderly relatives.
The title echoes the irritation about the way many ‘younger’ people so often speak to and interact with older ones. As if older people, despite their age and experience, are somehow no longer normal, intelligent adults – no matter their decades of experience on this earth.
We see it in the way too many people in the caring professions speak to – or about – older people. By the way they change the pitch in their voice and come over patronising and condescending with their ‘Now don’t you worry yourself with any of that, Mr Smith, we’ll get you sorted in no time’, approach.
It’s sad to say that the communication from carers to residence suggests a loss of intelligence was a natural consequence of physical frailty.
It is seen in families also, when an elderly parent, perhaps requiring some form of assistance within their personal place of residence, gradually becomes the passive subject of discussions among adult children and other family members, rather than an equal and active participant in those discussions.
Unfortunately, in Western countries, we see these attitudes and behaviours toward older people across most nationalities and cultures.
The title of the booklet – I’m old, not stupid – comes from the grandmother of one of the author’s friends.
Author. coach and trainer,
Author Lindsay Tighe is also a trainer, coach and founder of a training company, Better Questions. Tighe says her friend had been visiting her grandmother at her new aged care home (nursing home) and had listened to her describing her indignation with the patronising way in which the staff interacted with her, as if loss of intelligence was a natural consequence of physical frailty.
“The woman told her granddaughter she was sick of being treated this way. ‘I’m old, not stupid’, she said.
“I thought, yes, that’s the title of a book,” says Tighe.
The handbook was written to address the problem of the unconscious way that many people communicate with the elderly, particularly those who have any form of incapacity.
Even though people have the best intentions, they think that if an older person is experience difficulty in an area of their life, they need to take over all aspects of their daily life.
“Our own views and perceptions of ageing, which tend to be based on ageist stereotypes about loss and dependency, inform our behaviours. Is this how WE expect to feel and be treated as we grow older?
“The second mistake people make is they have a false belief that when they tell, fix, arrange, give advice, that they are ‘helping’.”
Rewiring the way we help
Again, it’s always good to reassure that helping is a good thing when it genuinely helps. That being said, the way most of us go about it, it often doesn’t help – at least not in the long run.
“When people take over and fix things,” Tighe points out, “it often stops people thinking for themselves and inevitably increases their dependency.
“They may get resentful that they never get a chance to find their own solutions, which in turn makes them feel disrespected and disempowered.
“Over the longer term, they may well start to lose confidence and lose their sense of self and have lower self-esteem, which may even lead to depression and other mental health issues.”
A way of navigating through this approach, lies in our ability in becoming better at asking the right questions and listening, rather than telling.