HomeHealth ConditionsDon’t Treat Me Like a Child

Don’t Treat Me Like a Child

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Are eighty-year-olds and even seventy-year-olds the new children?

The days when elders were seen as wise and important contributors to their communities vanished long ago. Thanks to advertising and social media, eighty-year-olds and up are associated with diapers, dementia, and a mountain of hospital-looking equipment that reduces them to their “Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)” needs.

Our exposure to information like this has shifted our perception and elders have become victims of this change in our society.

The same thing could be said for kids in their twenties. It used to be that twenty-two-year-olds were adults—from going to war to getting married and having children.

Those days are long gone, too.

Eighty-year-olds are physically different from forty-year-olds. Just as forty-year-olds are different from eighteen-year-olds. That’s the nature of life and every age has its pros and cons: children under 12 can learn a language as if by magic, someone in their early 20s can run a five minute mile with much more ease than anyone over 50, and those over 80 have deep insights into life that can only be gained through eight decades of living.

Bottom line: our bodies, including our brains, are constantly changing no matter how old we are. However, changes -no matter if they’re for the better or worse- are no reason to turn an 85-year-old into an infant. As I see it, we’re constantly setting up our elders to be treated like helpless babies. For example, when balance is compromised (such as when the inner compass lags behind the speed of body movements), transitions in and out of couches, bathtubs, and beds can be complicated. Yet we overreact by insisting on making their houses look like hospitals by putting in countless medical-looking devices. Nothing will sap a person’s self-confidence and ultimately impair their real mobility like making them feel incompetent. It is true that most people face some challenges with their balance late in life, but they certainly don’t need their old age to be turned into disease.

This situation makes me think about those twenty- eight-year-olds whose mothers worry about what they eat, how much sun they’re exposed to, and actively find them jobs and internships.

Are twenty-eight year-olds that vulnerable? Really? Not long ago that used to be the age when people changed the world.

So, the question is: Why does our society infantilize people in their twenties and their eighties?

Some say it’s because we live so long now that society has no room for so many adults. Meaning, leave twenty-six-year-olds with Master’s degrees at their barista jobs and turn eighty-two-year olds into little babies surrounded by hospital-ware. Is this real? Is it fair? Does it make sense? And who is doing it?

This is happening as I write. Both the wise elder and the independent, self-sufficient twenty something have vanished from our conversations, our social media, and the television screen. It isn’t fair. In fact, it’s one of the most damaging views our society could have about itself. But, who’s doing it? We all are. There is no one to blame but us. Yes, pharmaceutical and hospital equipment makers make more money this way, and yes, our current economy can’t create jobs fast enough for the young beyond the never-ending need for baristas and tattoo artists. However, none of that is set in stone. Cultures and perceptions can be changed when we, as a society, decide to do so. Plenty has changed for the better in just the last ten years.

What’s the solution?

Don’t treat anyone but little kids as kids. Winston Churchill used a cane to help himself with his own transitions while defending his country from impending doom and defeating the worst man of the 20th century. Roosevelt led the free world from a wheel chair! No one, not even today, ever defines Churchill and Roosevelt as helpless sick old men.

Napoleon, on the other hand, is credited with his first victory at the battle of Toulon, at the young age of 24. No helicopter mother needed there either.

This article first appeared on changingaging.org.

By Lucero Uribe

About Lucero Uribe, Guest Blogger

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Lucero is a Miami-based writer and editor-in-chief of Nuverz Answers. She has a BA in Literature and Creative Writing from Columbia University.

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Changingaging.org aspires to shift the way aging is perceived. The many talented contributors for the site highlight the positive side of aging and urge readers to embrace elderhood. The Giving Care Blog is excited to showcase some of the amazing work featured on their site as they provide a voice of positivity and eldercare advocacy.

  • Intense social media saturation has changed local “it takes a village” perception to national/global perception. “Experts” publishing their view of what is wrong and how to fix it have been more harm than help. National laws are too broad. I was caught right in the “Sandwich Generation” crosshairs of it. The knee-jerk reaction to what those very elders did raising us has backfired on us by making most rearing techniques we knew seem cruel and inadequate. For example, you cannot swat the bottom of a child when they purposely run across a parking lot because “they felt like it.” Also, you cannot put a parent in treatment when they are doing things harmful to themselves (HIPPA rules…). Our parents, that very generation that beat the hell out of us and threatened us if we caused them grief all while nursing a cocktail have made society “aware” but it comes too late for us to have a “savior.”
    There are significant age differences in the generations I’m to care for. At one point I was pushing a stroller and managing a parent with a cane and vision issues across a busy parking lot. Who do I let fall if they stumble? Who do I make wait while I mange both into a car, up/down the stairs, who do I catch if they both fall at the same time? Either way, I’m damned if I do/don’t on the outcome because of the societal expectations now. Honestly, if I could just speak in an authoritative voice and not be considered “mean” would help a lot. It’s become my responsibility and should be my business. Keep the social workers out of it unless they are willing to help me and offer solutions. Smart phones that can broadcast in a flash and Life Alert pendants are the bane of my age group. I’m so busy with my hands full that it’s a miracle that I can get my hands on a smart phone to show my dilemma. I’m considered the “strong one” the one who has to manage my “sandwich” and it’s hard sometimes. The elder can do things that are very childish, and yet they say “I’m older, take care of me now.” If they relinquish doing for themselves, then they should be willing to work with me instead of against me.

    September 8, 2016
  • Per my post above — it was a “vent” but honestly, if the smug person who saw me swat (once) the toddler in the parking lot for running into traffic had just looked at my situation, I would’ve so appreciated her saying, “you’ve really got your hands full, let me help you and your toddler back to your parent and we can both get them across the traffic in this parking lot.” A little help please! Not just condemnation from a first glance, and her comment that, “I could have you arrested for that.” Can you see where our generation is so frustrated????

    I grew up early and very responsible. Overly so. So, let the “village” take care instead of condemning. Common sense instead of Social Media.

    September 8, 2016

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