Treating Seniors with Respect and Avoiding Condescension Pitfalls
As senior citizens begin to struggle with signs of aging, it can be difficult to remember they’ve been around the block many more times than we have, and they’ve been in our shoes and then some. Anyone reading this article will hopefully someday experience old age, and with that some of the common symptoms of aging: hindered movement, slowed thought, impaired memory, and hearing loss to name a few. I chose these few in particular because these symptoms can make it easy to treat an older person with condescension. While an understandable tendency, it’s important to remember what’s really going on in the person’s body and that, without the presence of dementia or severe memory loss, an older person’s mind is often as vibrant and intelligent as ours.
The challenge comes in balancing patience and understanding for these symptoms with the respect and dignity every human deserves. We’ll be the first to admit it’s not easy, but we believe these guidelines are a good place to start—and that with practice it gets easier.
1. Use your adult voice.
You are speaking to an adult, so act like it. It’s often respectful and necessary to speak more slowly and clearly with someone with slowed thinking or hearing loss, but if you find yourself using a tone you would use with a child, you’re on the wrong track. Practice maintaining an adult tone with patient speed and clear diction.
2. Walk beside, not in front.
As a general rule: ask if help is wanted before helping—it’s a slippery slope to assume a person can’t do something and to jump in without asking. When we begin to lose some of our faculties, nothing is more frustrating than not being able to use the ones we do have. Plus, it’s healthy and beneficial for seniors to stay as independent as possible. In other words, help them to complete things, but try not to do things for them if that’s not what they need.
For example, helping a senior to buy a magnifying glass could be a better option than starting to read things to them. Walking them through learning something new (like using the internet for email) may take more time and patience than handling their emails for them, but it’s time well spent when the senior is then self-sufficient with using the internet to stay in touch.
3. Mind your manners.
Most of us know that it’s polite to look at someone when speaking to them, not to address people in third person when they are present, to respect their ideas and thoughts, etc. Yet sometimes when a senior shows signs of mental aging, we forget some of these rules. Because they may be slower to speak or less engaged, we forget that they are a person sitting in the room with us just like any other. Their mind may be going full blast when their body and speech isn’t. Assume they have full mental faculties to understand any conversation or line of thought unless you have a reason to know otherwise. If you don’t, you’re likely to miss out on a world of wisdom.
Patience is key because the mind does often slow down with age, and if you don’t slow down a bit too, it’s easy to get frustrated or find yourself treating someone with disrespect. If you can first slow down, and second remember the senior has lived through healthier years and knows what that’s like, and third work on these guidelines, you can be a much needed bright light for any senior in your life.
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