Wednesday, 15 August 2012
The Elder Invisible Thing
By Linda Carmi
Yes, it exists! It is a very real phenomenon that seems to occur with the arrival of gray hair.
I live in an active retirement community with lots of gray haired people so I don’t see so much overt dismissal secondary to elderhood as out in the other world. “Out there” it seems to be accepted as the norm.
I find it particularly noticeable in doctors' offices. I recall the staff in my husband’s doctor’s office would routinely defer to me for answers. It became more noticeable when I was pushing my husband in his wheelchair. Even his doctor of many years would look to me for information that whooshed us through the precious few minutes we had with him.
I do not believe their behavior was intentionally disrespectful but rather the need to for expediency. Nevertheless, I could sense that my husband would sometimes feel invisible and helpless and unimportant.
To be fair, my husband had severe hearing loss and suffered Alzheimer’s disease in later years so it was just the sensible thing to do for me to do most of the talking.
I can only think of those elders that do not have someone to advocate for them in these situations. How many times does the exchange of important information get lost or misunderstood for those without someone to be there with them.
I always made sure that my husband, the doctor and I were seated close to one another while we discussed matters at hand. It was important to me that he felt part of the discussion even if he could not hear so well. I wanted to see acknowledgment and eye contact between doctor, staff and my husband. I did not want him to be excluded. I would turn to him and explain that I was going to be talking to Dr. Kind&Caring about (whatever the issue was that time).
He sometimes would speak up and ramble a bit with a story and I recall that this particular doctor would always listen and offer acknowledgment to my husband.
I made a point to turn to my husband during these visits to tell him, “It is very important for us to know how to do the best for you at home with (your blood pressure, or whatever the issue was). Dr. K&C knows how important you are and he cares very much about you.” (Depending on which doctor, it was true.)
It made a significant difference in allowing my husband to feel safe and to know that he was important.
I remember always after each visit with Dr. K&C, I would ask him how he felt about his “report.” His answer was usually something like, “I know he takes good care of me, and you do too.” He would then go on to say something like, “You know how long I have been coming to him? I know all of his girls for this many years.”
Now that my husband is no longer with me, my observations of the “invisible thing” among elders at large have become more keen. It makes me feel sad and frustrated.
As an elder in training, it pains me to see blank resignation or frustration on the face of a mature person waiting in line to be served or struggling to reach the crosswalk button from a wheelchair or with a cane.
Most times the younger people nearby dart ahead to reach a destination that will still be there in the next couple of minutes, but their lives are in such high gear, I suppose they just don’t realize the meaning of a kind word and smile or a gesture to help.
Of course, that is not always the case, and it gives me a real pleasure to observe a kindness to an elder.
Elders have much to offer and I am fortunate to live in a community where I can see that every day. When limitations caused by health challenges or other factors become an issue and speed of movement or thought is not what it once was, all is not lost. To connect with a smile or a touch to the shoulder goes a long way.
We are all elders in training, the same body, mind and spirit issues will likely touch us all somewhere along the way, each and every one. I must have borrowed the term from somewhere, but I like it very much.
Just my thoughts. I had to share.
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