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Anarchy in the Old Folks’ Home

Accommodating Elders

It is an entrenched custom of U.S. culture to make exceptional accommodations for children and this is good. It is understood by everyone that children are by nature stupid, likely at any moment to do something that will maim or kill them.

Parents install those little buttons in electrical outlets so the children won’t fry themselves. They use gates to keep toddlers from tumbling down the stairs. And they hide dangerous household products where curious fingers can’t reach them.

In public, we install traffic signs near playgrounds to alert drivers to the possible sudden appearance of a child chasing a ball into the street. We require bicycle helmets, safety features on car seats and strollers, and there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t grab a kid wandering into a crosswalk against the light.

We also make accommodations for the disabled – ramps and curb cuts for wheelchairs; special parking places close to building entrances; Braille on elevator buttons so the blind can get to the floor they want.

Although some of the modifications for the disabled are helpful to old people, in general little attention is paid to their needs in public places, as was evident at a recent flu shot clinic I attended. Fifty-eight stairs for people in their 70s, 80s and 90s using walkers and canes is unreasonable.

Eighty percent of old people live independently and do quite well for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they have the stamina, energy and agility of younger adults. It took the local block association five years of petitions and public hearings to convince the Department of Transportation in New York City to extend the time of a walk sign on a wide avenue in the neighborhood so old people could get across the street before traffic, horns blaring, started bearing down on them.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Why aren’t there take-a-number systems with benches for people to await their turn in bureaucracies where there are liable to be long lines? Even the local butcher uses that arrangement. Why don’t products and medicines come with instructions in larger than one-point type? Why don’t more physicians check in with their elderly patients by telephone? Monitoring chronic conditions doesn’t always require an office visit and it would save health insurance costs too.

And what has happened to the practice of my childhood in the 1950s when youngsters automatically gave up their seats on the subway or bus for old people? When did people of all ages stop holding doors for elders with packages? And why can’t store clerks take a little extra time to answer questions from people with hearing problems or who are a bit confused? A little patience from all of us wouldn’t hurt and can help an older person a lot.

We are careful to shield children who don’t know any better yet from all kinds of trouble they can get themselves into. It is only right to make accommodations for the difficulties that commonly turn up at the other end of life.


A big part of the reason for all of this is that we have become a culture that centers its adoration and attention on the young and beautiful. You have touched on that more than once in other posts.

The other thing that comes to mind is that we have become a very rude and crude people. Common courtesy has been supplanted by brashness. Patience has been replaced by intolerance for anything that slows us down. Respect was washed away by greed and envy. The rudeness and disrespect for elders can also be seen directed at those of any age bracket. We may feel the impact more, but most of the time I'm not sure we're being singled out as targets.

And of course, the homage we pay to children and handicapped did not happen out of the goodness of our collective hearts. It took many years and many false starts to bring about the legislation and codes that resulted in the ramps, curb cuts, safe car seats, helmets and laws to enforce their use. We cannot give up pushing for even the artificial respect brought by laws and regulations.


Don't even get me STARTED on giving up seats! I am known to point out and shame offenders (at noticeable volume) for both elders *and* those who are pregnant or infirm on all forms of public transport - much to the sometime embarrassment of my travelling partners. It sure bugs the hell out of me too...

And, on a side note that is to a great extent unrelated, so does the whole 'born in barn, can't close the door behind them' mindset of my current commuter fraternity. Even though there is a howling gale of sub-zero temperatures coming in behind them they choose to ignore that fact merely because the door is automated and will shut of its own accord at some point in time! Heaven forbid they actually expended some energy and pushed the 'Door Close' button behind them!!!]

[Have just re-read this: comes of as a bit of a rant really doesn't it??!?? Just venting: today has just been a highlight of both these types of behaviours and I'm feeling the need to share!:o)]

The issue of phone follow-ups with a doctor is a pretty common topic in the health care industry.
Many offices routinely make a follow-up call after some visits. That's different, of course, from being able to call a doctor with a new problem or question.
There are at least two issues with "phone visits": they don't meet medico-legal requirements for documentation; and (therefore) they aren't reimbursable by insurance.
There are practices that are beginning to offer "e-visits."

From my experience I would say it depends on where you live how much help a senior citizen gets.

I spend eight months up north and four months in Florida. Since there are many seniors down south there are a number of things that makes my life better.

A simple thing like help putting your groceries in the car makes life a little easier. The BOY who provides this service might be in his 70's but he's still able to do it, plus it gives him a few more dollars in his pocket.

In recent years the street signs have been enlarged to help seniors whose sight is not what it used to be.

Another good service that is available in Florida is transportation provided by the medical community.

For example if you need to have a test done at the hospital and are told that you can not drive home yourself, there is a service that will pick you up, bring you to the hospital and then see you safely home.

It all depends.


And what about the packaging these days that is SO hard to get into? Millie's video from a few months back trying to open a jar is a good example. It seems they're trying to prevent small children from getting to dangerous items (tried opening the bleach lately?) or nasty people from tampering with food and/or medicines. Another good reason to keep up with weights training is so my hands stay strong enough to cope.

Some (mostly older) folks simply take longer to walk across wide streets. Most drivers can't seem to imagine that they might need to wait just a few seconds to make walking across possible. I suppose this is, in part, because we've lost the expectation that anyone walks.

Agree with Millie, that there are geographical areas that are more amenable to older adults and those of all ages with special needs. Southern California offers many such public areas as opposed to specifically designed retirement communities. Would like to believe similar areas are present all over the U.S. As more people from differing parts of the U.S. (other countries, too, perhaps) find this blog and comment, perhaps we can pin point some of them.

I am acutely aware of the challenges our age group encounters based on my personal experiences, those of loved ones, and a sizeable number of others I encounter daily. There seems little argument of the importance of our senses in providing us information and knowledge of the world around us -- some of it life preserving. We need our glasses, our hearing aids, our dentures, just for starters. However, I know first hand that these items are often misplaced or lost, damaged or destroyed not only unintentionally by us, but by those who are supposed to be aiding us especially when we're ill i.e. emergency transports, hospitals, rehabilitation nursing centers. Obtaining replacements is sometimes not possible for reasons none the least of which may be financial. Surely do wish the public at large could be educated to treat all sensory aids with loving care. Surely do wish all insurance providers including Medicare would view these basic sensory needs as necessities to maintain a decent quality of life for functional daily living.

Two things - 1) packaging - modern tamper-proof packaging doesn't just disenfranchise elders - it disenfranchises those who would like to open it, period. I'm a strong and resourceful 41 year-old, and some of them (bubble-packs made of kevlar strength plastic and freshness seals on bottles of milk) drive me into a froth. On a more personal level, any packaging that causes me to break a fingernail means a product I will not buy again.

But on the subject of giving up seats for elders - maybe it's different in the US, but I'm sorry to report that, in the UK, my offer of a seat to someone in need has frequently earned me a look from the person I'm offering it to as if I've some kind of pervert. I am not joking. There comes a point when it's just not worth the hassle - I'm not at that point yet, but believe me, I'm mighty close to it. I've held doors open for others all my life - and had my head bitten off more than once for being "condescending and sexist" for holding doors open for women. Against all that, really, is it any wonder that some people stop being polite and considerate?

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