When I wrote about the Dangers of Elderspeak a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to receive an email note from Jayne Mullins about how that kind of demeaning language can be and is, as she writes, used “to groom people for being taken advantage of or worse.”
Ms. Mullins knows whereof she speaks. For many years she has worked as an Elder Abuse Program Specialist for a non-profit, the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWAAR).
In that position, she recently completed a paper titled The Language We Use or I'm Not Your “Honey” that is being distributed to professionals, volunteers and others who work with elders and disabled people throughout the 70 counties of Wisconsin where the GWAAR is active.
In a handy table, the paper lists condescending, ageist words and phrases next to recommendations for more respectful language. She has allowed me to post the paper and you can download it here (.doc format).
In a delightful telephone conversation, Jayne made several points that I will be adopting around this blog when discussing ageist issues. My favorite is “You don't lose your civil rights just because you get old.”
As Jayne said that to me, I was reminded of a recent news story about Jean Murrell Capers, a 100-year-old Cleveland judge who retired just two years ago and was recently forced by the Cuyahoga County court system to leave her home to live in a retirement community.
According to the reporter, this move came about because
”She has taken to falling - a number of times in recent months. She's has also been a regular visitor to University Hospitals over the past two years, for a variety of ills. She's been losing weight from what already was a petite frame...
“People who care about her...sought...help at Cuyahoga County Probate Court, which appointed a guardian for her.
“At an instant, the former Cleveland Municipal Court judge's decision-making authority was taken away and given to someone else. Her guardian now approves decisions as basic as where she lives and when she can venture out into public.”
There is not enough information in the news story for you or me to have an opinion about the judge's capability to decide for herself but it does note that she is still paying rent on her apartment in addition to the monthly cost of the retirement community.
That leaves me to wonder why a home health care aide could not have been found that would allow the judge to remain in her apartment where she wants to be.
"They say they're doing this because they love me and want what's best for me,” says the judge. “But I can still take care of myself. I know what's best for me. I'm best left alone."
I guess in Cuyahoga County even a beloved local judge loses her civil rights because she is old.
That said, here is what I like about the judge's story and about what Jayne is doing with the paper she wrote on ageist language: they are both about the well-being of care receivers as opposed to caregivers.
With newsletters, rss feeds, Google alerts and other technology, I keep close watch on elder health issues and what is almost entirely overlooked are the care receivers. In the popular media, it is all about caregivers and their problems.
I'm not saying caregiving isn't tiring and isn't hard work. I did it 24/7 for my mother while holding down a full time job long distance from her home. It was exhausting and I know I was fortunate that it lasted only four months.
But as tired as I was every day, it was impossible for me to forget what the purpose was: in my case, to do everything possible to make my mother's journey from life on earth to whatever comes next as easy and comfortable and good as possible FOR HER. And that I could rest when that had been accomplished.
Look, I'm nobody special. Without listing all my failings, one of them is that I am endowed with a high level of selfishness. But even for me there are circumstances – a dying or disabled friend or relative comes to mind – when self-concern is set aside.
What has bothered me for a long time is that for all the ink spilled in recent years on the health issues of a growing elder population, almost all the public attention is given not to the care receivers, but to the caregivers.
Without taking anything away from hard-working caregivers, hurray to Jayne Mullins of GWAAR and to Phillip Morris, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter who wrote about Judge Jean Murrell Capers for placing attention on the people for whom caregiving is the point.
You shouldn't lose your civil rights just because you get old and you shouldn't be the forgotten person in discussions about caregiving.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine - Grandmother's Flower Garden: My Life in Quilts