Stereotyping of Oldies?
Three stories: Lily, Pam and Elizabeth.
Because these are real people and their stories are true I am unable to illustrate this with actual pictures.However the ones I have chosen are as near as I can get.
Lily was 71, a slight silver haired lady. She slipped on her drive and broke her ankle. Shocked and shaken she was taken to the local hospital. They saw this white faced thin anxious old lady and looked after her beautifully. X Ray plaster, soothing cuppa etc. Because she lived alone she had a bed for the night. Next morning the Registrar arrived to check the plaster. Lily looked even more anxious and distressed. “When will I be able to walk again?” was her only concern.
The Doctor was very reassuring. ” Don’t worry,” he said, “you will be able to toddle around the supermarket in about 6 weeks.”
Lily looked appalled. “That’s no good!” she said and sat upright. ” I am due to lead a party up Helvellyn in two months time. I need to be able to do that!”
Doctors view of Lily:
Lily’s view of Lily:
Helvellyn ridge in the background.
Pam was 70, a widow and she had a hip,problem, in fact, two. She limped and was in pain, but still walked and coped. Her GP made a Consultant appointment for her, but it was a long wait. She asked if it was possible to get an early cancellation because it had become urgent.
It came and off she went. The young Consultant was very nice. He examined her. “Yes” he said, her hips were very stiff, but she was coping, it wasn’t urgent and she would have to continue on the waiting list.
Pam gritted her teeth, turned bright pink and said she didn’t agree. The Consultant raised an eyebrow. It took a moment to get her courage together before she plunged in. ” You see” she said ” I have met this fellow. We met at a cousins wedding. He is my age and widowed and we have hit it off. He’ s lovely” she said, blushing again.
The Consultant smiled kindly, but still seemed puzzled. ” Good ” he said “Nice to have companionship in your old age”
Desperate, Pam went for it “We can’t”she said “the hips won’t!”.
Then it dawned and Pam was put on the urgent list. One might say , ‘and they lived happy ever after.’
The Consultant’s view of Pam.
Lizabeth was 72. She had had breathing problems for years. They seemed to have been caused by excessive doses of radiotherapy in the earlier days of treating breast cancer. It worked though, and she was a survivor , but it left her susceptible to chest infections.
At the beginning of winter she came down with serious bronchopneumonia. A high fever, chest pain and severe breathing difficulty meant she had to go into hospital. She was taken to the excellent Geriatric Unit and presumably given the right med. However, during the night she had tried to get out of bed and get dressed. She insisted she must go home and seemed to be raving about her dolls. They restrained her and gave her something calming.
When her daughter arrived the young Houseman sat her down to talk about her Mother’s confusion.” It is not unusual as you get older” he explained gently, and went on to talk about Alzheimer’s and care options.
The daughter who had an NHS background herself listened to him. “She has a high fever” she commented.” Do you think that might be the cause?” The young Houseman demurred and tried re -explaining the onset of dementia in the elderly to a family member who clearly had not yet understood.
” Odd” said the Daughter ” if it came on so quickly!” Then tactfully hiding a grin, she went on to explain that her Mother was a recognised lecturer. She specialised in local history and in the making of Apple dolls, of which she had a collection. ” I know” she said, “that she gave two talks last week and has her diary full for the whole winter. And, “she went on ” I came in today to reassure her that we had cancelled tonight’s Doll talk, because I knew she would be worrying.”
Housemans’s view of Elizabeth:
It isn’t that the Doctors were wrong. (Except perhaps the Houseman learned about the effects of a fever and about not jumping to conclusions without a proper history)
Stereotyping is not a bad thing. All humans do it. We need to.
If you see something big and furry making growling noises you don’t stop to think about it. A stereotype of this could be a dangerous animal has to be instant. Stereotypes are created, often by experience, but too frequently by the media.
When we don’t realise we hold an inappropriate stereotypes it becomes difficult. Sometimes, we can recognise that we do hold one. As a wartime child I had linked German accents with fear, distrust and a shivery feeling. For many years it made travel there almost impossible. Getting to be friends with lovely Germans in the US allowed me to rethink.
The problem we Oldies have is that for many, the stereotypes of ageing and being old have become linked with fragility, Alzheimer’s or cosy knitting grandmas. Much of it is the fault of the media. Possibly because they themselves are young?
It is not surprising that younger people have a limited view of what it is like to be old. They don’t see the majority of us! Our worlds dont overlap. Whilst they are at work , we are out at Yoga classes and Book groups or raising our adrenaline playing Golf, Bingo, Tennis or Bridge : if we aren’t doing almost full time volunteering. Thousands and thousands of hours of Community work are done by us Oldies. Babysitting …you can go on and on.
Most of us say we are busier after retirement than we ever were. And I think the majority are very happy too.
But Doctors and younger people aren’t out there to see us are they? All they tend to see is the frail elderly lady slowly negotiating the crossing!
Yet if you go into the Countryside during the week you will almost inevitably meet gaggle after gaggle of silver haired walkers having a super time, rain or shine. On top of Helvelyn on a Tuesday in February a few years ago I met 30 retired Oldies. Not a youngster in sight. It is the reverse at weekends! It is the same in the National Parks. Hasn’t anyone noticed that!
Or we are off somewhere. What would the weekday and the out of season tourism industry do without us Oldies? We are out and away as often as we can be! Museums, Stately homes, RSPB reserves, Tea shops, Coach tours, Cruises, Overseas sun……Fairs, Festivals, Markets….or just exploring. The prevailing mood is “Lets go while we can” and we do.
My friend Lily when asked what she did always answered “I distribute the Governments Money to The Arts and Tourism world. I decide who gets supported ” She did too, all the above, plus new theatre companies, new artists, and as many exhibitions as she could fit in between walks. I have never heard anyone else say this, but it is indeed what we do!
Stereotypes can be changed. I am hopeful they are on the move. Look at Mary Berry, David Attenborough, Nicholas Parsons, Judy Dench, and the Queen!
We are becoming a large, politically significant group and a major and as yet unrecognised retail and tourism market. They haven’t realised it yet and need help to do so.