Stereotyping of Oldies?
Three stories: Lily, Pam and Elizabeth.
These stories are about real people whom I knew*
Hearing them was my first wake up call to the problem of stereotyping in old age. So angry at the unthinking ageism they revealed, and so sad that the quality of life these people were living was just not recognised.
*I am unable to illustrate this with their 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 have to do that!”
Doctors view of Lily:
Lily’s view of Lily:
Helvellyn ridge in the background.
Pam was 74, 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 78. 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 cause confusion?” 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 making growling noises you don’t stop to think about it. A stereotype of a dangerous animal has to be instant.
But an inappropriate stereotype causes problems and sometimes we dont recognise that we do hold one.
Stereotypical images of old age are created, often by experience, but too frequently by the media. Based on doom and gloom stories the result images have become linked with frailty and dementia or with wrinkles and decline. Ageing is to be feared….
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 class or raising our adrenaline playing Golf, Bingo 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.
But Doctors and younger people aren’t out there to see us are they? All they tend to see is the frail elderly lady in a clinic or slowly negotiating a 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? Museums, Stately homes, RSPB reserves, Tea shops, Coach tours, ….Fairs, Festivals, Markets….or just exploring. The prevailing mood is “Lets go while we can” and we do.
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.
Most of us say we are busier after retirement than we ever were. And research shows the majority are very happy too.
Stereotypes can be changed.
(I am hopeful they are on the move. Look at Mary Berry, David Attenborough, Judy Dench, and the Queen!)