"Aw, You're So Cute!" or, How NOT To Treat A Senior Citizen

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    Almost everyone has been guilty of it: watching an elderly couple hold hands as they stroll down the street, or hearing someone's 90-year-old grandma tell a story that would make a truck driver blush. And what do they say? "Aw....isn't that cute!" Trust me: we over-50s don't want to hear that. Here's the 411 on a few of the things that really bug us.

    You've got to know you've reached the pre-elderly stage when you're approached by a store employee with a genuine smile on her face and asked if you need any help. Then, when you answer in the affirmative, she takes you by the arm, steers you toward the correct aisle, and says "Here, sweetie, let me show you where you can find that" in a tone you might use with a grandchild who wants to know where you keep the water guns.

    Happened to me recently.

    I couldn't believe it. Somebody PLEASE tell me she didn't just say that, I thought to myself, knowing full well she had, which made me cast quickly about myself to search for anything that shouted "old" to a 30-something. Long brunette hair--nope. Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and Nikes---didn't think so. Wrinkles around the eyes---uh, maybe, but they didn't rise to the level of "sweetie" in my mind.

    Then, incredibly, it happened AGAIN at the K-Mart where I stopped to buy a birthday gift and card for the aforementioned grandson. This girl called me "Dear". As in "Let me help you get that big box out of the cart, dear." And I'd just been rocking out to the Stones on my car stereo. Think we might have a little cognitive dissonance going on here? For the space of fifteen minutes, I'd been 17 again, driving through the night with the windows down and the volume way up.....and suddenly I was a doddering old woman trying to get a large-economy-sized container of Legos out of a shopping cart.

    To say the least, I'm not a fan of being called "Sweetie," "Dear," or "Honey" (got that one in Safeway last night) by people young enough to be my own children. If you're 85, you can call me by those endearing little pet names all you like; I've been orphaned for many years and I miss hearing them. But if you're 35, stuff a sock in it!

    Which has gotten me to thinking about the careless way we treat our elders in this country, and in particular our own profession. Much has been said about the infantilization of the elderly, to the point where it's a regulatory issue in health care facilities; but when you get right down to where the cheese binds, "Honey" is only the tip of the iceberg.

    As the Baby Boomer contingent reaches senescence, let us review some of the things we say and do to our older population---however innocently---that have the effect of marginalizing and diminishing them (us).

    Obviously, many seniors don't appreciate the cutesy approach. I swear, the next teenybopper who calls me "Dear" is going to get an earful.....not because I'm a grumpy old biddy, but because common courtesy is a dying art and I want to restore as much of that as I can before I take that long dirt nap. When I was a girl, people spoke to their elders with respect, not as if they were talking to a preschooler. And for Heaven's sake, don't EVER say "Aw, she's so cute!" anywhere I can hear it.

    No one over the age of 40 wants---or deserves---to be treated like a mushroom. In other words, don't keep us in the dark and feed us BS. Healthcare and financial institutions in particular are awful in this area---for some reason, they tend to think older folks aren't smart enough to handle our own stuff, or that we all have dementia and can't understand what's happening to us. Nonsense. We aren't stupid, and we haven't lived fifty or sixty or eighty years to know nothing of how the world works. Give us some credit here, will you?

    Middle-aged and elderly people hate it when their hard-earned wisdom goes to waste. Listen to us! Learn from us! We are rich in resources and have so much to share, yet very few seem to value what we have to say even though we've been there, done that, got the T-shirt AND the bad back to prove it. It is so hard to watch our young people making the same mistakes we did.....and having to learn everything the hard way like we did.

    I often think of my 24-year-old son, who is so much like me it hurts, and he absolutely refuses to consider that I might have something to offer on issues that we both struggle with. He hears my words, but doesn't listen to my heart when I give him advice that literally could save him thirty years of misery. So he continues to flail away at life, while all I can do is sit back and watch.

    No, it's not easy growing old in America where youth and beauty are paramount, and in some ways I find it frightening. However, I love the confidence and self-assurance that have come with the years. It is incredibly liberating to have been through so many difficult situations that I no longer panic when faced with another one. I enjoy teaching my younger co-workers to be problem-solvers instead of walking around with their heads stuck in a tight place. And there are few phrases more satisfying than hearing my thirty-year old say, "I just don't get these young kids today! They don't listen, they have smart mouths, they don't show respect........."

    And so it goes.
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  3. by   amoLucia
    Viva, you and I are pretty much the same age, so I do understand the distress you feel. However, I will bring up a point that many don't seem to realize affects some of us. That is that I just don't remember names, nor do I recognize voices, like on the phone. For a long, long time.

    At a party, in a grocery store, parking lot, family gathering, etc, I probably will not remember you. I've missed identifying aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, my sister in an airport, students I've taught, even a BF the first time at his work. I'm esp terrible with new coworkers at new jobs. And those people get terribly offended. Identifying pts - I LOVE ID bracelets and photos!

    To me, EVERYONE is 'sweetheart', 'hon', 'darlin', etc. I do try to avoid any apppellations, but they do slip out, altho I do tend to use a 'yes, Ma'm' or 'no, Sir' for those I see as older. There is NO disrespect intended. And I am quick to explain myself while apologizing.

    Your article re this aspect on the aging of our various populations is very real. But personally, I don't take the cutesy names seriously. There are OTHER forms of disrespect that I perceive as more demeaning. And like I said, I mean this because I'm not a name person.
  4. by   snblack
    Well put!
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    @ amolucia---I am SO glad I'm not the only one with short-term memory issues!! Of course, I know a lot of people in our age group who have the occasional brain-fart, but mine is especially bad.

    For a while, I was terrified that I was developing dementia.....I can't remember anything I don't write down, have trouble finding words, tend to forget why I went into a room and so on. Fortunately, I talked to my head doc, who told me that my problem was the trifecta of STM loss: a combination of mood disorder, meds, and just being fiftysomething. NOT Alzheimer's. Thank goodness! But frankly, I suspect it's a lot more a disease of the age than anything else. Haha!
  6. by   TheCommuter
    Well-done, Viva.

    IMHO, you have not crossed the threshold of 'senior-citizen' status because you are still in your mid-50s. People need to be more mindful of how they handle issues surrounding aging.
  7. by   mariebailey
    I do not like terms of endearment either; they do not convey respect to me. I think our culture has such an unhealthy view of the aging process. I like what you said about drawing on your hard-earned wisdom; people deserve credit for their life experience.

    Viva, you know how you get mental images of what everyone on the internet/phone/radio/etc. looks like in person? In my mind, you look like Mallory Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties. How could someone treat you like you're elderly? Ha!
  8. by   VivaLasViejas
    Mallory Keaton---how funny! Not quite, but I do have long brown hair and am known as a smarta...well, you know the rest. LOL
  9. by   Liddle Noodnik
    Quote from VivaLasViejas

    And so it goes. (etc)
    Thanks Viva

    I just started a new job in retail, and one of the things they emphasize is that you lead people to the item/area they are asking about, instead of just pointing in the general direction. But grab em by the arm, nonononono... and dear/honey I am beginning to hear; yuck ... I prefer MISS if you want to get my attention (I am also 50 something)

    Quote from VivaLasViejas
    I talked to my head doc, who told me that my problem was the trifecta of STM loss: a combination of mood disorder, meds, and just being fiftysomething.
    I hope that's all it is cuz I am getting really worried!
  10. by   Spidey's mom
    Quote from VivaLasViejas
    Mallory Keaton---how funny! Not quite, but I do have long brown hair and am known as a smarta...well, you know the rest. LOL
    And you know my dear I've always had this image of you as Catherine Zeta-Jones and that's way before you used her as your avatar. Both women have long dark hair as do you.

    I dunno . . . I'm reading Nora Ephron's book about not remembering anything and it is so good to know that other middle-aged women have memory problems. Like not remembering your first boyfriend's name or the name of your aunt or one of the funniest for her is not remembering her meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt!!

    It kinda depends on the intent of the person saying "honey, sweetie" etc. I will admit to cringing just a tad bit at "ma'am" from a young whippersnapper.

    I'm guilty of sometimes calling people "honey" or "sweetie" . . . . . .

    Thanks for reminding us that we need to be more careful. I loved the image of you rocking out to the Stones . . . .
  11. by   TopazLover
    Ah, the joys of growning wisdom. i choose not to think of it as getting old, even though my bones and memory, and hearing tell me something in addition to wisdom. i once almost burned a CNA's top hairs off for calling me hon. it is forgiveable by some but if I am a boss, a customer, a consumer, or anything one step removed from a ventiliator - better not try it.

    Worse is the story my friend told me. She was 80something. She wore beautiful clothes, jewelry and appropriate make up. Her mind was sharper than almost anyone I ever met at any age. She and her daughter would go into a store together and the daughter would be asked what my friend wanted. She was totally ignored as if being with wisdom made one invisible.

    I used to find a descriptor that my folks liked. One man it was "Good morning handsome". He had dementia and spent all day mending invisible fishing nets. At the end of his life his family gathered. he did not know most of them. I walked in the room where everyone thought he was comatose. I smiled, said"Hi handsome" and in return got the bigest smile around.

    I think it all has to do with how we treat people, not the words. If so much of our communication is non-verbal that is not surprising. What is surprising is that the words hurt so much when they are thrown out, as useful as old spaghetti water.

    I don't mind my wrinkles, I can adjust to the loss of hearing. I look terrible in gray hair so don't have it.

    You can 'call me Ray or you can call me J', but please don't forget me.
  12. by   tewdles
    I agree, mostly our elderly want to be treated with respect and care...
    Some will be okay with terms of endearment and some will not...

    We adjust our language according to our patient needs me thinks

    I bet your old guy caught lots of salmon in his nets over the years!
  13. by   VivaLasViejas
    Quote from Spidey's mom
    And you know my dear I've always had this image of you as Catherine Zeta-Jones and that's way before you used her as your avatar. Both women have long dark hair as do you.
    How funny! I have a daughter who looks a lot like CZJ. She's prettier than I and her hair is darker, but people say we look a lot alike. I dunno, it's like six degrees of separation or something. LOL

    BTW, my hair used to be much darker than it is now...it's faded a lot over the years. I'm getting it relaxed and the color restored to my original shade this week, but thanks to you I'm also going to let my son-in-law give me highlights.
  14. by   ktwlpn
    My dentist retired so I was trying out local providers and searching for a good fit.I left one particular office because it was staffed by a bunch of inept girls-it was chaotic mess.They all looked and acted like they were 13 years old.They were unprofessional across the board-every single one of them that I came into contact with was wearing wrinkled ill fitting scrubs,long hair dangling in your face during your cleaning, dangling gold jewelry and long gross finger nails.They also couldn't seem to put togther a proper sentence and the front desk was just as bad as the chair side staff. The thing that really did it was during my first exam the tech (or whatever she was ) told me "you have great enamel for a women YOUR age" Really? I wanted to tell her to turn around and bend over so I could kick her butt....