Updated: Jul 21, 2021
If you ask seniors what they most want you’ll hear things like safety and security, community and connections, and to be valued, each of which can take on a variety of forms. However they each ultimately amount to the same thing-dignity. When you show a person respect you are affording them their dignity. You won’t have one without the other. To ask a person for their opinion, to treat them with careful consideration of their wishes in food, bathing, dressing, etc., to assist them as they age in maintaining their friendships and activities, and/or to ensure they are safe in their environment are all acts of respect which allow the senior their dignity.
So, perhaps we can boil it down to the one main thing we all desire most and that is to maintain our dignity. When you treat another person with respect you are in essence recognizing their right to their dignity. This is how anyone would wish to be treated at any age but especially as seniors. Even eye rolling, simply ignoring a person, or belittling is so degrading.
I am reading a novel just now called, “The Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules” by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. There is also a show on Prime called, “I Care a Lot”. I have to say both, while entertaining, were quite upsetting at first. I know the book’s a satirical spoof but it did a very good job of stirring up anger reading about the way the seniors were treated. The movie is downright infuriating.
My father had to go into respite care briefly once a long time ago while my mother had cancer treatment. I remember taking him to be admitted. We had tried to ease his mind about the temporary move but to no avail. Dad was upset and afraid. Mom had always cared for them both as they aged and that was just the way he liked it. Dad had lived in the same town all his life and this facility was there too which I had hoped would be a positive. Maybe he would know someone.
Well, indeed he did. A man sitting in the lounge stared at him…and stared some more as my sister took care of the paperwork.
Finally the gentleman asked, “Limpy, Limpy is that you?” He went on to ask if they hadn’t gone to school together.
“I never knew your name,” he said. “Sorry, but you know everyone just called you Limpy.”
My heart broke for my father. Dad had had polio as a child which left him lame all his life and ultimately in a wheelchair. I never forgot that day because it was my first real insight into my father’s world as a person with a disability. This encounter made me curious if he’d ever been bullied, teased or ridiculed. It made me wonder if this possible treatment was why Dad was never really a people person.
The strange part of all of this was that I had been working with people with challenges and disabilities since the early 70’s but it was truly the first time I put my own father’s life into that context. I mean Dad was simply Dad. Sure, he didn’t drive as other kids’ fathers did but that, among other things, was just normal in our house as I grew up. Children don’t give such things a second thought.
The issue of dignity came more and more into focus, especially dignity as we age. At this late date in my father’s life, we needed to ensure he was cared for in the most considerate manner and that his wishes, along with Mom’s, would be taken into account as much as possible.
Isn’t that exactly what we want for our loved ones as they age? We certainly don’t want anyone that we love to be abused or mistreated as we seem to hear about more and more. If we strive for this our seniors can age with dignity which will ultimately mean they are more content. Don’t ever assume that just because they are older they don’t know what is best, what they themselves need most. And don’t minimize what they want either. Honour their journey, their memories, and their experiences. Give them your time. Be supportive and patient. Allow the seniors in your life a little extra grace to accomplish a task or to process new information. Minimize noise, commotion and distractions around them. I can’t stress just how important these seemingly small considerations are.
There are a few old hymns that absolutely make my heart flutter. They often reference the sad, the lonely, the downtrodden, and the challenged. The author of “O for a Thousand Tongues” wrote, “And leap ye lame for joy!” and every single time I hear it I can imagine my father doing just exactly that.
Proverbs 31:25 says "Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future."