Why don't we value old age?

Pat in one of her disguises
I have just finished reading a very thought provoking book "Disguised" by Patricia Moore, published in 1985 (so it might be hard to find a copy). 

In 1979, aged 26, Moore began an exceptional and pioneering sociological experiment to study the lifestyle of elders in North America. She developed three basic disguises and roles: a wealthy dowager, a middle-income granny and a bag lady. She assumed the disguises visiting 116 cities and towns in 14 states (to see if the treatment of the elderly was any different depending on her location) and mingled with everyday people — the young, the elderly, business people, shop assistances, people on buses —gathering information on the treatment of the elderly. 

"We get hit over the head with age because we are living in a culture that worships youth," she says. "This is absolutely insane, because there is no alternative: If you're not aging, you're dead."

Even though this experiment was done 36 years ago, nothing really has changed. Our attitude towards the elderly is very much the same as it was in 1979.

We still treat old age as something to avoid—this is the age of youth and youthfulness —"young is good and old is bad"— being old still means "useless, ugly, unimportant, of lesser value, end of the road, worthless, not needed".

I think perhaps the worst thing about ageing may be the overwhelming sense that everything around you is letting you know that you are not terribly important any more. Walking along a crowded sidewalk, someone bumps into you and, unless you are knocked literally sprawling, keeps going as if to say you don't count any more. (Pat Moore)

Moore found that the young would rush past her as if she wasn't there, others found her frustrating when she was slow, openly rude to her, shop assistances would have no time for her if she was uncertain about her needs or having difficulties getting the right money from her wallet, she found herself taken advantage of or she was simply ignored (invisible). However, if she returned the same places as an attractive 26 year old, she was treated completely differently, even if she fumbled with her coins or moved slower across a road. 

"I believe most of the elderly men and women we meet would say to us, in one way or another, "open your eyes, and look closer at me!" Don't see the wrinkles, don't see the stereotypes; but take the time to look closely enough to see me for the person I am. If I could wish for any particular result from my work, it would be that people of all ages would learn that we live in a community, a society that we are not isolated; that we are all connected, the baby, the child, the teenager, the young adult, and the senior citizen—and we are responsible to one another and for one another. (Pat Moore)

The information gained through her research propelled her to advocate for the elderly and helped her in her design work. She founded her own design firm, Moore and Associates, to create designs that meet the needs of people throughout their entire lifespan.  At the very end of this post is Pat Moore talking about the importances of design for all ages.



If you ever see this book, perhaps in your library, it is so worth reading, especially if you work with the elderly, have elderly family members or just want to educate your children in how to treat the elderly.

There is nothing more important than teaching the young to respect the elderly, see them as our wise teachers and to reach out help where necessary. We should set an example for our children by treating the elderly as important and worthwhile members of the community, which of course they are. And as my cousin Clara said in a previous comment — if you are in line at the supermarket with someone elderly, stop and have a chat as you never know if they live alone and are feeling lonely.

And remember, we will ALL be elderly at some stage and if we train our children well, they will take great care of us!!

****

Moore ends her book with this poem — one you have probably read, but its so worth re-reading, especially if you have elderly parents or know someone in an nursing home

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me –
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice — “I do wish you’d try.”

Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe,
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re looking at ME…
I’ll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still;
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another,
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet.
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet;
A bride soon at twenty — my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep;
At twenty-five now I have young of my own,
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last;
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
At fifty once more babies play ’round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known;
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel –
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once I had a heart,
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again,
I think of the years, all too few — gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last –
So I open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman, look closer, nurses — see ME!

Author unknown

For those interested, here is Patricia Moore talking about her project and the importances of design for all. Pat Moore in 2012, still as passionate about the elderly as she was in 1979.



*****

Comments

  1. Jo, I am so glad you are talking about this. The elderly are so precious to society, but so ignored. As a stay at home wife with children mostly out on their own (my youngest is in his last year of high school) I have had the opportunity to do part time elderly home care. It's a service that strives to keep people in their own homes as long as possible. I would go in a few afternoons or mornings a week. My tasks were simple housekeeping, transportation to appointments or shopping, helping pay bills and go through mail. These chores were all enjoyable and rewarding for me and I'm sure helpful to my clients. But nothing compared with getting to know these people. Once they realized I was listening, they opened up and shared so much with me. I learned their life stories. One man was a WW II Air Force pilot! I loved hearing his stories! I heard how they met their spouses. How they farmed the land. One couple had 16 children! Another lady was a retired school teacher. Everyone of them talked of feeling invisible and unwanted. Even their families made them feel this way. Many times I left for home with a sad heart from seeing this in action. I learned so much from these experiences. Their should be no shame in growing old. It's a blessing from the Lord that we are allowed so many days. Our society has made the elderly feel useless and discarded. That is a terrible shame. We should honor our elderly for their contributions and their wisdom. After serving my Lord and my family I feel such a calling to serve the elderly. They are living treasures.

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    1. They do have amazing stories to tell and we need to make the time to listen and we need to include our children as well. Many have lived through wars, depressions, know what it is like to have nothing, seen changes to governments (good and bad) and have many wonderful personal stories they love sharing. It should like you have done a wonderful job and we need many more people just like you :)) and what an example to your children too.

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  2. Pat Moore's book was really interesting - thanks for the opportunity to borrow it! I enjoyed reading about someone brave enough to go out and assume another identity in this way - to very literally live in another's shoes. As an aged care nurse for many years, I enjoyed the elderly, and even now do not shy away from lending an ear - something any elderly person treasures!
    love,
    Bets

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    1. And to do it for three years when the disguise wasn't very comfortable at all - a remarkable and driven woman. The elderly have so much to teach us and we should pay far more attention plus they have many stories that are part of our heritage which we will regret not know later in life. So glad you enjoyed it so much, my dad will be pleased.

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  3. Hello Jo, I always tell a good friend of mine this saying "Let's not become old and cranky" I hope to be an older person that people want to be around! And we are all getting older and someday if you live long enough, you will get older also! No stopping that one I am afraid LOL I will say this about the elderly they really can teach you a thing or two...
    Roxy

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    1. We are all going to get old one day and if we don't train up our young, they will one day look after us and perhaps not be very nice and we will get our just desserts! and regret that we didn't do a better job!

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  4. Jo, I agree with you that we undervalue the elderly. I see this daily as I work with this age group. Unfortunately until we value those who work with this age group, give them more training (now they only have minimal training, usually six weeks) and increase their pay, so they are not low income earners, nothing will change. Compare this sector with the child care sector and we see where our society places impotance. We provide better training for those who work in the child care sector as well as better child-staff ratios than what we do for aged care workers. A sad picture of our society.

    Tori

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    1. You are spot on. My mum is in a nursing home and my dad visits her every day. One of the things he notices is the number of temporary staff each day (agency staff) because the permanent staff are off sick. He has reached the conclusion that some just can’t be bothered turning up to work and phone in “sick” - and that is a sign of unhappy staff. Most of the staff are enrolled nurses, those that receive the least training and are the lowest pay (and most undervalued). Dad has also noticed a different quality of staff depending on where they were born - those from Asia (who tend to have a better relationships with the elderly) seem to be more compassionate where as many of the Australian workers, it is just a job.

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  5. This was a really interesting post, Jo - the book sounds fascinating - I shall have to read it one day if I can! I agree that the elderly are unappreciated. When you read what the Scriptures have to say about the elderly, it's easy to see that most people don't bother taking notice of the importance of the elderly to God!
    I especially love chatting with elderly ladies at Spotlight. Because of the nature of the shop, women are often browsing there, and they often have time to stop and chat (not rushing around). :)
    I'm trying hard to raise and train my children to love and appreciate the elderly. They can learn many things from those who are aged if they take the time to listen and learn! :)

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    1. My dad has a copy if you ever want to read it. Train your children well as they will be looking after you one day - something so many forget!!! I also think we need to train our selves so we don't turn into grumpy old people but remain joyful around others so others want to come and visit. I just wish I had listened far more to my elderly relatives, perhaps I was too young and didn't realise the importances until it was too late.

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  6. Sounds great! Amazon has 90 used copies for .01 cents!

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  7. Thank you for this post. I will look for this book.

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    1. I hope you find it, I am told you can buy it from Amazon.

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