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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Older People, Ageism and the Last Frontier

Who are the people we don’t see? This year, I started volunteering in a long-term care center for older adults. If I didn’t volunteer, I would never see the people here or know what is going on in their lives. I see them only at dinner time once a month, and they are all incredible people. 

One woman knows my name and always greets me with a smile. They always thank me for being there and love the fact that I can help bring them to dinner and back. (Who else would praise me for that)?

One couple who sits in the corner met each other in high school where they went out dancing. The woman recalls that she bought a new dress every week for her dancing date. The man likes telling his lady stories, and the fact that she has memory issues is a plus, because he can tell them over and over again and she doesn’t mind.

Another woman thought it was “cute” that I spoke into the wrong ear when trying to talk to a specific gentleman. (I won’t do that again, cute or not). Some people can’t talk or move well and need assistance when eating (which the nurses’ aides do). Still, they smile and communicate a lot about their emotions with their eyes.

Yet, I also get the sense that many wish they had more visitors, whether they were family or friends. I think being older in general is the last frontier. Older generations are isolated, ignored, warehoused and feared. We are all afraid of getting old and being ignored, so we ignore older people.

How’s that working for us?

When I created Ruby for my book, I wanted her to see everyone and everything around her (because writers NEED to do that. She may be the only person in her neighborhood who talks with Yogi, the homeless man. When we stop seeing each other, we lose something of ourselves, I think, too—whatever it is that makes us most human.

At the same time, I know we are all busy and it’s hard to stop and see each other. I just wonder if it isn’t something we should try, though, now and again? What would happen if you noticed someone on your street, in your neighborhood, school, the local long-term care center? Would they notice you back? How many could you notice in a week?

What happens when you talk to someone who most people treat as invisible? Do you think you’ll ever be treated that way—or are you being treated that way now?

If you have any experience with what I’m talking about, I’d love to hear your response. If you’re a writer, I hope you are already seeing the invisible—whether you write about it or not.

Older Man Photo: Acy Varlan