• An interesting but somewhat troubling study has become public information. Completed by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, the study shows that seniors are often stereotyped as “grouchy, inflexible to change, and mostly living in nursing homes, when the opposite is true.”

    The lead author of the "grouchy" study is Tiana Rust, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Alberta Department of Psychology. Rust is quoted as saying, "Anytime caregivers are basing their care on stereotypes rather than the individual's needs, that can be a problem. When expectations are wrong, it could affect behaviour in negative ways."

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    The study says, “One of the main misconceptions brought out by the study was the number of seniors in long-term care facilities. While almost 40 per cent of those surveyed thought 25 per cent of people over 65 were in institutions, only five per cent actually are.”

    Now, my blood pressure is rising. Okay, I’m not 65. But, I’ll be 62 in June. That’s 62! Do I need to shout? Some people seem to think that makes me old and grouchy. You want to know something? I’ve got a rock band practicing in my basement. I published a book at 60. I’m blogging (yes, I know what that means) on this site as well as my own, which is an arm of my Web site (yes, I know what that is, too). I started public speaking on elder care in my late 50s. In fact, I began a whole new chapter of my life when, at age 56, I started working in a newspaper library. I learned all the computer skills needed, and more. I also brought my years of world and community knowledge and a varied library background. Shortly after that major life change, I also expanded my mission to help caregivers and seniors.   

    To find out that not just some people, but many people, consider me grouchy and inflexible - well, if I could just find a tall enough stool, I’d stand on it and give them something to talk about! Grouchy! ME?

    Whew. That felt good.

    Now, listen all of you people in the study. I serve on the Advisory Council of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program Southern Valley. People need to be over 55 to volunteer for RSVP, but most volunteers are considerably older. These “old folks” are hospice volunteers, senior companions to those who are not so fortunate as to have good health and foster grandparents to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the kind of attention grandparents can give.

    These elders volunteer in droves at hospitals, clinics and non-profits of all types. In the low-population area where I live (border between North Dakota and Minnesota) we have nearly 900 volunteers at well over 200 stations. And let me tell you, these folks aren’t grouchy. Most of them are having a ball.

    Okay. There are older people who are grouchy. Some are inflexible. As we age, we have to deal with physical problems that can drag us down. The aging process brings losses. And some people in the study had Alzheimer’s disease. But even with AD, there’s no real norm. Each person is an individual.

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    A much beloved local newsman from our area has made public the knowledge that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This man’s wife needs to remind him of a name from time to time. They know that the disease will progress and are making painful choices. But has he crawled into a hole? No way. He is out in the community talking about his illness. He is still making people laugh. Yes, the one-liners that cracked people up aren’t coming quite as quickly, but the humor is still there. Will he decline? Yes. We pray, not too fast. But he does not fit into the stereotype that people have of old people, and, at least as of now, doesn’t fit the stereotype for AD.

    “The study shows that more education is needed about aging, Rust said."It's important that people learn more about what it is to be an older adult and also to know what Alzheimer's and dementia are about. It is important to recognize that older adults are a very heterogenous group, ranging from very vital and capable to those in the last stages of dementia. They fall all along the continuum."

    Tiana Rust is correct. Stereotyping can be damaging. Negative expectations can produce negative results. Treat someone as an elderly grouch and that is what you will get. Treat someone as an elder – an interesting person with a lifetime of experience behind him or her – and you may find a fascinating individual who has lived through things you’ve only read about. Treat an elder as someone worthy of respect, and you’re much more likely to get a smile than a frown.

    To learn more about Carol, please go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.

Published On: May 04, 2007