Aging and Communication
Which of these words bring up fear as you read them?
Conversations around aging are necessary to help us all live our fullest lives. So why are they so difficult?
Seniors and aging are two topics where there are a lot of taboos. Add in a rapid or slow change in autonomy and that brings on a much more of a hushed conversation.
Working with seniors for over 30 years, I have noticed that as a person ages their anxiety often increases as they feel a loss in their ability to do what they’ve always done. They become afraid of conversations that may take away their current way of life – or worse – their dignity.
Family and caregivers are often nervous to open the conversation for fear of hurting them, but also feel guilt because they know if something doesn’t change that a life altering accident may occur.
Seniors and aging are two topics where there are a lot of taboos….add in a rapid or slow change in autonomy and that brings on that much more of a hushed conversation.
As the elephant in the room takes up more and more space, what ends up happening is that the most beloved people in our lives, our aging parents or seniors, retreat. Retreat to their homes, retreat from their friends, retreat from different parts of their communities and often start isolating themselves instead of actively engaging.
When seniors face a change in autonomy that requires adaptations to the home or relocation, paying attention to emotions, wording, approaches, attitudes can have a huge effect on this journey in life. I have learned that the words and language used in the ‘senior world’ dramatically influence the outcome of not just living conditions, but relationships, confidence, and overall happiness.
It has become one of my missions to begin a movement where dialogue is key.
The words we use around the elderly matter. Let’s create an improved vocabulary that empowers seniors and gives them the dignity they deserve.
Our population is aging. Whether you are a professional working with seniors, or a son, daughter, neighbour, or friend of an elderly one, you might find yourself at a loss of knowing how to open up a conversation about aging.
Here are a few examples of words I’ve often heard when seniors face a change in autonomy and modifications are recommended to enhance their daily set-up and physical surroundings, or when it is suggested, they accept care for tasks they may struggle with – all for their own safety and well-being.
- Well, we are going to force you.
- Yeah, we pushed my mom to take action.
- He has no choice. He must do something.
- My children want to place me in a home.
- Since going back home is not an option, due to safety concerns, let’s fill out this Placement form.
- We put our parents in that new residence.
If we take those same sentences or comments and modify them ever so slightly, how do they sound to you now?
- Well, we are going to encourage you / support you.
- Yeah, we supported my Mom to take action.
- There are so many options, there must be something that can help him.
- My children are cheering me on to relocate me because they are worried about me.
- Since going home might not be the best option for you right now let’s fill out this Current Needs form.
- Our parents are living in that new seniors’ residence.
There is a huge difference in the sentiment of each phrase. The first set of sentences seem filled with bullying, obligation as well as a feeling of being pushed aside. I have heard all of these comments (and more!) even among families where love is very strong and at the core of their fiber.
A slight change in the wording presents a positive approach and can encourage a more open dialogue.
Such sadness, fear, guilt, overwhelming feelings and intense emotions all come to play in anticipation of having this conversation. So much is ingrained in our language and in our approach. As an advocate for seniors, I have published an illustrated children’s book titled Grandma’s Place to address this exact subject matter. Which is a request for change.
This illustrated children’s book is written to be shared with an adult. This captures two generations at the same time in hopes that it will open up conversations about aging in a more positive light.
Knowing this is a difficult topic and that few people wish to discuss aging, a conscious decision was made to create attractive and charming images that bring the viewer in to explore and understand the subtleties of language. The illustrations were designed so that they could live their own life beyond the pages of the book as a virtual art exhibit.
The paperback and audio book, together with a virtual art show [currently under construction], create intrigue in an attractive manner while connecting with as wide an audience as possible to spread the message.
Aging: Our Words Matter
Years and years of work boiled down to 4 small words.
Aging: Our Words Matter
Our words have the power to open up or rapidly shut down conversations. To a senior destabilized by a change in autonomy, a few simple words can make all the difference.
Let’s speak from the heart when it comes to conversations around aging.
What can you do today?
Can we ask you to share this message so that together, one person at a time, we can create change in the words we use to help our seniors and offer them the respect they deserve.