As a professional in the field of aging, Sara had seen it all—until her own mother broke her hip at the age of 88 and became profoundly confused, unable to live in her own home. Join Sara on her journey through the strangeness that is dementia while trying to make sense of it all and finding humor in the details. [Editor's note: Sara no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
To prepare for a panel discussion at the June AARP Conference in Chicago, I am reading about ageism. The more I read about it, and the more I observe the caregivers at my mother's assisted living facility, Gaffney House, the more convinced I am that immigration is good for old people. Here is why.
Ageism is rampant in the United States. We spend a lot of time focusing on age and assumed attributes associated with a particular age: "terrible two's, "crazy teenagers," "surly twenty-one-year-olds" (I actually have one of those).
The sense that "old is bad" is pervasive and ingrained in the American psyche. Further, there are few, if any, sanctions against expressions of negative attitudes and beliefs toward the elderly. There is even an entire greeting card industry based on the attitude that aging is bad.
No one is immune from the inculcation of ageist attitudes: not older adults themselves nor those who care for older adults, particularly those who work in nursing homes.
Old people who live in nursing homes are most vulnerable to the negative consequences of ageist thinking. Many who live in nursing homes are significantly impaired, both physically and cognitively. Nursing aides, at the bottom of the pecking order, are given a strict set of rules, tight daily schedules, and lots of care responsibility without having the authority to change the routine. To make matters worse, the nursing aide is the person with the most resident contact, while being the most poorly paid.
The multiple demands of caring for very frail people, coupled with an absence of a sense of control over a low-paying job with little social status is fertile ground for ageism. Baby talk to residents, ignoring residents' request for attention, and angry outbursts are common. Which brings me to why I think immigration is good for old people.
Almost all of the direct care staff members at Gaffney House are from Africa. They are soft-spoken, kind, and gentle. Not one of them came from a family of means; to the contrary, many left war-torn situations and escaped to the United States. Many came from tribal communities. Their attitudes, experiences, and perspectives on old people are uniformly positive and respectful. I have never heard one syllable of baby talk to anyone. They smile a lot.
Gaffney House is extraordinary in lots of ways, mostly so because of the staff—the immigrant staff.
By Sara Myers
A Good Enough Daughter Blog
Yes, in North America-there are definite stereotypes and a fear of growing older. Instead of the word senior, perhaps we should use elder or older adult. Other cultures and countries revere the elder/older individual who is seen as having wisdom, experience, knowledge and maturity to offer.