As technology has launched us into the industrial age, fewer families care for the elderly and disabled in their homes and more opt for professional long term care in a skilled nursing facility. As a result, many of these aging and challenged members of society have spent much of the last few decades out of the public eye. I provide in home care for two elderly women and have noticed that many people seem uncomfortable in their presence, especially children. It has occurred to me that many children have never spent the day with someone who is in a wheelchair or has speech trouble from a stroke or dementia. The Generation Gap between the elderly and the very young is growing wider.
Even adults and old friends avoid and ignore these sweet ladies, seemingly embarrassed to stop and say hello. So many of us choose to believe that illness and old age are good reasons to leave folks alone to enjoy “the quiet life.” On the contrary, if Grandma enjoyed a house full of children and loud music before her stroke or 90th birthday, chances are she still does. No one wants to feel like they have disappeared. I know my little ladies light up like Christmas when any small child says hello or flirts from behind a chair in the Dr. office. I also notice their sadness when someone they know passes by like they were invisible.
As the baby boomers enter their senior years, more families are choosing in-home care. Therefore the elderly will once again be a large part of the public crowds that we and our children encounter every day. Let’s help them bridge that generation gap. Talk to your children about the effects of aging, dementia and stroke. Encourage them to say hello and get their cheeks pinched by that little old lady in the Dr. office. They will learn that she is not to be feared and she will have a brighter day. If you have a family member in long term care, take the kids along for your next visit. The smiles they bring may be contagious to the entire facility. Also remember that the elderly are a fountain of knowledge and many have plenty of time to spin a tale for the youngsters. Let’s reunite our babies with our elders. Bridge the Generation Gap and everybody wins!