How Old Is Old?

We aren’t the best judges of when we are ‘old’ and I find it a personally
loathsome word to apply to myself.   But, a study has concluded that caregivers consider us ‘old’ when we can no longer shop, prepare meals, do housework, go to the doctor, take medications, and manage money – the SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAtypes of tasks that mark us as independent people.   It does make sense that those markers are the difference between being ‘old’ and ‘not old’.

Eldercare has become a $260 billion a year business and is growing as the over 85 age bracket continues to expand.

The tasks mentioned above, the ones that separate the ‘old’ from the ‘not old’, cause many of the arguments within families.   Adult children become frightened when their


parents cannot shop, take meds, manage their money and the rest.   Family members and caregivers argue with parents about performing those activities – being self sufficient and able to care for themselves.

This backfires.  For older people, if they are unable to do these things independently, they lie or  exclude family members or caretakers, for example, driving after others have cautioned against it, or lying about taking meds.  The strategy suggested by clinicians and researchers is: if you are a caretaker who provides assistance, consider the ways you treat the elderly as unaware, confused, dependent, at-risk, or any of the other lousy ways that Americans let each other know that they have little value.

“By treating older people as valued adults, you can provide needed assistance while decreasing their chances of generating conflict by threatening the older consumer’s identity,” the authors conclude.

Source: M. Barnhart and L. Peñaloza.  Journal of Consumer Research: April 2013.

Until you are too old to read, here is a link to my book Object of Obsession.

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