Don’t make as­sump­tions based solely on a per­son’s age

Sackville Tribune - - COMMUNITY - Pa­tri­cia Har­ring­ton

As I was do­ing some re­search about im­por­tant as­pects to pro­mote healthy ag­ing, I sud­denly be­came aware of peo­ple’s com­ments on ageism.

What is ageism? It can be de­fined as hav­ing prej­u­dice or dis­crim­i­na­tion against a per­son or per­sons solely on the ba­sis of their age. Although I am very aware of the re­al­ity of ageism and the fact that it does ex­ist, I can’t help but think about why ageism is so wide­spread. The more I thought about it the more I be­gan to re­al­ize that many as­sump­tions come with ag­ing – as­sump­tions are be­liefs that are based on guesses and not on what is re­al­ity.

Pic­ture a per­son of an older age, per­haps in their early 80s and let’s say this per­son ap­pears con­fused. As soon as con­fu­sion is seen, the as­sump­tion is of­ten made that a per­son has some form of de­men­tia, per­haps Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Maybe through our life we have only ever en­coun­tered con­fu­sion from peo­ple who are liv­ing with de­men­tia, so we draw from those ex­pe­ri­ences only. But if we take time to gather more in­for­ma­tion about that per­son, and then in­ter­pret and eval­u­ate that in­for­ma­tion, then we can have a bet­ter view of that per­son and their ac­tions, and we can act more ap­pro­pri­ately with them. And on many oc­ca­sions, we might prove our ini­tial as­sump­tions to be wrong. Why is the per­son act­ing con­fused? What have they been do­ing re­cently? Has this hap­pened to them be­fore?

Per­haps we would find out that they had just fin­ished run­ning the Cross Bor­der Chal­lenge and did not keep them­selves hy­drated well enough. Per­haps they had just started tak­ing a new type of med­i­ca­tion and were hav­ing an odd re­ac­tion to it, or maybe they have an in­fec­tion and are be­hav­ing dif­fer­ently due to a fever.

As­sump­tion can set up bar­ri­ers to see­ing the sit­u­a­tion as it re­ally is, which can of­ten lead to up­set­ting sit­u­a­tions. What if, from a per­haps un­real as­sump­tion, a con­clu­sion was made that the per­son was not ca­pa­ble of mak­ing their own de­ci­sions any­more? I have wit­nessed peo­ple be­liev­ing that an older per­son can no longer have a say in their own life, solely be­cause of their age; or be­cause of a mis­taken per­cep­tion that they are not ca­pa­ble of mak­ing their own de­ci­sions about their own life any­more. Los­ing this in­de­pen­dence need­lessly would be dev­as­tat­ing for any­one.

We make as­sump­tions ev­ery day when ob­serv­ing or in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple. When we use only the in­for­ma­tion that is quickly avail­able, such as age, gen­der, lan­guage, race, cloth­ing, walk­ing aids, and so on, many prej­u­dices can quickly form in our minds. We can make the mis­take of think­ing that if peo­ple are like us, they will most likely have sim­i­lar be­liefs; how­ever, most times that would not be the case.

I firmly be­lieve we all need to fight as­sump­tions that we take for granted as be­ing the truth. If we do not chal­lenge our­selves and how we think about many things, then we run the risk of neg­a­tively af­fect­ing our in­ter­ac­tions with oth­ers. We need to fo­cus a lot on chal­leng­ing our as­sump­tions when we are in a crunch, or need to make de­ci­sions quickly, be­cause it is dur­ing these times that we can eas­ily make de­ci­sions based on just what we think we see. We need to think se­ri­ously about what our val­ues and be­liefs are re­gard­ing ag­ing and shouldn’t as­sume that ev­ery per­son is the same. We def­i­nitely need to en­sure we do not make de­ci­sions based on be­liefs about age alone be­cause just as­sum­ing some­thing, with­out ac­tu­ally know­ing a sit­u­a­tion, can cause a lot of grief for ev­ery­one in­volved.

We all need to un­der­stand that get­ting older does not mean we will lose all men­tal alert­ness and in­de­pen­dence. Many older adults re­port they are happy and have more time than ever be­fore to en­joy life. Many older adults live life ac­tively, thereby re­duc­ing feel­ings of lone­li­ness; and that serves to have a pos­i­tive im­pact on their health as well.

So just be­cause a per­son is older, don’t make any un­founded as­sump­tions or at­tempt to de­crease their in­de­pen­dence, un­less it is proven to be needed. Older adults learn and do new things all of the time – just look around and you’ll see some amaz­ing older peo­ple do­ing some great things.

Pa­tri­cia Har­ring­ton is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at West­ford Nurs­ing Home in Port El­gin. She be­lieves it is im­por­tant to share in­for­ma­tion on ev­ery­day con­cerns as we age and en­joys pro­mot­ing these im­por­tant as­pects that will help our older pop­u­la­tion in ag­ing well. She can be reached by email at ex­ec­u­tivedi­rec­[email protected]­ford­nurs­ or by phone at 506-538-1301.

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