Dignity, Please!

What does it mean to be elderly? Typically, this refers to persons 65 years and older. As a child, I thought anyone over 20 years old was elderly.

My thoughts changed significantly by the time I was in my 20s, finished college, married, and worked decade after decade. Now, having crossed that elderly threshold, I have no doubt that people can act old when they are young and act young well into their 90s!

The generation gap

I heard the phrase, “the generation gap,” as a teen and associated it with music, hairstyles, and clothing. I grew up in the US and did not live in a multi-generational setting.

Maturing as a young adult in an ever-widening social (and educational) circle increased my awareness of the importance of honoring those older than me and learning from them.

Markers of aging

What is associated with “old age?” Vision problems? Any age person may need sight correction. A driver’s license? Once licensed, anyone can lose their license. False teeth? Gray hair? Forgetfulness? Loneliness? These can happen to anyone. But yes, these are among many markers of aging associated with those over 65.

In many cases, the elderly report experiencing these markers of aging at lower levels than younger adults who expect to experience them when they grow old. It seems that perception may be worse than reality.

Parkinson's symptoms

A Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis is more common over the age of 60, although persons may be diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) before that. What do persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) experience in addition to the “negative” markers of aging such as those listed above?

The motor and non-motor symptoms make the top of that list. The perception that what causes a PwP to walk funny (shuffled gait, slow), talk quietly, or fall frequently is genetic or contagious may lead to misunderstandings and negative associations.

Attitudes towards others

Attitude affects how we understand others. Cultural attitudes affect how older family members and seniors, in general, are treated. Some countries place greater value on caring for one’s elders in the home or nearby.2

I know my own attitudes began changing the more I pursued higher education and was exposed to other cultures. I am not lifting up any singular approach to how one chooses to treat the elderly, persons with Parkinson’s, and other individuals with chronic health issues. But, I want to address the topic of dignity.

Treating people with respect

Two things highly associated with dignity are respect and honor. Do people deserve respect if they have not earned it? That is a tough question. I would answer, “No, but...” The “but” leads to my belief that I am better off acting respectfully more often than not.

Such thinking and actions follow the principle of “win-win” as explained by Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This principle seeks mutual benefit from each human interaction. And if that is not possible, at least you know you did your best.

Honoring people with PD

Honoring others is another positive mutual benefit. Take time to visit with a PwP to learn about their career, their family, and personal accomplishments. Their life is not over!

Ask them about their diagnosis and what they do to stay strong physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Call them if you cannot visit them. Many may invite you to text! Slow down, as needed, when walking with them or dining. Find ways for them to continue enjoying activities they love through modification or assistance. Help them maintain their dignity throughout the progression of the disease.

The Golden Rule

Here I am. I am over 65. I am a PwP. I hope to have earned the respect of the people I know and care about. I strive to respect or act respectfully toward others. I try to live by the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated).

When all else fails, I remember Robert Fulghum's poem that everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten and I go from there.3

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