With that expertise come responsibilities
Many of the people who study old people, theorize and write about us, take care of us, or relate to us are not “old’ themselves. They experience old age second handedly. Earlier in my life as a nurse I often had older patients. As a daughter I shared my parents’ aging. In my 50’s I blithely participated in three editions of a nursing book about caring for the elderly without taking note of myself as the “outsider.”
Now I feel as If I had been a pilot flying over the city of aging, assuming I knew how the residents lived. What an illusion! It’s not that what I knew, used or wrote about elderly people was inaccurate. But it paid only narrow attention to the significant ways normal aging was changing agers’ capacities to manage their ever-present tasks and relationships. I had looked at them narrowly as they related to a particular issue, pathology or health status. Also, somehow, at some level, I gained a vague notion that aging made people less credible whether it was reporting about themselves or their opinions. Dumb!
Now, I’m the insider. I‘m aware of my hard-won knowledge on normal aging in general and my specialist knowledge on my own aging. I notice when my insider-knowledge and perceptions (not necessarily right or wrong), are just different from those who are not old.
I see myself as a practical person. I realize that health care providers and others have focused areas of interest and expertise and limitations on their time. Health care providers of all stripes and levels are, in particular, intermittent, time-regulated resources. And even my near and dear ones, friends and neighbors have very full, demanding lives of their own. (But given the nature of our relationships they tend to be more familiar with how I experience and manage both the pesky ordinary parts of my daily living snarled by my aging and the richness of my life.) Each of these people (professional or other), play an important naturally limited role in my life, as I do in theirs.
So, what is my responsibility in enabling them to see my aged world as I need them to and they may wish to? I tell myself, “Doris, they are not mind-readers! They know what they see, hear and what you tell them!” I see how they tend to use what they discover and how it fits with their specific role relationship with me, e.g. professional health care provider, relative, friend, neighbor etc.
I’m accepting that I as an aged “ insider” have responsibilities to them. Instead of taking it for granted, I owe it to them to appropriately :
- notice what they might need or want to know about me that satisfies us both
- share myself in ways and language that is natural to them and the situation (it’s different for professionals and personal relationships and situations)
- give/seek feedback on ways they might participate in my aging and daily living that are comfortable to them and me, given their roles
- share with them and include them in the joys and richness of my days
I realize that a lot of this is what has been going on intuitively. It’s just that now with this insider-outsider perspective I see a greater need to become more sensitive and skilled at it.