Lately, I’ve become concerned with blatant discrimination toward our elderly. Early on in my nursing education, I worked at a nursing home. I never thought much about the elderly at that time in my life. But, as I’ve aged – now in my late 50’s – and watched my parents age – now in their mid-eighties, I’ve noticed how the world is working against them.
Most of the discrimination has to do with expected competency with technology. Medically, there are virtual charts, appointments, check-ins, emails via the “portal” and more. Doctors often attend more to their computers and checking boxes than they do to face-to-face communication with their patients and the performance of a thorough physical exam. Tracking down lab reports (like my Cologuard) can often only be done through the use of the online system. If you did not make an online chart or have someone immediately available to help, it’s next to impossible to see results, communicate with your provider, ask a simple question, or make an appointment. To put it plainly, it’s difficult.
Shopping for groceries is another area that can cause our elderly trouble. Self-checkouts have become prevalent – especially in stores like Walmart which might attract the elderly with their low prices and one-stop shopping experience. Some machines might only take a card, while fewer will take cash. I think that debit cards have been around long enough that using a card for payment is not unusual for the elderly. However, having a checkout designated as taking only one form of payment over another IS a new deal. Their failing eyesight and ease of being distracted and overwhelmed might cause them to mistakenly use the checkout and not have the “right” form of payment. Or, the person in front of them doesn’t see the sign and has to move and check out all over again, necessitating a longer wait in line on weak and tired legs.
Public service announcements ranging from vaccine availability to weather warnings are largely made via social media platforms. Some might not even have access to a local television station due to the overwhelming popularity of streaming services. How are our elderly to know when they cannot navigate the “system?” I found this to be especially true when the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began. New York State, where my parents reside, was making announcements for vaccination registration on social media! My parents are in their 80s and were not getting the announcements nor were they able to navigate the online registration and appointment systems. It took me seven weeks signing on to Walgreens.com every day from my home in Wisconsin to secure their initial vaccine appointments! Then, my sister-in-law had to come in from Buffalo to take them. Thankfully, she was newly retired and could do this for them.
With aging in place becoming more popular, I see a downside of social isolation for our elderly. During our recent visit, my father noted that my mom’s dementia was much better during our stay. I think this was because there were more people around to chat with her. Did she still show signs of short-term memory loss? Absolutely! But, according to my dad who is with her 24/7, she did not slide into the past as often or as easily as when we were present. I attribute that to the increased socialization she had. Winter can be long and when you are stuck in a house with mobility issues or from being a primary caretaker, it takes its toll. This is something I am carefully watching and have concerns about myself. We are humans, we all need supportive social contacts. While I believe aging in place is a great option, it needs to come with opportunities for respectful socialization and a sense of being valued by others and society.
After a brief online search at lunch today, there are many resources on the subject of aging, ageism, and how society is discriminating against our elderly. Not many answers were provided as solutions to these deep-rooted problems. We need to do more, require more, and ask more of our lawmakers to ensure our elderly can keep up with changes in health care, communication, and access to community resources. For now, I will continue to make a substantial effort to support and advocate for my parents in their elderly years.
It’s the least I can do.