Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Elderly Crotchets

Literature abounds with references to how those who are the oldest among us are frequently seen as being crotchety. One needs to approach these older people carefully as they are likely to be snappish or weepy or not what we consider being in a good mood. If those elderly happen to be "our" elderly we tread carefully, we tread respectfully and then we wonder what happened to the people we once knew as being so different from this.

My mom has been staying with us for the past week and I've been given some food for thought as regards those crochets. Conversations with my mom have put me in the position of viewing the world from her particular perspective, and those crotchets are far more understandable now.

All of us pray that we will be given many years of life. Sure, we know that being older is not the same as being younger, but what is it that we really know? We generally assume that we won't have the strength to work 40-hour weeks when we get older. We generally assume that we won't have the physical strength of a Mr. World when we get older. But do we really think deeply about ALL the changes that might come about as we age? From what I gather from my mom, we don't do that kind of thinking. Sure, we prepare ourselves with all kinds of insurance policies for home care and help, but we don't think about what life will be like if we need that help.

Let me give you some practical examples of just how different life can be for those elderly among us. Let's look at the modern telephone. Here's what I would bet--the phones in my home, in your home and in all the homes you can think of are all going to be somewhat different. On some phones, the talk button will be on the right of the phone, and on some phones it will be on the left. Some of these phones will mark the buttons "talk" and "off," and some will mark the phones "on" and "off." Some will put red markings on the off buttons and green markings on the on buttons, and some phones will not. There are not going to be only 10 number buttons plus on and off--depending on the phone there will be at least 7-8 other buttons for various functions. Depending on the phone, the "receiver" will be anywhere from about 3" to 9" in length by 1-1/2" to 2-1/2" in width. On some phones the buttons are larger; on some they are tiny.

Now take one of your elderly relatives and give them one of these phones, any one of your choosing. This phone will look very little like the phones they used even a scant 8-10 years ago. So you patiently run through how to use the phone, and maybe that phone will be physically comfortable for that elderly person and maybe it won't. Now have them visit a different child or grandchild and anything they know about how to use the phone may not be applicable--the phone system is different. Some of those elderly people read slower because their vision is not what it once was. By the time they negotiate the phone buttons, whoever was calling has long hung up. And then you have the job of explaining what a call log is and how to negotiate it--good luck to you on that.

We have an intercom system in our house--my sister also has one in her house. Yup, you guessed it--they are in no way the same. Last night my mom tried using our intercom using the steps needed to use my sister's intercom--nope, it didn't work. When I tried showing her how to use ours she shook her head and said "enough!" Yes, she was just that bit crotchety.

What else is different? My toaster--and I'll bet yours as well--is not like my mom's toaster. My crock pot uses different controls than hers does or my sister's does. My thermostat for the house furnace looks different and needs different approaches than my mom's does or my sister's does or yours does. My vacuum cleaner is way different from my mom's, my televisions--and all their accompanying gizmos--are totally different from the "on-off" televisions of when mom was younger. My microwave and your microwave are quite likely to have different controls and different functions, as will my stove have. In short, the basic equipment of living has changed, and the variations available make it difficult for the elderly to comfortably and quickly go from one environment to another, hence the crotchets.

No, we really don't give much thought to how changing technology and future technology may impinge on our ability to function the way we want to function. But those of us who are not in those "golden" years need to do some thinking apropos of our older family members and friends and neighbors. What some worry about as mental decline in these elderly people may be nothing more than technology overload or technology mismatch. Yes, you may well need to spend some time--patient time--in running through the basic uses of a lot of what we all have in our homes. And don't expect that your great-grandmother will necessarily catch on in an instant. For you, that smart itsy-bitsy phone you use is just business as usual; for your relative that may be the 20th permutation of a phone he/she has seen during his/her lifetime, and it's causing information overload.

How do you suppose you would feel and what kind of a mood would you be in if tomorrow morning at 6:00am you woke up to a world that was almost totally different from the one you saw today? And what if at 8:00am you went to a relative's home and that world was now again totally different? And stay tuned--in a different home at 1:30 the world will change again.

I don't know that there is an easy answer for any of this, but we should at least be aware that those crotchets in the elderly are not necessarily a sign of personality disorder or of declining intellect. Those crotchets may be technology induced and we need to figure out a way of making things easier.

Note: And if we are being really, really honest with ourselves, we just might admit that some of that differing technology for similar items has given us a case of the grumps on occasion as well--it's not just the elderly.


Louis said...

Should hear my grandfather when he gets started on all the new technology. He's not unhappy that we have things like a stove that can be set for shabbos mode but he gets a lot more then crotchety when he has to set that stove and then change it back. Never mind how he feels about telephones today. He keeps pointing to his fingers and then to the small size of the buttons and wants to know what idiot coudn't measure a fingertip to get the right size button.

tesyaa said...

My aunt told her daughter-in-law that she (my aunt) knew what it felt like to be 40, but her daughter-in-law didn't know what it felt like to be 60. It was very eye-opening to hear that, and since then I've tried to keep extra sympathy for people older than me.

JS said...

You raise a lot of good points.

Phones and televisions are completely different then they were even a scant 5-10 years ago. Simply trying to turn on a TV nowadays can involve turning on, in the proper order, 3 or more devices. Even the universal remotes which are supposed to allow you turn things on with one button become instantly complicated if the remote is not properly pointed at each device that needs to be turned on. For example, my FIOS service requires the set tob box to be turned on concurrently with the TV - if you press the universal on button, but the signal didn't make it to the set top box, you're left with a message telling you to turn on the set top box. But, don't press that on button again! If you do that you'll turn on the set top box but turn off the TV! You have to change the remote to set top box mode and press the on button or the menu button. And forget about it if you have the sound wired through a surround sound system with a receiver or have a separate DVR or a Netflix-enabled device, DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.

Or, on most modern phones, picking it up doesn't really pink it up in the sense of answering the phone. You have to press the talk button. Likewise, hanging up by putting the phone back on the receiver doesn't hang up anymore!

These small, but myriad changes can make things incredibly complicated - even for someone who is technologically "with it!"

My parents redid their kitchen and just figuring out how to turn on the oven or run the dishwasher is a real challenge.

All this makes me wonder if it's generational in the sense that there was a tremendous technological revolution in the last, say, 20 or so years and that people born afterward have an intuitive ability to understand technological advances whereas those born beforehand have more difficulty. Or, to put it another way, will those born today have the same difficulties at age 70 as those that are currently aged 70 or will they be able to adapt better?

tesyaa said...

JS, one of the things that keeps me going is my certainty that my kids will have just as much trouble adjusting as they age as I do.