Spevak: Show older adults they're valued and appreciated

August 30, 2012 

In last week's column I wrote about The Intergenerational School in Cleveland, which successfully uses volunteer senior citizens to tutor grade school children.

This week I'll continue the theme of the importance and value of senior citizens to the community in which they live.

Anthropologists tell us that for centuries the elderly were appreciated as the prime source of wisdom within families, tribes and cultures. Older adults were treated with great deference, and their perspectives guided younger generations.

Today, in America, the elderly are seen as an afterthought, or worse, a drag on society. Who's going to take care of Grandma? How are we going to pay for Grandpa's health costs? Are old people going to bankrupt us?

What a shame this viewpoint is so prevalent. Instead of being viewed as a valuable resource, older Americans are often pushed aside and out of mind, ignored and even mistreated.

Some organizations in America, however, like The Intergenerational School, take a different approach. The school for the past nine years has used senior citizens, including those with Alzheimer's, to tutor grade school children in reading.

Several years ago, the school's volunteer of the year was an 84-year-old woman with Alzheimer's who had been very successful in tutoring children. When she received the award, however, she had to be told why it had been given to her. She didn't remember tutoring, but she had done it well.

The Intergenerational School has shown that senior citizens, even those with memory loss, have talents that can be used to help others.

How beneficial it would be if the talents of older adults in our own community were similarly well utilized.

Senior citizens in Los Banos who are independent and mobile should be encouraged to help others, especially young people. Often, older adults don't realize how much knowledge they have; they need just a little extra nudge to share that knowledge.

Senior citizens who are physically restricted and home-bound also need to know how much they are valued and respected. Younger people should drop by and visit with the elderly more often, if nothing else but to listen to their life stories.

I have three friends in Los Banos who make it a point to visit older adults, not often but regularly. These friends, whose names I have changed, can serve as examples.

Ed stops by and visits Joe, a man in his 90s who has significant memory loss. Ed comes by once a week and encourages Joe to tell stories of times past, including tales from Joe's experiences in World War II.

It's just an hour a week that Ed and Joe spend together, toasting with a glass of wine and, as Joe might say, "chewing the fat." It's fun for Joe and a learning experience for Ed.

Pete stops by once a month and visits with Rose, his 92-year-old mother-in-law who lives by herself in another town. Rose has a sharp mind with an excellent memory, but she is not physically mobile and has few relatives. Most of her old friends have died.

Pete drops in, checks on Rose and her home, picks up her mail at the post office, takes her to lunch, and listens to her stories. Pete doesn't do much, but he provides a monthly bright spot in Rose's life.

Martha once a week visits her long-time friend Edna, who is in her 80s and dying from a terminal illness. Martha doesn't do much more than re-live old times and stories, but Edna appreciates the time together, even telling Martha, "Thank you for not abandoning me."

Ed, Pete, and Martha don't do a lot, but they do something. It would be good if more folks regularly visited the home-bound elderly, bringing a little extra sunshine into their lives.

Younger generations have a responsibility to the elderly, not just to ensure Medicare pays for their health care, but to show senior citizens they are valued, encouraging them to share their talents and their stories.

If this happened more often in Los Banos, our community might return, in one small way, to the good old days when the elderly were appropriately appreciated.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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