Senior Power: Senior Power(less) Moments

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday September 28, 2010 - 11:08:00 AM

Weary of incessant hazy lazy references to “issues”? And to euphemisms like your “twilight years,” “golden age,” “passing away”? As a noun, issues is a classy way to package problems, dilemmas, duties, chores. 

An Issue in Aging Project is a requirement in an Introduction to Aging course. Like Gerontology 101 perhaps. The instructions provide some examples of issues in aging. All can be problematic: allocation of health care dollars, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cognitive losses, cultural issues, depression, drivers’ licenses, employment, end-of-life decisions, family care-giving, Medicare, meeting social needs in later life, Medicare, poverty, Social Security, stereotypes and age discrimination, successful aging. Which would you do your project on? And how does one age successfully? To what does cultural issues refer? Whose end-of-life decisions? Family care-giving by and for? 

Had a Senior Powerless moment recently?  

  • Like the Consumer Reports article (October 2010, page 14) that contends that e-mail correspondence with one’s physician improves care, particularly for diabetes and hypertension, where ups and downs can be significant. Direct e-mail correspondence between patient and physician ceased when affiliation with medical groups took over.
  • Like the hostile manager of a subsidized housing development who accuses an elderly tenant of being “confused.”
  • Like the nursing home attendant responding to the patient’s buzzer 45 minutes later.
  • Like the senior center, funded to provide “case management services,” that won’t define what it means and how an elder can get some of them. [The Case Management Society of America defines case management as: "a collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation and advocacy for options and services to meet an individual's health needs through communication and available resources to promote quality cost-effective outcomes."]
  • Like the pseudo social worker who is literally and figuratively touchy. Research suggests this is counterproductive and that anger is a common response. Senior citizens are vulnerable; they don't want to be constantly informed in one way or another that they are considered incompetent.
  • Elderspeak often involves a singsong tone, slower speech and a limited vocabulary. “The elderly aren't babies, so why talk to them that way?” Elderspeak sends a message that the senior citizen is incompetent, and begins a downward negative spiral for older persons, who react with decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal and the assumption of dependent behaviors.'' [Psychologist Becca Levy’s 2008 Yale University study]
  • Like the aged-care staff members who exchange ‘looks’ and impose a patronizing manner. Adults in all types of settings resent the condescending first name-calling habit, common in the “caring” occupations and professions, particularly where older people are concerned. At a conference on dementia in Sydney in June, Dr Stephen Judd, chief executive of aged-care provider HammondCare, referred to elderly residents of nursing homes as ''voiceless citizens''. The elderly in care can be under attack from two directions. That most important attribute -- a sense of individuality -- can be undermined by both excessive regimentation and methods of communication.
  • Like the “closed door policy” of the senior center director.
  • Like the town-and-gown (gown in this case is the University of California) policy that makes it impossible to access some organizations (e.g. American Medical Association) and some journal articles cited on the Internet unless one is affiliated and has a CalNet Authentication to enable logging in.
True, these are not all necessarily totally powerless experiences. Change for the better can sometimes be effectuated if a senior citizen is willing to go out on the proverbial limb, to risk, and to pioneer. If one chooses not to go with the flow. 


Respect-for-the-Aged Day is a Japanese holiday celebrated annually since 1966 to honor elderly citizens. Beginning in 2003, it is held on the third Monday of September due to the Happy Monday System. This national holiday traces its origins to 1947, when Nomatanimura (now Yachiyocho), Hyōgo Prefecture proclaimed September 15 Old Folks' Day (Toshiyori no Hi). Its popularity spread nationwide, and in 1966 it took its present name and status. Japanese media take the opportunity to feature the elderly, reporting on the population and highlighting the oldest people in the country. 

National Residents' Rights Week is October 3-9, 2010. Residents' Rights Week is designated by the Consumer Voice and is celebrated the first full week in October each year to honor residents living in all long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, sub acute units, assisted living, board and care, and retirement communities. It is a time for celebration and recognition offering an opportunity for every facility to focus on and celebrate awareness of dignity, respect and the value of each individual resident. 


Elders in the news:  

California Watch reported on August 23 that State Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has filed fewer new cases and has dismissed an increasing number of criminal cases against defendants suspected of elder abuse, while cutting back on surprise inspections to investigate violence and neglect in nursing homes. The review of data from the California Department of Justice shows that despite the unit prosecuting elder abuse enjoying steady budget increases in recent years, civil and criminal elder abuse prosecutions fell by about one-third under Brown. Brown's office has cut back on elder abuse training for the state's ombudsmen, police and district attorneys.  

East Bay granny nannies from India are being exploited by U.S. employers, reports Sunita Sohrabji. Read her "Elder Abuse Hidden Among Indian Domestic Workers" [New America Media, September 18, 2010).  

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that the costs of care for patients with cancer who dis-enrolled from hospice were nearly five times higher than for patients who remained with hospice. Patients who dis-enroll from hospice are far more likely to use emergency department care and be hospitalized. [October 1, 2010 Journal of Clinical Oncology.] 

“French couple 1st residents at old age home for gays in Rajpipla. A couple from France will be the first residents of the country's first old age home for gays being constructed in Rajpipla on the banks of Narmada by gay prince and scion of Rajpipla's royal family, Manvendra Singh Gohil. Moreover, this French couple will not just be mere residents, but are coming with plans to provide employment to their fellow occupants. The couple will cultivate spirulina (an algae fast becoming a popular health drug ingredient) near the home. With Gohil, they have in fact sowed the seed of this initiative by registering a company to run the project professionally but for a noble cause.” [Darshana Chaturvedi, June 27, 2010 The Times of India.] 


Attention, candidates… Running for election in the November election? You are invited to email to Senior Power ( a statement of your “platform” in regard to senior citizens, e.g. housing, health, transportation, to be published mid-October. If you are running for re-election, please describe the highlights of your record on issues important to seniors.