Yesterday, a 19-year old CNA who just started training in my mother’s assisted living residence was dropping a “Hun” with every breath, as she flitted around the room straightening up and trying to get Mom to swallow her meds. Being a bit overwhelmed and pressed for time, it was no surprise that she neglected to notice the subtle recoil, the reddening face, until Mom had crossed the line over to total disgust. At that point, the caregiver could tell something was wrong, but had no idea what.
Before she had completely stepped out of the room, Mom yelled, “I can’t stand that!” to me, not intending for the young woman to hear. And if she did, it’s doubtful that she would’ve known what she’d done to merit such disdain.
Almost all of the CNA’s, caregivers, administrators, and medical people who Mom encounters each week use casual terms of endearment with her, whether she’s new to them or not. “Dear” and “Sweetie” are favorites- or cute, endlessly creative nicknames they concoct from Mom’s first name.
As my mother put it in a moment of eloquence, “I can’t put my finger on why those cutesie names make me cringe.”
This had been grating on her for a while in her new surroundings, so she was thrilled when I printed out an article for her from the NY Times Blog on Aging Issues, subtitled “Caring and Coping,” that supported her feelings and hashed out the issues that were a bit too muddled in her mind to hash out.
“I’m so glad someone else understands,” she said, as she placed the article in the drawer with her most special saved letters.
It makes me yearn for the south sometimes, where Mom spent a year down by my sister in a phenomenal retirement center. In most of the deeper south, traditional etiquette dies hard, enveloping you most everywhere you go.
As a Northerner, it’s a bit awkward, and even shocking at first to hear yourself referred to as “Ma’am” or “Mrs. Massey” by people your own age or older. You look around, wondering who’s the important person standing behind you.
You don’t fully appreciate how deep-hearted and wise that stubbornly formal southern culture is, until you later encounter a flippant teenager who starts addressing a vulnerable older person (who could be her great grandmother) with a pet name that assumes great intimacy.
An aspect of this issue that a recent article in the NY Times Caregiving blog pointed out so well (see link below), is that respectful titles provide an essential acknowledgement of boundaries and safety for older people, some of whom have very little power left to defend or protect themselves against invasions of their personal space. In this sense, the way a new person addresses the elder instantly conveys the perception of that relationship.
I cheer on Mom’s efforts to try to roll back the texting culture to a disappearing era, where language and values weren’t considered separable.
She’d be a fantastic asset for her residence, (as would any senior who can still communicate opinions,) if they had a forum for her input and the insight to funnel her critical energy into a resident advocate role.
I hope she’s successful in changing the worker culture in her residence; she’s one of the few memory care residents who are still quite verbal and have a sense of righteousness about how she and her “fellow inmates,” as she puts it, should be treated. And she doesn’t give up very easily!
Here’s the link to the NY Times blog article referred to in this post, called “What’s in a (First) Name?” http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/whats-in-a-name/
And what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you find that there’s a tangible relationship between the way seniors are addressed and the quality of their care, do you think it’s a non-issue, or are you somewhere in between?