Members of the family were arriving and mingling outside of the Long Island Marriott. In just a few minutes they’d be seated inside the hotel restaurant for a get acquainted dinner. They had gathered to formally congratulate the newly engaged couple.
Everyone was beautifully dressed. Brothers, sisters, cousins and other relatives smiled, laughed, and embraced each other as their eyes met. Among the clan was grandpa, well into his eighties, looking healthy, upbeat, and well groomed. One by one family members took turns saying hello to the elder. Then, the youngest member of the group – a teenage boy, spotted grandpa from afar, and jotted over to shake his hand.
“Hi, grandpa,” said the teenager. “How’s the Alzheimer’s?”
While the young teen may have believed the question to be quite clever, it revealed the stark difference in the way young people think about aging relatives. It was an innocent question, but certainly inappropriate in that setting. The problem may be this young man didn’t see his grandfather as a vibrant human being, but rather an old man with health problems.
Let’s face it; in a society where youth is celebrated at every turn, many people – of all ages, are unable to look past a senior’s age and ailments.
Alzheimer’s and other health conditions facing older adults are serious conditions. There’s no doubt that family members are often curious how senior relatives are faring. However, most of us wouldn’t want to be greeted by calling attention to our medical conditions.
So the question is: How do you get teens and other family members to become more aware and sensitive during their conversations and interactions with ailing family members?
“Sometimes loved ones simply don’t know what to say,” says Dr. Gardner, a New York-based physician, who counsels families on sensitivity as part of his private medical practice. “That’s when conversations should occur, before hand, and out in the open, about how to make relatives with medical conditions comfortable every day — especially during family gatherings.”
Experts agree that conversation in advance of those delicate moments can be the best solution to making everyone feel more comfortable. In other words, great family interactions begin during those private moments at home where the condition of a senior can be explained, discussed, and considered when planning any upcoming event.
Ask yourself: Who in the family needs to know in advance about the condition of the senior? How can they be coached into better interaction? What topics are too sensitive to be discussed? By taking a moment to plan ahead, you can narrow the sensitivity gap.