The student was surprised and somewhat bewildered to find that the results of some research studies indicate that nurses who work with the elderly may tend to hold less positive views of older adults than do nurses who spend less time with them. Although we certainly need to investigate this view by conducting more research studies, we should not delay giving attention to this problem. As an example, if older adults are viewed as dependent, we are aware of the dangers of a "selffulfilling prophecy" which may be a result of our views and expectations.
A search for explanations leads us to consider that the majority of older adults are not dependent and are capable of contributing to their own welfare and the welfare of others. However, the majority of nurses practice in acute care hospital settings and view older adults' behaviors during isolated episodes of dependency. The independent older members of a m ulti -generational family may not be readily visible since the current family lifestyles primarily involve a single generation. The physical appearance of the very old may give the nurse the impression that the elders are fragile and unable to help themselves much less others. In addition, nurses are often socialized to receive approval for their "caring and giving" behaviors rather than "receiving" behaviors. Perhaps it might help to step out of our traditional work settings to look at behavior patterns which will encourage older adults to demonstrate their ability to help others in addition to receiving help when needed. When did you last thank an older person for their help?
Last summer, my husband and I had such an opportunity while traveling in Great Britain on a Sunday morning in Edinburgh, Scotland. We had left our hotel during mid-morning and were planning to catch a train to London a few hours later. While waiting at a bus stop, trying to determine the correct route, time schedule and correct coins, we were approached by an elderly lady who was also waiting for a bus. There was no doubt that she was an older adult. Her physical appearance with white hair, slender build and her heavy wool stockings reminded one of the fragility often associated with old age.
However, Mrs. Thorn, aged 83, we soon learned, did not seem to possess any preconceived ideas of helplessness, but rather quite the opposite. Seeing our efforts to sort out the strange coins needed for the exact fare, she took from her own purse the exact change needed and insisted that we accept this small gift from her as we were visitors to her country. When she found that we had a little extra time before our train departed, she invited us to attend church with her as it was "not much out of our way." We agreed and had a difficult time keeping up with her as we left the bus and walked briskly uphill for several blocks before reaching the church.
Once there, she gave us information about protecting our luggage during the service, where the best seats were and all about the current progress of the church. She was attentive to our every need, including finding the hymn in the hymn book and showing us to the refreshments after the service. She took us back to the nearest bus stop and made certain that we had the correct change and knew the right stop.
Dr. Stifwell and Mrs. Thorn
On further reflection, after leaving her, we realized what a lesson and gift we had received from Mrs. Thom.
Thank you, Mrs. Thom, for taking care of us. Thank you, Mrs. Thom, for being such a friendly and caring person. And thank you, Mrs. Thom, for reminding us that, like the majority of older adults, you are capable of giving as well as receiving help.