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Treating elderly like toddlers needs to stop

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Every time I hear someone call a senior citizen “adorable” or “cute,” I have to try not to cringe. If there is an older couple walking arm in arm down the street or an elderly woman pushing a cart through the grocery store, chances are someone nearby is saying “awww” or “that’s so cute.” The worst offenders are teenagers and young adults.

I’m asking you to just stop it already. Seriously, stop. There is almost no way to say something like that without being downright patronizing.

Would you like people younger than you to routinely call you adorable? How about decades from now? Yeah, didn’t think so.

My grandma is giving and thoughtful and beautiful, but she is not cute. She lived through the Great Depression and World War II. She had four children over the course of two decades, and now has eighteen great-grandchildren. She can make a grown man cry with her scolding, has laugh lines around her eyes almost as deep as her heart and the only German she remembers from her childhood are the swear words. My grandma is 89 years old, and no way in hell is she cute.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

My grandpa is hilarious and ridiculous and sweet, but he isn’t cute either. When he was in his eighties, he fell out of a tree while sawing off branches and left a dent in the ground that is still there years later, and then got right back up. He can out-work people a third of his age, can identify nearly any tree just by looking at its leaves and lost half a finger long before any current OWU student was born. My grandpa is 91 years old, and he is anything but adorable.

Calling the elderly “precious” or “cute” or whatever demeaning little adjective you can think of is not a compliment. It’s so common though, most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. Until a few years ago, I never saw anything wrong with saying a friendly elderly man dressed in his Sunday best, bow tie and all, was adorable or saying two older women laughing together while having brunch at a café were being cute. However, we should never use the same words to describe babies as we use to describe senior citizens. Our grandparents, and their entire generation, don’t deserve to be infantilized. They deserve some respect.

It can be hard to avoid repeating the phrases we hear around us, but we owe it to the remarkable parents, nurses, veterans, teachers and students who came before us to give it our best shot.

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1 Comment

  1. Linda Sartori October 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    More, please. I am researching “Infantilizing the elderly in nursing homes.”
    What about referring to “adult garments” as diapers? They can be called “briefs”, easily.
    What about using products for the elderly residents that are for infants, like “Butt Cream”, a product I found in my mother’s bathroom at the nursing home, with the packaging having big letters BUTT CREAM and a picture of an infant. On top of this,
    they were using baby wipes, again with the infant pictured.
    There are products for the elderly. We have to respect them and
    treat them with dignity.
    I am looking for more info.

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