Old People Know A LOT

Photo by Diego Grez

Here’s a tiny smattering of things I learned from the elderly hospice patients I worked with…

1. how to run a table saw

2. an effective home remedy for the 1918 bird flu pandemic

3. how to trade options in the stock market

4. how to stay safe in the box car when jumping a train

5. how to celebrate a traditional Bavarian yuletide

6. the absolute necessity of paying off a home mortgage

7. how to stack dead bodies after an attack on home soil

8. how an iron lung works

9. what the bedding was made out of in a concentration camp

10. how much stronger we are than I ever, EVER imagined.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Elders and Technology: An Awkward Pairing

This morning I received an email with an attachment from my out-of-town brother-in-law (BIL) that was actually for my mother-in-law (MIL). 

So if it’s an email for MIL, you ask, why did BIL send it to you

Why you silly twit, I answer.  Because MIL is elderly of course.  She doesn’t know how to email.

MIL has a computer.  In fact she has three; two desktops she bought for herself and a laptop gifted from her son.  But none of them are presently hooked up because, even though she really wants to learn how to email, every time she’s tried so far she hit a wall.  She got overwhelmed and quit, turned off the service again, because computers and technology are just not coming easy for her.

As pretty much everyone knows by now, there’s a huge generational divide where technology is concerned.  My kids, on the one hand, use electronic devices like prosthetics.  They’re physically attached to their laptops, cellphones (with bluetooth, GPS, browsing, cameras, youtube, and wifi capability plus downloaded ringtones and extensive music libraries),  gaming systems, and complex entertainment systems with blue ray and live streaming (and accompanying battery of remotes.)  They communicate via texting, email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, et al, and…once every ten thousand years when the planets all align…they’ll even make a phone call.   They also both have dedicated closets for the graveyard of outdated devices they’ve abandoned over the years.

MIL also has a dedicated closet but she’s abandoned her devices for a completely different reason; she couldn’t figure out how to make them work.  She’s not unusual in this way.  My father and father-in-law (FIL) can’t use most modern technological devices either.  I also ran into this problem a lot when I was working with hospice.  Most of the elderly people I cared for not only couldn’t use a computer, they often struggled just to navigate a simple telephone voice mail system.  Sometimes, at their age, it was because hearing had become a problem.  But even those who could hear perfectly well seemed to have trouble.  They resented the fact that they couldn’t just talk to a person.

This morning it occurred to me that, where the new, modern world of technology and electronics are concerned, most of our elders are like first generation immigrants from the old world.  They come from a different set of customs, a slower pace, a different, simpler world view.  The new language is proving to be sophisticated and difficult for them, and they often get lost trying to navigate a landscape that can seem foreign and incomprehensible.

MIL (almost eighty) is from the old country so emailing, as part of the new language, has been hard for her to learn.  Still, I admire her tremendously because at least she wants to learn.  She tries.  She’s frustrated and overwhelmed by it all, but even so, she’s still tickled by the prospect of laptops, and camera phones, and digital picture frames, and thin, sexy, LCD TVs.  She takes risks and buys gadgets she doesn’t know how to use, hoping she’ll be able to figure them out and sometimes she even does.  Little by little, she really is making progress.

So BIL and I, and all of her children, continue to try and be patient and supportive.  We’re the second, bridge generation, straddling the divide between our parents’ world and that of our children.  Hopefully, in helping our elders, we’ll be able to sort out and harvest the best of their world, then preserve it, adapt it, and pass it down to our kids to be folded into the new one.

That’s what I’m hoping for anyway, because I think an evolving world with deep roots is the strongest, most nourishing kind.

The Favorite, by Georgios Iakovidis (1890)

(Image from Wikipedia)

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn