The Eve of All Hallow’s Day

31st October. In my day, it was different. Now I really do feel old – but more of that later!

We didn’t do much at home. It is a pagan festival and was considered somewhat sacriligious and although I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household – it wasn’t seen as something particularly to celebrate.

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We went out to the local houses to knock and ask ‘trick or treat’ but none of us dressed up or had any ‘tricks’. It was a bit half-hearted. Kind of like when we went out carol-singing and only knew one line of the carols that we were singing and just repeated it until people paid us to leave.

Funny how an apple was perfectly acceptable as a ‘treat’. But sweets were better!

Anyway, back to Hallowe’en. I think the last time we went out as kids would have been before I started secondary school at 10. After that, it just became another day.

As a child (and to be honest, as an adult too.. who am I kidding?) Bonfire Night on November 5th is far more exciting and enticing.

Mischief Night (because we lived in Yorkshire for a period until my early teens) was more when you indulged in acts of minor and random vandalism when I was young, anyway. My recollections are that that was on the 4th November. Or it was where we lived anyway.  That usually involved knocking on peoples’ doors and running away. That was about the limits of our ‘mischief’. Mischief Night always took priority over Hallowe’en. ‘Trick or treat’ was really just ‘asking for sweets.. or apples’.

Hallowe’en also used to scare me a bit. I was a fairly sensitive child and thinking about witches and ghosts coming out at night, well, it wasn’t something I liked very much.

I was consoled only by the thought that, being a November 1st baby, I just had to resist until past midnight and make it to my birthday – which is clearly FAR more important!

Elderspeak

I admit, I had no idea what ‘Elderspeak’  term meant until I read this article in the Telegraph.

Apparently it is

defined by researchers as overly caring, controlling and infantilising communication – bears many similar traits to “baby talk”, including simplified grammar and vocabulary and overly intimate endearments.

Maybe it’s just the circles that I move in but it’s not something I’ve come across a great deal. I can’t imagine myself ever calling someone I work with ‘sweetie’ or ‘dear’. But I can’t imagine myself saying that to anyone at all – let alone someone I was actually employed to work with as a professional!

image zappowbang at flickr

According to a study quoted in the newspaper article

such verbal ageism can harm longevity by delivering a self-fulfilling message that older people are incompetent, frail and feeble, sending them into a negative downward spiral, researchers say.

This is where the study makes much more sense to me. Language is enormously influential. It harbours the attitudes that we hold dear and sometimes it is a ‘looking glass to the soul’ where we might not necessarily want it to be.  By talking to adults in child-like terms we are indicating that we somehow have less respect for their capacity to understand and perhaps to the decisions that they make. It is not only patronising but it indicates clearly that we are making assumptions about someone else’s’ ability to understand.

I have to say that I don’t use babytalk either. I personally find that children respond better when they are not patronised so the same thing holds true. Except children are more likely to have a family member speak up for them if they feel the treatment they are receiving is not appropriate.

The study in question is described further in The New York Times.

a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.

In those terms it is very difficult to ignore. It isn’t just about the words that escape from the mouth as much as the effect that they have. I have to say, as well, there are some people who call EVERYONE dear, love and sweetie, regardless of whether they are 6 or 96. That’s not really the point though. I see it more as an issue about people who modify not only their attitude but their language specifically when they are working with older adults.

There may or may not be cognitive impairment but that doesn’t entitle a person to less respect. Language can be simplified without being overfamiliar or condescending. And it does matter. If it makes someone feel that they have less validity as an individual, it is a part of the process of stripping away the humanity that is there.

The  Telegraph article finishes with the insight of one of the respondents to the study saying

“But I believe that the people who heap these endearments upon us are reacting to their own fears of ageing in a youth-oriented culture. My advice, darlings – get over it.”

Which says it a lot better than I could have.

image pamelaadam at Flickr

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Five a day

We are advised to eat five portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day to keep healthy. Good sound advice.

image mjorge at Flickr

The Times reports today on a different kind of five-a-day target that relates more specifically to mental health.

The advised steps to happiness are:

Connect
Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support

Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

Learn
Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence

Give
Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

So there you go, some thoughts for an early new years resolution or two perhaps. They all seem fairly sensible to me as long as we can count virtual as well as ‘real’ connections!

One other pertinent fact came out of this research and is quoted in the article – namely

Half of people in Britain who are in debt have a mental disorder, compared with just 16 per cent of the general population.

That’s an enormous amount of people. It might be a thought for another day to consider the ways and means that these two factors influence each other, but that’s possibly too much for me to take on on a Saturday morning.

But a salutary thought as we move towards a recession.

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