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How to Show Respect for Senior Citizens

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Senior citizen have a wealth of experience and knowledge to pass on to younger generations. The world isn’t the same as the one they grew up in, but seniors can give first-person accounts of events that may help younger generations understand how the world became what they know now. There are many reasons to show respect for senior citizens, who are a treasured resource.

Listen

Listening carefully to what someone says conveys respect and makes the person feel valued, says Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, in a Chicago Tribune article. Seniors can provide a wealth of knowledge about the past because they lived through it. Their first-person accounts may interest younger generations who wish to learn history from a perspective different than that presented in most history books. The insight offered by seniors can be keen. Ask questions and learn their stories. Encourage seniors to talk about things they have witnessed and changes they have seen. Ask for advice and weigh it carefully -- you might learn something.

Behave Respectfully

For many years, it was common practice to give up one's seat to an older adult and let the older person sit while the younger one stood. That’s still a good policy, as is holding the door to let a senior adult enter or exit and offering assistance when a task may seem beyond the abilities of a senior, such as opening a child-proof lid or lifting a heavy load. Respect their feelings while you do so because you don’t want to communicate that you think they are infirm or incapable of doing things for themselves.

Support Independence

The United States Census Bureau reports that as of 2011, approximately 13.3 percent of the United States population was over the age of 65. Most of these people are capable of living on their own, handling their own finances, driving and accomplishing daily tasks. Some return to school in their later years or begin a new career. Respect and support a senior citizen’s desire to live independently and capably. Take advantage of their skills by allowing them to do as much for themselves as they can. Offer assistance only when asked or when you know that something is outside their abilities, suggests Dr. Richard D. Dobbins, a clinical psychologist and minister.

Be Authenitc

Seniors can spot a fake smile or attitude, so be yourself, notes Dawn Schultz, a 75-year-old volunteer in a Charlotteville senior center and active aging presenter. She suggests that you hang out with some seniors and get to know them as individuals to become fully comfortable with older adults. She also suggests that you talk directly to a senior as you would to any other adult, rather than talking to family members about the senior adult when the senior adult is present.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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