I was in Vancouver for a TV appearance with the incredible David Suzuki. His Mother has Alzheimer’s disease and he wanted to take the Virtual Dementia Tour so he could experience what his Mother is living with. The morning of the shoot I walked from the hotel to a coffee shop and started talking with a woman walking that way too. After a few minutes she said, “I wish I had met you yesterday. We were giving free face lifts and you would have been perfect for one”. I wasn’t sure if I should be honored or if I should walk away. Ageism is everywhere and younger people seem to feel we all want to look like them. Actually, I’m OK with how I look but to be honest, I don’t want to look frumpy and out of date.
I think this is the case with most of us but something happens as we age and our bodies become subject to gravity. Nothing is where it was 25 years ago and trying to get into those cute skinny jeans just isn’t going to happen and let’s face it, those jeans don’t look great without some 2-3 inch heels which are beautifully disguised death traps. It seems the only things available to us as we age has elastic everywhere and are in colors that would put a hyena to sleep. I will put a stake in the ground right here and say I will never wear SAS shoes but it seems friends of mine have found them attractive of late and that worries me. What happened? Yes, comfort is important but there have to be some comfortable alternatives. Living in an ageist society has resulted in few options for older adults that helps breach the chasm between being stylish and looking frumpy, out of date and apathetic.
None of this would matter at all except that we easily judge people by their appearance. Following that reality, if you dress like you are outside the socially acceptable norm to look young and be young, you are discounted, left out of conversations and just as happened to me a few weeks ago, told by a sales person that I’m not the demographic for a type of makeup. Appearance really matters and none of us want to be discounted just by the way we look. I’m sure in some alternate universe everyone is accepted for who they are but that’s not happening here on earth. Much of our identity is wrapped up in how we see ourselves inwardly and outwardly.
My new hero, Iris Apfel, 96 says, “Dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says ‘Here I am!’ today.”
I can complain about lack of sharp clothing and make noise about the unfairness of gravity but at least I have a voice about it and can work on making changes for myself. It’s the people with dementia and those living in nursing homes that get no say and are judged even more harshly because of their placement or cognitive loss. We all want to be presentable no matter our circumstances and yet, it is rare when I go into nursing homes that I see a well-coiffed, well dressed person living there. How could that be? Some have food on their shirts left over from the previous meal. Men’s faces are poorly shaven and their hair is greasy with a musty smell about them. The women almost look the same as the men but with longer hair. No one cares how they look. Or do they? I believe we all feel better when we have on nice clothes, our hair is fixed and for many women, we have on our makeup. Why does all that stop when people are admitted to a nursing home? In fact, it should be even more important. Because of physical and cognitive limitations the person has little or no say in what they wear or how their hygiene is maintained.
We make dreams come true for people in long term care and many times the dream is to go to a spa, or have a new haircut (one lady wanted pink hair, she looked fabulous), hats, accessories, shoes or new clothes. It shouldn’t have to be a dream. We should take extra care to make sure people living in nursing homes are well dressed and cared for. The payoff would be huge. Depression could be lessened, participation in activities could increase and socialization in general would happen more often. An initiative to beautify nursing home residents could make things better for all involved. Visitors would be more engaged if there isn’t food all over someone’s shirt and teeth are clean. Staff will be more involved in care because they are helping a resident look good. There is no down side.
Several years ago we found out about a resident with dementia who constantly talked about when she was a beauty queen. We found a news article about her when she won the pageant. When we began to weave a dream for her we contacted a local high school and they made it happen. They took the resident out to get a dress and they put on a beauty pageant. It was complete with makeup, hair, roses and even a video from Donald Trump telling her how special she is. The difference in the resident is something none of us will ever forget. Take a look at the before and after.
Please, please, if you work in long term care or are caring for a person in their home, help them look their best. Give them choices about what to wear, assist them as they put on makeup, ensure proper dental hygiene and the list goes on. The difference in the person’s confidence will immediately increase and that’s what we all want no matter the disability.
When I’m in a nursing home make sure everything I have on is color coordinated. It matters to me.