Have you ever heard someone talk about a role reversal between themself and an aging parent? Over the years I have heard many people make statements like “mom is just like a child now” or “I have to talk to Dad the same way I talk to my grandchildren.” Now that my life involves being around more adults in their eighties, nineties, and older, I see this phenomenon in action. I see it when I visit senior housing communities; I see it in doctor’s offices; I see it in grocery stores; I even see it in restaurants. What do I see? I see middle-aged adults using a tone and cadence in their speech that should be reserved for the very young.
Why do they do it? Why are people in their forties and fifties talking to their eighty-something and ninety-something parents like they were five-year olds? I’m not entirely certain, and since I didn’t have parents who lived that long, I haven’t had the first-hand experience of taking care of a very old person. But recently I have been spending time with a 96-year old and I think I am beginning to gain some insight into the situation. Alice, my 96-year old, is actually my husband’s cousin. She lives near us in an assisted living community and I have started to take her to lunch on occasion and now increasingly often to doctor appointments and for manicures. Her daughter lives in our town as well, but has to travel frequently to help care for a grandchild in Italy. I am her backup for Alice’s needs when she is gone.