“Do We Have A Failure To Communicate?”

There is a classic line in the film “Cool Hand Luke” that says “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That phrase has been repeated in various situations hundreds of times since. Applying it to aging in place and working with various generations, it certainly rings true. How we attempt to connect with a particular generation or age group may not be the same or appropriate for use with others. 

Baby Boomers are the subject of much of the aging in place discussion – and with good reason – but they often are thought to be older than they really are. Born between 1946-1965, they are somewhere between 51 and 71 years of age, depending on their birth month. For the two official generations older than the Baby Boomers – those in their early 70s and older – we really see some generational differences in behavior and expectations.

Consider all of the changes people born as much as 100 years ago (plus or minus) have experienced in their lifetimes. They grew up without TV until early adulthood. Automobiles were just coming into their own – as a relatively new invention. People in larger cities looked forward to at least two newspapers a day (morning and afternoon) being published and delivered to their front door. People communicated by mailing letters to each other, for a stamp costing as little as a two or three cents. A cup of coffee was available for as little as a nickel, and payphones (way before cellphones) cost a dime to use for local calls (listen carefully to some older songs or movie lines for references to a dime for a phone call).

The people who now are in their 70s and older grew up in a time when people were very respectful of each other in public, exercising a code of courtesy and formality that was normal for that time. Many people have hung onto this practice and still expect to be addressed by a title (Mr. or Mrs., for instance) for anyone other than a close friend or neighbor. They dress up to go to the doctor or other appointments as well as taking the plane or train.

The number of technology changes they have seen are remarkable. They remember before there was a space launch and then took pride in the launches that followed. They got their news from the major TV networks, daily newspapers, and weekly news magazines – way before 24-hour cable news stations and talk radio, blogs, emails, and texting. The TV stations used to sign off for the day around midnight in many areas and wouldn’t return until around sunrise.

All of this goes to our ability – or failure – to communicate with them, and to a different extent the Millennial generation. For the true seniors – those in the 70s and older – we need to remember how they experienced getting the news and mail. Many of them do not have computers or access to cellphones – by their choice. Therefore, we cannot communicate with them by email, texts, or anything else online. We can’t send them anything electronic to read or review. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is a real fact of life that needs to be factored into how we do business.

Not only do many older people not have cellphones (or if they do, they save them just for emergencies or for special occasions like talking with their grandchildren), they still have landlines and use phone books.

Before we think that everyone needs to communicate electronically like we like to do, we need to remember that many people we are attempting to serve with our aging in place services are experiencing life differently than the masses when it comes to the way they get their news (radio, TV, or traditional print newspapers and magazines), use the telephone, and use the postal system. If we miss this concept, we definitely will find ourselves with a failure to connect and communicate effectively with them.
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