Here are five things you should never say to an older person, let alone anyone else:
- When you have just learned that your friend or family member has just received a serious diagnosis, do not ever tell them something like, "Well, my uncle Herniated had something just like that and it turned into a terminal whatever in short order." People too often succumb to the temptation to tell a person with a serious illness or diagnosis about all of the people they knew who had the same problem and about all of the serious consequences that ensued. Turn the conversation to a compassionate concern for your friend or family member and skip all the extensive knowledge you have about whatever it is.
- Don't ask anyone if they are wearing their hearing aids. Hearing is an exasperating and some times serious problem and a sensitive issue. If someone says "what" a few times, just repeat what you said and let it go at that.
- Don't unload your own troubles unless you are asked to tell someone about them. Many people are under tremendous physical and emotional strain dealing with their own circumstances and the last thing they need is a boat load of grief about your own situation unless invited to unload it.
- Don't tell someone, as someone told my wife one day, "Gee, you really are not looking well. You look awful." Just when my wife was really struggling and we thought she was looking very much improved and very well. Negative comments to anyone can be a real mood changer and downer so, for heaven's sake, if you must comment, say something like "You're looking so much better!" Positive comments can provide an uplift in spirits.
- Don't start telling someone who has just gone through a life time of miseries in the last little while what doctor, or special treatment, or chiropractor, or herbal medicine or whatever that you know about that will cure them.
In short, be compassionate, positive, encouraging, uplifting, and cheerful when you talk to anyone, and, especially, an older person whose struggles are probably keeping them awake at night and who are trying desperately to calm their troubled and some times hopeless feelings. People need hope and love and encouragement and chocolate chip cookies and not discourses about all the sick people they know and all the miraculous treatments they can prescribe. Never, never make a negative comment to an older person and, especially, a sick person. Like the nurse in Denver who told me as I was leaving the hospital after being diagnosed 40 years ago (erroneously, as it turned out) with MS, "Our patients are usually back here in a wheelchair in about six months." I can't tell you how much that statement haunted me for 50 years. What I like are doctors who, like my urologist, who recently told me when I said I had to go next to a neurologist, "I don't think that will be so bad,'' or my ENT who told me when working with my hearing problems after learning of my neurologist diagnosis who said, "I wouldn't lose a minute's sleep worrying about that. Something else will get you long before that will." I can't tell you how many times I have recited these words of hope and encouragement over and over in my mind and how much these positive comments have helped me.