"Y'all come on, we 'bout to go to K&W," used to be music to my ears back in the day. For those who aren't from VA, WV, NC or SC, K&W is a cafeteria style restaurant that serves a variety of food. My favorite was always the macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers and a roll (in case you wanted to know)! As a kid I loved that restaurant, but I think as life moved on, K&W and I lost chemistry *sigh.
It's common to see individuals who are over 60 gathering together at K&W for food and fellowship. It is so common, that there's a joke associated with the meaning behind K&W, stating that it is known for "Kanes and Walkers." This may cause some of you to chuckle, but why would this age range be associated with THAT title? Y'all already know how I feel about ageism and the more I write about it, the more I catch my own thoughts and actions regarding it. Do we really believe that canes and walkers are associated with age? There's a stigma behind the use of canes and walkers. It's so bad that many people ignore their need to use an assistive device because of the negative view towards them. I think changing this view needs to be at the top of society's priorities, considering a person's safety and well-being is involved.
Historically, canes have held numerous meanings and played many roles in different religions and cultures. In the past, canes were meaningful and very rarely seen as a sign of weakness. Instead, they were viewed as a sign of strength, power and wealth, and referred to as a rod/walking stick/staff/crozier. From King Tut, to those who practiced Buddhism, to Catholics, and even to Moses in the Bible, we have seen 'canes' in a positive light. In the early 20th century, we even saw canes being used as a fashion accessory.
However, there's been a negative shift to the meaning behind canes and I can't seem to pinpoint when this occurred, but it did. Canes went from being viewed as an enhancement to seen as a downgrade. How did this happen?! How did canes become the symbol of aging and a sign of weakness? Possibly when a new fashion fad came about and canes were no longer a necessity?
One of the biggest myths about aging is the physical decline that takes place. The average person believes aging means gray hair, a hunch back, and needing help with walking. Don't believe me? Take a look at this. Now, there are some physical changes that occur as we continue to age. For example, we lose muscle mass, but that can be reversed with weight-bearing exercises and increasing physical activity. What we don't take into account is that anyone at any age can end up with a cane or walker, depending on his/her illness or injury. Your age has nothing to do with the need for an assistive device. If stigmas about canes were eliminated, maybe people in need of a cane/walker wouldn't be as apprehensive or embarrassed to use them.
I remember one of the episodes of Grace and Frankie, (It's on Netflix. Look it up, you won't be disappointed) where Grace had knee surgery and was in recovery. Her doctor recommended a walker to help her get around, but she only used it in her home. She was self-conscious to use it in public because it took away from her look and she was aware of the negativity behind the use of a walker. She sacrificed her safety and subjected herself to pain all because she didn't want to be the walking symbol of weakness. Her fear was that her children would no longer see her as independent and think she would need to move into a nursing home. Put yourself in her shoes, would you want to bring more pain on yourself because you allowed society's definitions and opinions define you?
Not only does society believe canes and walkers are associated with age, but there's also this notion that those who use assistive devices lack the ability to be self-sufficient. I'm guilty of this myself, I'll admit it. There have been numerous times where I have found myself jumping up to help someone who was using an assistive device, when they never even uttered the words "can someone help me." I have instantly drawn the conclusion that this person may be incapable of doing something because of the stigma placed on canes and walkers. There have been times where I have made up in my mind that this person who is using an assistive device would be in a better place if I helped. How dare I! When we begin to view things as if our assistance to those who are differently abled will make them "better", we've got it all wrong. Oh, and please don't leave me out here alone with this confession, I know I'm not the only one. I am not saying we should begin looking the other way and not helping people, but what I am saying is we should be more mindful of how we help. We need to make sure our help is with that intention alone and not because we think the person cannot do it for his/herself.
See Aging As..
#DisruptAging is a new movement inspired by the CEO of AARP and author of the book, Jo Anne Jenkins. It's super dope because it challenges us to redefine aging and create new stories of how we see ourselves getting older versus what society says. We can tell ourselves that getting older does not involve canes and walkers. Getting older does not mean we will become ill and need assistance with getting around. Aging does not mean our walking pace will get slower. Aging does not mean the loss of independence. What's something you've been telling yourself aging involves, but are starting to see it is false? I'd love to hear from you, hit me up: Instagram: @gero_what, like my page on Facebook: @gero-what