Twenty-six-year-old Patty Moore, in an experiment lasting several years, repeatedly disguised herself as an old lady—to know what it was really like to live in an old person’s shoes, to see firsthand how much truth there was behind the rising wave of old peoples’ complaints.
After dying her hair, having bandages wrapped around her knees and elbows to make her movements appear authentically stiff, and a fantastic make-up job which included putting latex on her face to give the impression of wrinkles, she stepped into what was for her a completely foreign world. People pushed and shoved her to get through doors and onto the bus. Six- and seven-year-old boys used her as a target for throwing stones.
One thing Patty particularly noted was that old people generally get ignored and pushed to one side as though they don’t matter, or that what they have to say isn’t important.
She demonstrated this conclusively the very first time she appeared as an 85-year-old woman, when she visited as a participant at a conference dedicated to problems of the aged. Her purpose was to witness how these young, professional men and women who devoted their working lives to the elderly would treat her.
Leaning heavily on a cane, with her gray bob of hair and outdated clothes, she found her way to the center of the crowd. Soon she began to feel like a total non-entity. At the end of that day, comments Ladies Home Journal, August 1983, “she was angry. All day she had been ignored … counted out in a way she never experienced before. … Why didn’t [people] include her in conversations? Why did the other participants seem almost embarrassed by her presence at the conference—as if it were somehow inappropriate that an old person should be professionally active?
“And so, 85-year-old Pat Moore learned her first lesson: The old are often ignored.”
Moore later recalled, “In stores, I’d get the same reaction. A clerk would turn to someone younger and wait on her first. It was as if he assumed that I—the older woman—could wait because I didn’t have anything better to do.”
She quickly discovered how rarely anyone would help her when she struggled with a heavy door. They would even jostle and try to push past her in a hurry. If she actually had been 85, no doubt she’d have fallen on a number of occasions. She discovered the difficulty stiff-kneed old people face to get off a curb. And eventually she felt so vulnerable—as though she were at the mercy of every rude person and mishap.
Here is the truly revealing discovery, though. Guess what she discovered old people want most: When sitting on a park bench with three older widows, she was drawn into a conversation about their need for affection and how long it had been since anyone had hugged them. With time she discovered that this was their favorite topic of conversation. All were in agreement that human beings never grow old emotionally.
Surveys show that the majority of older people believe their most treasured possessions to be their children, friends and relatives. Ask any old person what they most miss about the “good ol’ days,” and more than likely they will put personal relationships at the top of the list.