Elder respect is a vital issue in our aging society.

How to Show Respect for Senior Citizens

by Jill Avery-Stoss

The senior population, with its life experience, possesses an incredible amount of strength, wisdom and knowledge. Unfortunately, the elderly are sometimes neglected or ignored. By offering them deserved respect and recognition -- and teaching your children to do the same -- you can ease possible feelings of isolation and reinforce a sense of worthiness. At the same time, you may learn from their words and benefit from their support.

Reject Ageism and Stereotypes

Be aware of prejudice and over-generalization. Spend time with older people in order to get to know each of them individually. For instance, not all elderly drive poorly. They are not all unhappy, less intelligent or senile. These beliefs are inherently disrespectful but can also affect the manner in which you interact with the senior population. If you assume elders are impaired in the basic facets of life, for example, you might offer an overabundance of assistance, which can sometimes be quite disempowering.

Care, Serve, Consult

Express your caring if the senior is a friend or family member. This can be done by regular visits, phone calls and accompaniment to appointments or social events. Stay attuned to the senior's needs and ask to provide assistance such as carrying groceries or offering a chair. Ask them for advice, to help them feel respected for their life experience, as well as valuable to society. Consulting a senior about your career, family relationships and life-changing decisions can be beneficial to both parties.

Symbolic Expressions of Respect

Utilize careful language when addressing an older person. Always employ basic manners and utilize titles -- Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Professor -- at all times. Minimize the use of slang and refrain from using profanity. Consider your appearance and gestures. Maintain eye contact, smile and -- when and where appropriate -- engage in handshaking and embracing. In celebratory situations, you may offer gifts, seats of honor and food or drink of the elder's choice.

Cultural Implications

If you plan to be in contact with elderly from a particular culture or ethnicity, research relevant practices beforehand and be prepared to implement them. Your actions and behaviors should be harmonious with the lifestyles and values of your elders. Some practices may hold different value among varying cultures and ethnicities -- a slight bow toward an elder will not have the same meaning in a Latino family that it would in an Asian one.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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