Recently a woman approached me in a purposeful way. Without an opening hello, she said “I read your article in Your Time magazine last month”.
Whenever anyone says they have read my writing I have an immediate frisson of nervousness and in this case, it was warranted. She went on to say that despite all the science that I quoted, I was wrong.
To remind readers, the article to which she was referring was about personality change as we age. Research suggests that as people age, they become more content in their own company, less worried about what others think, more emotionally stable, more cautious about trying new things, less concerned with planning and organisation and perhaps more compassionate and caring.
“Who did I think I was kidding?” she said. Apparently, I was old enough to know better.
And she has a point.
Often our own experience and observation of life around us does not agree with the results of studies and analysis of data. Research often lags behind the here and now.
While personality helps to determine behaviour, it is often by behaviour that we judge personality. Perhaps the stresses on the ageing person are accelerating. Perhaps this is changing how older people act and feel.
Many older people have big lives, whether or not they want them to be big. They are often still carrying major responsibilities. Planning and organisation are still required.
And the world is changing in ways that are frustrating on a day-to-day level. Unfortunately, the organisations that underpin our daily lives, such as the banks, technology companies, communication companies, health services etc. seem to have become difficult to navigate.
Yesterday I rang a bank and after a 20-minute wait I actually got to speak to a person! Ah the good old days of speaking to a person rather than an automated voice.
However, the banking representative told me, “I am happy to help you by directing you to our online service.” “No!” I almost shouted in response.
After my calm explanation of my requirements, she responded, just like an automated voice, to say “here at XX Bank we are committed to giving you a digital experience please use our online service”.
Older people are prone to worry and anxiety, often with good reason – finances, family, safety and keeping on top of technology so that we can have adequate communication with others.
The world with which we have to interact seems to be getting increasingly complicated with organisations that provide less service, are less available to the customer, are less transparent, less client centred, and with less staff.
Transacting in this environment takes emotional energy which depletes the energy left for social interactions. It also leads to higher levels of irritability.
A service provider told me recently that their worst customers are older people who are rude and angry. I had been a customer of that same organisation and I can understand why their older customers are angry.
It had shifted from being a customer-focused business to an understaffed upselling one.
There is no doubt that there are consistent changes as we age but we are individuals with individual variations needing, at times, to negotiate a world that has become a little unfriendly.
I enjoyed my brief encounter with the reader who spoke to me in blunt terms. We agreed more than disagreed, especially after we shared our most recent frustrations in dealing with the systems to which older people are often subjected.
Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.