In March 2008, George Smitherman, the then Ontario Minister of Health

“…wanted to “better understand the patient experience” by donning the incontinence diaper following complaints from nursing home staff about residents being forced to wear soiled diapers for much of the day, because there are not enough caregivers to change them.”[1].

It appears that his idea was to assess the situation by wearing an incontinence garment so that he would better understand how adequate they are for frail seniors living in nursing home facilities.  Reaction was swift.  This insensitive approach in dealing with seniors’ issues resulted in Smitherman withdrawing his idea along with an apology.  Unfortunately this example is not the last of paternalistic approaches suggesting that some individuals in positions of power or influence understand what day-to-day life is like for an elderly population.   These individuals seem ready to prove that living conditions are satisfactory or low risk through their own “non-elderly, non-frail” personal experiences.

Another story appearing recently in the National Post left a similar impression of paternalistic insights on the needs of elderly populations[2].  Brian Hutchinson decided to try using a motorized scooter in response to the proposed regulation of motorized mobility aids planned for discussion at the upcoming annual conference of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).  The concern is about the unregulated use of these motorized devices.  Their improper use may pose a safety hazard to the operator as well as to pedestrians who themselves may have fragile mobility and a slower response in avoiding a side-walk collision.  Hutchinson, who did not indicate that he had any health issues, tried a scooter and wondered “What’s all the fuss about?”.

Hutchinson did not discuss population aging and the likely increase of these devices on municipal sidewalks.  The number of older adult pedestrians will also increase.  Both the pedestrian and the operator of the scooter may be experiencing health issues including some cognitive decline, deteriorating vision, loss of muscle control or something else that reduces their physical skill and judgement.  The combination of the pedestrian and the motorized device on a sidewalk could be hazardous.  Hutchinson’s ease of use and skill of navigation likely does not replicate the experience of the typical older user.  Therefore Hutchinson should not offer insight into the reality of the current and future challenges of these mobility devices.

Assessing issues relating to frail aging populations cannot and should not be done by untrained able-bodied persons “trying out” the situation in order to determine if it is really as concerning as some are suggesting.  This approach suggests that just finding a volunteer to “give it (whatever it may be) a try, and letting us know how it goes” is an adequate level of understanding of the issues.  With this approach, concerns relating to population aging can be quickly resolved by self-appointed experts.  Maybe it is time to find volunteers for feeding tubes and respirators.  They can let us know “…how hard can it be, really….”[2]


[1] Smitherman drops adult diaper idea (Global News – March 4, 2008) http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=b5826bbc-4657-4c54-8fca-6f01cdaa70dc

[2] Brian Hutchinson: B.C. town wants to regulate scooter scofflaws, but how hard can it be to operate one safely?  (National Post – August 30 2013) http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/08/30/b-c-town-stirs-up-controversy-with-call-to-regulate-supposed-scooter-scofflaws/

*image from geralt via Pixabay