Walking On Eggshells: Are Activities Infantilizing Seniors Through Our Movie Choices?

Look at me and you might think I love romantic comedies, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Behind my bubbly exterior lies a horror movie fanatic and when I get older I know I’ll still want to relax watching Michael Meyers stab people or Freddy Krueger haunt people’s dreams. Yet if what goes on in modern senior care facilities continues, I’ll be forced to watch PG films and musicals.

Across the country Activity Director’s fill their movie clubs with safe family friendly fare, black and white classics, and bland musicals.

But why do we do it?


We insist on infantilizing our senior when it comes to the entertainment we present. As if a curse word or particularly steamy romance scene will shake them to their core.

For some of us it’s pressure from our facilities who are fearful of rocking the boat and worry over complaints from families. Yet for many, we make our movie selection based on our own preconceived notions. Well growing up, my grandma was a sweet old lady. I can’t imagine showing her anything with curses or sexuality.

Both of those reasons boil down to the same problem; we’re infantilizing senior citizens, stripping them of the maturity and dignity they earned.

Why are we doing it? Often, because our interactions with seniors are built with our grandparents or we want to separate ourselves from the eventualities of aging (ie: I like violent action movies now, but once I’m old I won’t. So as long as I still like them, I’m not old).

Both of those are linked to the popular image of senior citizens in the media. If a senior citizen is portrayed in TV or film, it’s as a sweet, cookie-baking, doding figure who never curses or (gasp) talks about sexuality, or the complete opposite where the idea seniors and sex/swearing is used to draw cheap laughs. Our residents aren’t sheltered hermits. Many of them have lived rich and colorful lives serving their country, involved in all walks of businesses, and came of age during some of the most radical periods of change in our countries history.

Now I’m not saying to show residents anything meaninglessly raunchy, violent or traumatic, but should we deny them Oscar winning films like The Godfather, Titanic, or even On the Waterfront?

After all, most of our residents are contemporaries of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and Robert DeNiro (all in their 70’s and 80’s). Odds are good they were first in line to see Raging Bull or Apocalypse Now when it first hit theaters.

By refusing to show them movies for adults we are refusing to acknowledge them as adults. A good movie makes an individual think, it stirs emotions, and prompts discussion. As activity director’s isn’t that what we set out to do in each of our activities?

Then why are we playing Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, or some dated Rock Hudson movies on repeat (no disrespect to Vivian Leigh and Gary Cooper, Julie Andrews, or Mr. Hudson)?

Be judicious with films you choose and mindful of residents personal histories (movies like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List might be traumatic to those who have fought in WW2 or survived the Holocaust), but in an age of Netflix and cheap DVD’s let’s play movies that entertain, not just occupy.

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