Reflections on a Clean Floor: What We Can Learn About Aging From Swiffer Commercials

October 1, 2013

Dr. Warner-Maron has been practicing nursing for 33 years, specializing in the care of geriatric patients. She is an Assistant Professor at St. Joseph’s University in the department of Interdisciplinary Health Services. Dr. Warner-Maron is the president of the Institute for Continuing Education and Research, providing educational programs for individuals seeking licensure in nursing home administration.
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A new undergraduate course in aging has been launched at my institution. Instead of calling it what it is, a comprehensive approach to understanding aging, I called it “The Contiuum of Adult Health,” which is nothing more than euthamism to encourage students to take my class. I felt forced to take this step as undergraduates traditionally run away from any course focused on aging and I feared that calling it what it really is would only yield an empty classroom.

I began the first class today, not with a lecture or a review of the syllabus, but rather with the Swiffer commercial. I’m sure I was the only lecturer on campus who chose to show a YouTube video of cleaning products today. The video features husband and wife Morty and Lee Kaufman, both aged 90, who live independently in their home. Married for 45 years with six childen, the Kaufmans epitomize the loving, older couple: they kiss, she sings to him, they dance in the kitchen. Mrs. Kaufman’s focus is in keeping her home clean, inviting friends and family in, and making life comfortable for Morty. Morty’s job, on the other hand, is to make dirt and take naps. They have become television sensations. The new products she found delivered to her doorstep allow Lee to clean the kitchen without hauling a heavy bucket of water, ringing out a mop with her hands and without climbing a rickety step stool under the watchful eye of her husband, who warns her to be careful but who provides little physical assistance.

Why is our youth-possessed society so enamored of these two older people?  Perhaps Morty and Lee embody the kind of aging we all hope to achieve: being able to live in our own home, to take care of ourselves, and to have a fulfilling, enduring relationship with the people we love.

Can cleaning products transform a potentially dangerous situation into a safer, cleaner environment? Can it prevent older adults from experiencing injuries from mop buckets and step stools? Can it increase the ability to remain in one’s own home rather than moving to a higher level of care?

More importantly, will it transform the attitudes of younger adults who see a real life couple who have aged in place with grace, with love and commitment to each other while maintaining their integrity? Perhaps the real impact of this commercial will go beyond simply selling a cleaning device, but will demonstrate aging at its best.