As I get older I notice more and more the incredibly insensitive ways our society treats older people.

It seems that almost everyone is guilty of it. Apparently, we all have to get pretty old before we become sensitive to the problems of older people.Maybe it's an exaggerated impression of our own mortality. We just never plan to be old and so we have no conception of what it feels like to be old - or how an older person would like to be treated.

Consider the fact that the older a person grows the more likely he is to be treated like a child.

It's called condescending treatment.

When my father reached his 80s, the feeling of condescension ran rampant. Whenever younger people would visit him they would "talk down" to him - sometimes almost lapsing into baby talk.

They would pat him and tell him how "cute" he looked.

My dad hated it.

He was blessed with a facile mind until the day he died, just short of his 90th birthday. So he knew what people were doing to him, but there was nothing at all he could do about it.

He was also remarkably active physically, living in his own home all his life. He did not appear emaciated as he aged - and yet people felt compelled to treat him as if he had reached his second childhood.

All this came back to me when I attended a Cub Scout meeting over the holidays at an elderly care center. Numerous Cub Scouts with parents crowded themselves into a living room where several elderly people were seated.

A long Christmas story was read.

Carols were sung.

Then Santa Claus passed out presents from his bag - both to the Scouts and the elderly people. When the presents were distributed, each elderly person was asked if he or she had been a good little boy or a good little girl.

During the course of the activities, one of the elderly men wanted desperately to be allowed out of the living room and back to his own room. The people who operated the center wouldn't let him go.

I looked into the faces of the elderly people during the activities - and there was only one of them who ever smiled. All the others looked uncomfortable and unhappy - as if their safe turf had been invaded against their will.

I couldn't help but wonder if this activity - which is a common and well-meaning way to interact with the elderly during the holidays - was just an unfortunate mistake.

Maybe elderly people, living in a rest home and suffering certain physical frailties, have no desire to be surrounded by little kids - sometimes even their own grandkids or great-grandkids.

More than that - I'll bet they have no desire to be treated as little kids.

Think about that the next time you visit a relative who is advancing in age.

Since older people have usually learned an enormous amount, they are fountains of wisdom. Why not sit down and have an enriching adult conversation about their lives? My guess is that they would enjoy the one-on-one human interaction - and the respect - more than anything else we could do.

And we will be wiser people after it is over.

Judging by actuarial tables, most of us will live to a ripe old age. Given that fact, we should probably train not only ourselves how to deal sensitively with elderly people - but our children as well.

Chances are good that they are the ones who will be helping us out in our own frailties. So we should not only be good to them, but we better talk to them about how old people feel and would like to be treated.

It might make our declining years a lot more bearable.