Identify your Red Hat Society

Sept. 1, 2005
By now, almost everyone is at least aware of the Red Hat Society. It is tough to miss eight mature women wearing red hats and purple dresses walking together into a theater.

By now, almost everyone is at least aware of the Red Hat Society. It is tough to miss eight mature women wearing red hats and purple dresses walking together into a theater. Red Hat Society members believe there is fun after 50. The society began when a few women decided to greet middle age with verve, humor, and élan. These women probably don’t spend a lot of time discussing the psychology of their fun. I maintain that deep down they want the world to believe they have made it to the top of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow asserted that we are all motivated by needs that displace each other as we satisfy them. These women in their red hats have met their physical (clothing, food, shelter) and safety (security, protection) needs. On the next level of social needs, we confront love, belonging, and friendship. The “Red Hatters” also have achieved this level (often more than one cycle of love). The next-to-the-top rung in Maslow’s theory is self-esteem. The Red Hat women want you to know they have a sense of self-worth and pride in who they are - even in our youth-oriented society.

Maslow believed that self-actualization was everyone’s highest goal in life. Whether this is the case, something can be learned from it. I think the Red Hatters are screaming to the world that they are fully-realized, enlightened beings. These women are at stages in their lives where family responsibilities no longer consume all their energy. They finally have the time, energy, and resources to put themselves first.

“OK, OK,” you say, “what does this have to do with dentistry?” Not much - unless you enjoy helping people take charge of their dental futures and move with them to places of optimal dental health. The challenge is recognizing when people have reached this point in their thinking - the point of self-actualization. Here they listen to possibilities for optimum dental health and say to themselves, “I am worth it.”

If all these women would walk into our offices while wearing their red hats, it would be simple for us. But they don’t, so we need to learn how to identify them. The easiest place to find these patients is in our practices - they are our patients of record. Staff members can identify them best. They tend to be more open-minded and accepting that folks change.

Take Mary P. for example. For years she has been a non-flosser. Even 4-millimeter pockets in her upper molars have not gotten her attention. Last year, her youngest went to college, freeing up more time for her. One day, her 4-year-old granddaughter made it clear in the way only a child can. She didn’t like the odor of Grandma’s breath. Now we know this woman’s circumstances have changed, but thanks to the honesty of a child, do you think her objectives might have changed, too?

Times change, people change, and we need to be ready to see “new patients” among our patients of record. We need to talk to these people about how to attain optimum dental health. Visit with your staff about those invisible Red Hats. They’re out there - the woman who never showed much interest in your recommendation of orthodontics, or the man who thought his multicolored front teeth were fine. Never give up. No matter how long it takes, see patients with new eyes, and move with them to new levels of dental health.

Remember, your staff is likely to spot the Red Hats. Make it a fun assignment!

Dr. Yvonne Hanley practices dentistry in Fergus Falls, Minn. She has been on the visiting faculty of The Pankey Institute since 1989, and active in the Heartland Study Club (a Seattle study club) for 12 years. She is active in the Minnesota Dental Association, and leads a regional Pankey Institute Affiliated Learning Group that she organized in 2002. Reach her at (218) 739-3245.

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