6 ways to empower older adults
If you have an older person in your life, one of the most caring things you can do is help them feel empowered as they age.
Here are 6 ways you can support them to maintain a sense of power and keep living life on their terms:
1. Reframe Ageing
In many cultures, older people are revered and they are the key decision makers, such as with Indigenous Australian elders. Sadly, this is not the typical Western view, and so tackling ageism starts with reframing the way we all look at and think about growing older.
Unfortunately we live in a culture that doesn’t always recognise or value the contribution of older people. We can tend to ridicule, rather than celebrate, getting older, and we may even discount older people’s abilities, let alone acknowledge their contribution to society. One of the key ways to empower older people is to reduce ageism, which is defined as discrimination against older people due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes.
Instead of seeing everything an older person can’t do, try seeing how much wisdom and insight they have. Try to see the beauty in slowing down in your later years and honour the gifts that come with age and experience. In doing so, the older people in your life might just change their perspective too.
2. Include, include, include
Allowing people to make choices about their life is a basic human right, and it’s something that is often denied by well-meaning family members and professionals under the guise of protection. But if we want to be empowering, we must ensure that older people continue to enjoy the same life choices as everybody else and avoid lumping them into a homogenous group simply due to age.
No one wants to feel their life is not within their control, which is no less true for older people. Include them in decision making, whether it’s something big like making changes to their living situation or something small like choosing social activities. Regardless of where someone is at in their life, they still need and deserve choice, even if it’s just deciding what to wear or eat.
And if it is a bigger decision, keep in mind that older adults who need help are often concerned about losing their independence. Involving them in the decision-making process and starting slowly with small changes will help them feel more empowered.
4. Choose empowering words
If you want to empower older Australians, don’t refer to them as the elderly! Avoid disempowering language that tends to stoke stereotypes, like “the elderly” or “aging dependents” and similar terms that foster an “us and them” mentality. Instead use inclusive language like “older people” or “older Australians” and inclusive “we” and “us” terms.
And when engaging in conversation, be mindful of the way you speak to and address an older person. In an attempt to be kind or nurturing, some of us fall into the trap of speaking to a grown adult in their later years as though they are a small child, which is incredibly disempowering (not to mention downright annoying!). If you’re going to use words such as “sweetie” or “honey”, at least have the humility to check in that it is OK. Remember that giving choice, no matter how large or small, is key.
5. Connection is key
Loneliness is an issue for many people but older people are particularly at risk as they lose their mobility and their support network when peers pass away. To feel socially connected and maintain a sense of wellbeing, it’s crucial that older people have community and support. One way to do this is to move from an isolated home into an independent villa in a retirement village where there is a close-knit community. It’s common to fear that moving out of your home means a loss of control, but being involved in regular activities and social events and maintaining a sense of connection with others is hugely empowering.
6. Explore options for aged care services
If an older person in your life needs some assistance, there are in-home services, plus other options and resources to consider depending on the level of care needed:
- IRT offers home care services, offering support with everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, or even with maintaining hobbies such as fishing
- Aged care centres for when your loved one can no longer live at home independently, even with additional support and care.
- The My Aged Care website of the Australian Government provides lots of information and resources to help inform your loved one’s aged care journey.