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Jul 20, 2022

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.

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 it's absolutely crucial to empower older people in our lives so they can maintain their quality of life.

Here are 6 ways you can support them to maintain a sense of power and keep living life on their terms.

Reframe ageing

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.

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.

Find easier ways to do things

Whenever possible, look for ways to make tasks and activities simpler and easier. Find practical solutions to empower older people to help them stay active. Reflective tape, grab bars and other assistive tools and devices in the home can be helpful for older people with mobility issues.

As someone ages, things can become more difficult, but instead of immediately cancelling an activity, be creative and seek to make modifications. For example, maybe playing bowls is no longer physically possible, but heading along to the bowls club for the social aspect is still worthwhile. Or if driving isn’t an option, what about carpooling or taking the bus? Things like losing your mobility or driver’s licence can be very disheartening, but you can help inspire the older person in your life to find creative solutions to keep living an active and engaging life. Maintaining fulfilling activities also bolster their confidence levels and seeds feelings of independence that might have slipped away with age.

And if they do need help, see what small modifications you can make to improve their daily life and empower them to remain independent. Regular in-home care can make a huge difference. Receiving assistance with daily tasks or home maintenance which allows someone to stay in their home longer can help them feel in control.

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.

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.

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 in-home care, 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.

IRT Aged Care Services

At IRT, we’ve been empowering older Australians to live their best lives for more than 50 years. We offer aged care centres and home care services in various locations across NSW, Qld and the ACT. As community providers with experienced and caring staff, you or your loved one will receive professional and compassionate care you can trust.

Find out more

How to stay empowered as you age

While ageing is a normal and natural part of life, sometimes you may fear losing control over parts of their life, whether it’s your physical body or your autonomy to live in your own home. In fact, an American survey in 2014 found that 87% of Americans have at least one fear when they think about getting older and 23% feared losing mobility. There are many things you can do though to maintain a sense of power and keep living life on your terms.

Reframe getting older

One of the key ways to feel empowered is to reframe the way we feel about our own ageing.

Ageing is not a negative thing simply because Western culture tells us it is. It can actually be a beautiful time of slowing down, going more inward and letting go of the things that don't matter. Instead of seeing everything you can’t do, try seeing how much wisdom and insight you have.

Try to see the beauty in slowing down in your later years and honour the gifts that come with age and experience. Embrace this evolving older version of yourself, celebrate birthdays and try to value your contribution to society.

Stay involved in decision-making

Making choices about your life is a basic human right, and you deserve to enjoy the same life choices as everybody else. Remember to engage with well-meaning family members and professionals kindly and remind them of your right to decide.

Naturally, as you age, some decisions may become more difficult and require some assistance, but you should always be included in the decision-making process. Whether it’s something big like making changes to your living situation or something small like choosing social activities, you should be consulted. Regardless of what stage of life you are in, you 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 it’s normal to feel concerned about losing your independence as you age. Staying involved in the decision-making process will help you feel more in control.

Set boundaries

One of the most empowering things you can do for yourself, at any age, is to set boundaries around your needs and desires. Boundaries are personal parameters or limits for what we need to feel safe physically, emotionally and mentally. As an older person, it becomes even more important as others may easily (and often unintentionally) step on our boundaries. For example, a medical professional might refer to you as “sweetie” in an attempt to be kind or nurturing, but perhaps it feels patronising or makes you feel uncomfortable. Setting a boundary and politely declining being addressed in this way can help you feel empowered and maintain a sense of sovereignty.

Keep a routine

Add some structure to your day and create a routine, even if it’s just scheduling meal times and gentle exercise, can make you feel more in control of your day (and your life). It can also help reduce uncertainty and give you some anchor points throughout the day so you know what’s coming next.

Set goals

Setting goals and achieving them is hugely empowering and a big confidence boost. Have a think about what you would like to achieve, whether it’s winning a game of lawn bowls or learning to cook a curry. You can get a satisfying sense of achievement in small ways too, even just from doing the washing! Perhaps you want to challenge yourself to read a certain number of books each week or learn to sing a new song. Whatever your goals, just make sure they are specific, meaningful and achievable so you can enjoy the sense of empowerment that comes from ticking them off your list.

Stay active

The more you can keep doing what you enjoy, the better you are likely to feel. Whenever possible, look for ways to make tasks and activities simpler and easier. Find practical solutions so that you can stay active. Reflective tape, grab bars and other assistive tools and devices in the home can be helpful if you have mobility issues.

As we age, things can become more difficult, but instead of immediately cancelling an activity, be creative and seek to make modifications. For example, maybe playing bowls is no longer physically possible, but heading along to the bowls club for the social aspect is still worthwhile. Or if driving isn’t an option, what about carpooling or taking the bus? You can find creative solutions to keep living an active and engaging life. Maintaining fulfilling activities also bolster your confidence levels and seeds feelings of independence.

Seek support

If you need help doing things, see what small modifications you can make to improve your daily life and remain independent. Regular in-home care can make a huge difference. Receiving assistance with daily tasks or home maintenance which allows you to stay in their home longer can actually help you feel in control. You can even use in-home care services to get assistance with maintaining hobbies and interests, such as going to the movies. It’s much more empowering to keep doing things with some level of assistance than to give things you love up entirely.

IRT Home Care

Find out more about IRT Home Care and how we can assist you or your loved one to keep living independently at home. IRT has been providing home care services for more than 30 years, offering support to older Australians in NSW, Qld and the ACT.

Find out more

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