08 March 2023

How to empower the elderly

10 min read

Empowerment for an older person means having the opportunity to learn, discuss, decide and act on decisions for themselves. Individual empowerment contributes to improving their sense of well-being and health, not only for the individual but also for their family, community and society. All older people have rights and those rights are not diminished by their age or cognitive ability.

What is empowerment for the elderly?

Many elderly people feel disempowered by their age, their life circumstances and their health problems — so having a loved one who helps them feel empowered can make a big difference. But not everyone knows how to empower elderly people, especially if you don’t know many of them or don’t spend much time with them. Here are seven ideas to help you empower your elderly loved ones, from senior clothing to exercise:

Prepare their home for ageing

Unfortunately, not everyone can age in the place where they would like to, most often, their own home. It can feel very empowering to age in your own home, however most homes are not designed for the elderly, but you can update the home to make it safer and more appropriate. Do a safety home audit to identify potential hazards and take steps to mitigate them. This may include adding a chair life, installing grab bars or renovating bathrooms to make it safer. For further advice on caring for your loved one at home, our blog here can help.

Support their self-dressing

Getting dressed can actually be a complicated task and one that involves a lot of mobility and dexterity, two things not every older adult still has. But there are many things you can do to make getting dressed and undressed easier. For instance, magnetic buttons, zippers and other closures are often difficult with arthritic hands. Adaptive clothing for men and women are designed with these limitations in mind and make it possible for older adults to dress themselves. Clothing that does up at the front, rather than the back, elasticated waist bands and slip on dresses make life much easier. If you look at our blog on the benefits of puzzles and brain games for the elderly, you will see how doing simple cognitive enhancing games increases concentration and memory function for the elderly, which is essential in a task like dressing oneself.

Making activities of daily living easier

Needing help with other general tasks is not uncommon, tasks such as feeding yourself, cooking, bathing etc. can all take a toll of a sense of empowerment if they are removed. However, there are a variety of utensils and aids to help. Shower chairs, cutlery with grips, plates with suction, the list is almost endless. Best of all, many of these items can be hired on a short term basis to see if they are appropriate for use before outlaying a greater expense. The best way to evaluate what is needed is to have a good chat with your loved one and find out where they are struggling, or to have an occupational therapist visit their home. If your loved one lives in an aged care residence, these assists can all be organised and will be encouraged.

Encourage socialisation

Many people withdraw as they age, which can compound isolation and loneliness they are already experiencing. Which is why it is so vital to encourage them to maintain an active social life with peers and other friends. Actively encouraging other family members to reach out and maintain connections with your loved ones, especially grandchildren is also important. Having an active social circle can provide your elderly loved ones with the emotional support they need to flourish. Organisations such as volunteering for Meals on Wheels, faith based activity groups, card clubs, wine clubs, gym classes, going online, swimming classes, arts and culture groups, volunteering for various charities, men sheds, etc. are all available to a range of age groups. Additionally, living in an aged care residence (formerly known as a nursing home) can also help to alleviate loneliness, by having regular activities and others to chat and interact with on a regular basis. Helping others is a fantastic way to stave off loneliness and isolation, which is why several homes at Estia Health often raise funds for charities.

Help them stay active mentally and physically

No matter how old you are, staying mentally and physically active is key to keeping your mind sharp and your body strong. If your loved one doesn’t already have an exercise routine, encourage them to start one full of workouts that they enjoy. They should also engage in mental exercises such as puzzles and games to help keep their brains in good shape alongside their bodies. These activities will help slow physical and cognitive decline and keep your loved one feeling good well into their twilight years.

Consider part-time help

In some cases, your loved one might not be able to take care of all their daily tasks on their own, but they also might not need enough help to warrant living an aged care residence. In these situations, your elderly loved one might benefit from part-time help, either in the form of a friend or a family member (such as yourself) or an aged care support worker that you hire. These helpers can assist with any daily activities your loved one is struggling with while still allowing them some measure of independence.

Don’t take care of everything for them

On that note, it can be tempting to swoop in and take care of everything for your ageing loved ones — even some tasks that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. Try to resist the temptation to smother them with help, as this can make them feel infantilized and incompetent. It’s really important for your loved one to maintain a sense of normalcy as long as possible. If they insist that they’re fine even when they’re not, that’s a separate conversation that you can have, but don’t jump the gun before they truly need the help.

Why is empowerment important to the elderly?

With individual empowerment contributing to improving the sense of well-being and health, not only for the individual but also for their family, community and society, Estia Health has certainly taken this approach with our residents. ‘Person centered care’ means you treat each person respectfully as an individual human being and not just a condition to be treated. It also involves working out what is important to the resident and offering accurate information on their care, treatment, risks, choices and benefits, self-management strategies, treatment and care options.

At Estia Health we take a person centered approach to aged care and involve our residents in a lot of the aspects of their care, giving them autonomy over many of the decisions that they are able to make. From the smallest of tasks like deciding when they want to get out of bed each day, to having a say in the meals they are cooked each week and the shows they would like to have visit their home just as a small example. We also use the term ‘resident’ instead of ‘patient’ or ‘client’ because this is the resident’s home and where they live. At Estia Health whilst we treat our residents like family, we do not wrap them in cotton wool, they make informed choices, experience opportunities that they request and are supported in their choices and independence.

Additionally, we choose words of empowerment, encourage connections and to maintain mobility and a sense of support within their networks both within the residence and outside. We celebrate milestones and continually value their contributions within the homes. Hobbies and interests are also actively encouraged to continue.