How do we relate to “old age” and aged care?

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Felicity Chapman, author of Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care,  is an accredited mental health social worker who has extensive training and experience in psychotherapy and specialises in work with seniors both in the community and facility settings. Here, she talks about the importance of senior-friendly practices and redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care.

We know about our ageing population. We know that, soon, it won’t be a skateboarding teenager that we’ll have to look out for while taking a stroll outside but a speeding mobility scooter – but what about our relationship with “old age” and all those who represent it?

Is it a passionate love affair or something we just do? Or maybe it is something that we can’t even fudge an interest in. Too “urgh” to even think about. If that’s you – I hear ya’. What’s a person to do when all that is blaring in their ears is to “fight the signs of ageing”? Beat that “old age” monster back (only with a certain product of course).

And what about our throw-away society? Much as we might not want to replace and dispose, many of us have little choice. Your eight-year-old washing machine stops working. What to do? Shell out a lot of money to try and fix it or spend not much more on a brand new one? Yep, planned obsolesce is certainly in-built in our life.

You see, even if we have the best of intentions, “old” can become synonymous with “urgh” or “obsolete”. What does this mean for how we view other things when they are old? People when they are old?

I’m not wanting you to hug every grandma you meet or guilt you in to acts of service for older adult populations. I am just appreciating the social milieu that surrounds our Western world when it comes to how we view this thing called “old age” and how much we value, or not, our elders.

My question to you is this – is it time to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care?

It seems like a good time to me. We know the clock is ticking and our cohort of seniors is growing day by day, and living longer. I don’t like being affected by dire warnings of a “grey tsunami” but I do think that now is the time to see our ageing population as an opportunity to celebrate age and all those who represent “old age”.

So, what does it mean to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care or older adults?

I’m sure Justin Timberlake did not have older adults in mind when he sung “I’m bringing sexy back…” Sexy is often everything that aged care is not. But by using the word “sexy” I am not referring to the high octane experience of being intimate with someone. Who knows though, older adults may well want to talk about such things! How senior friendly to encourage this?

What I mean when I talk about “bringing sexy back” is bringing a sense of spice or pizzazz associated with respect back to our Western society that appears to have lost its way in valuing seniors. I am a social worker before I am a psychotherapist. It seems perfectly natural to me to examine systems at all levels and not accept the status quo if it is at odds with a senior-friendly practice.

Nothing, I believe, should be exempt. From community attitudes, to what governments will fund, to social policy, our learning institutions, organisational mandates and the field of geropsychology – all should be fodder for our discerning eye as we look through the lens of valuing seniors. Bringing sexy back for me means to ensure that, as a society, we are senior friendly and celebrate age in all that we do.

This is not limited to healthy ageing campaigns or practices, as good as they are. As a social worker and a gerontological psychotherapist I am interested in models that extend the good that already exists and challenges what has not yet been challenged. From the way that older adults are engaged with psychotherapeutically through to how our governments and industry prioritise senior health and emotional wellbeing. All systems need to be scrutinized for how senior friendly they are.

For the sake of the current group of advanced seniors – and all of those who will surely follow – it is in humanity’s best interest to develop senior-friendly practices and be excited about the opportunities that await us when we turn our personal and professional energies toward redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care. In the field of psychology, experts are lamenting a lack of interest in aged care, worldwide.

I hope that my book Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care: A Support Guide can go some way toward exciting and equipping workers – not just psychologists – who are either thinking of “dipping their toe in” to the aged care sector or who are fully immersed already. I also hope that it offers new horizons of thought in how we, as a society, relate to this thing called “old age” and aged care. Whether you are in to aged care or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that everyone on this planet deserves respect and dignity – especially when we are at our most vulnerable.

And if you think that psychotherapeutic work with older adults or aged care is staid and boring. Think again! What a rich mix of things to navigate. It’s seriously interesting!
It is – I think – a little bit sexy.

6 Top tips on how to facilitate good interaction with older adults

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Robin Dynes, author of ‘Positive Communication: Activities to reduce isolation and improve the wellbeing of older adults’ provides some tips you can use to help facilitate good interaction with older adults and create a friendly environment

 

  1. Take any health and cultural issues into account

Age related health problems such as the onset of dementia, hearing loss, speech problems and the effects of medications can complicate understanding and the ability to communicate. Be aware of any difficulties individuals may have and take these into account. Make adjustments to any activities to allow for different mental and physical abilities. Even in today’s enlightened age many older adults, and, indeed, young people, have difficulty reading and writing. Find out all you can about the person you are supporting and adjust your communication methods to suit. This includes learning about their cultural background and what is or is not acceptable to them when communicating. For example, in some cultures it is disrespectful for younger people to make direct eye contact with an older person. In this instance it may be prudent to sit slightly to one side, keeping your eyes lowered but so the person can see your expressions, rather than facing the older person when talking.

Continue reading

The importance of positive communication for older adults

positive-communication-older-adultsRobin Dynes, author ofPositive Communication: Activities to reduce isolation and improve the wellbeing of older adultsexplains the reasoning behind his book.

We belong to an ageing society. The National Institute on Ageing informs us that in 2010, an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older – 8% of the world’s population.  By 2050, this is expected to increase to 16% – 1.5 billion. A massive challenge for all health, social and care service staff to meet their needs.

As people grow older confidence and self-esteem may be eroded by hearing or sight loss. They are often affected by illness or physical inability to get about and consequently become isolated and lonely. Changes to personal relationships destroy habitual communication patterns and links. Social expectations, shaped by peers and the events and experiences of their time, are out of tune with modern attitudes and the support services are provided by younger people with a different outlook on life. A youth orientated society often makes them feel unimportant, inadequate, isolated and obsolete. Feelings with which I am very familiar, having worked in health, social and care services for over 35 years and as I, and many of my friends, grow older.

It is a fact that older adults who maintain their communication skills and continue to interact socially maintain a more positive view about themselves and are more adept at facing these challenges. They are more able to cope with changes, communicate their feelings, express opinions and wishes and continue to contribute to the society in which they live. They are more likely to retain good physical and emotional wellbeing and maintain a sense of control and achievement in the modern world. Enabling this to happen is essential work in an ageing population.

It is vital that staff within residential homes, drop-in or day centres, hospices, clubs for the elderly, hospitals, nursing homes or support situations, at home with carers help them retain their abilities and wellbeing. We, as activity organisers, group leaders and care workers, are at the forefront of this task. The aim of the book is to provide activities that are easy to use and enables group leaders to achieve this goal.

There are activities to help older adults:

  • Interact and connect with others
  • Retain a positive view of themselves
  • Communicate their feelings , needs, opinions and wishes for the future
  • Talk about and cope with difficult situations
  • Maintain a sense of self control and achievement
  • Meet emotional and spiritual needs
  • Maintain relationships with others
  • Improve their self-esteem and well-being

I hope this book will provide you with an essential tool to aid you to make an impact on the lives, health and wellbeing of the people you support. It is a challenging, enjoyable and rewarding task.

Click here to see an example of some activities included in the book.

Robin Dynes is a counsellor and freelance writer who has worked as a Social Inclusion Officer for Skills and Learning. Robin developed an outreach curriculum to meet the needs of people with disabilities, older people and other vulnerable people.

 

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Ageing and Spirituality: What does it mean to grow old in the twenty-first century? by Elizabeth MacKinlay

ageing spirituality 21 century“Many of us have the potential to live out their later years with hope, resilience and growing into fullness of life, coming to new realisations of what it means to grow old in the twenty-first century.”

Elizabeth MacKinlay is a registered nurse, an Anglican priest and Professor in the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University. Here she discusses changes in the field of ageing and spirituality since the first edition of her book ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Ageing‘ was published in 2001. The updated second edition of this seminal text was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in February 2017.

The first edition of my book The Spiritual Dimension of Ageing was published in 2001 and since then we have continued to learn so much more about ageing and spirituality. What really started my interest in this field, both as nurse and priest, was the question of why, given the same medical diagnosis, two different patients could have very different outcomes, even with the same medical treatment. There seemed to be ‘something more’ that we needed to understand.
This continuing search has led to a number of studies since then and much listening to older people. The crucial factor in the different outcomes for those living with the same diagnosis often seemed to come back to matters of meaning and hope, which for me are strongly linked to the spiritual dimension, to the very depths of our being.

When I was researching for and writing the first edition of this book I was really seeing ageing from the outside. I was listening intently to the stories of people who were growing older, wanting to know what the actual experience was like. I was particularly interested in knowing how people saw meaning in life and the way they lived out spirituality in these later years.  Continue reading

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