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Working with older people

What should I know about working respectfully with older people icon

What should I know about working respectfully with older people?

In Australia, as in other parts of the world, perceptions of ageing can be based on negative stereotypes that lead to older people feeling isolated and powerless. Some common misconceptions about ageing include the belief that older people are all the same, that they are unable to make decisions for themselves, that they are likely to suffer ill health and that they are a burden for their families and the wider community.

It is important for those of us working with older people to challenge these misconceptions and to promote the rights of older people to independence, dignity and respect, as well as the right to fair access to services and community resources. When working with older people we need to respect these rights while being aware of some of the more common difficulties older people may experience so that we can adapt our work to meet their needs.

The process of ageing can result in physical and sensory changes as well as bring an increased risk of conditions such as dementia, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. We need to be aware of how these issues may affect an older person’s access to and use of services and adapt our work to ensure that any barriers are addressed.

Older people have the right to privacy and confidentiality.

It is important to work in ways that respect the older person’s privacy and dignity. This includes talking to the person not their family members. Sometimes this means taking extra time and effort to ensure the person understands. If English is not the person’s first language it is important to use an interpreter.

Older people have the right to make their own decisions

The law says that we have the capacity to make our own decisions unless proven otherwise. This is called having ‘capacity’ or ‘competence’. A person’s capacity can be temporarily affected by stress, anxiety, medication, illness, infection or injury, and then regained after a temporary illness or stressful situation passes.

Lack of capacity is not necessarily an indicator of dementia. Decision making capacity is also decision specific which means it can vary depending on the issue being decided. For example, it may be difficult for a person to understand complex banking arrangements, but they may be quite capable of deciding things such as medical treatment or where they want to live.

Encourage older people to make their own decisions by:

  • Choosing a time when they are less tired, such as earlier in the day
  • Choosing a place where they can relax and feel comfortable and safe
  • Taking time to give them the information they need to make an informed decision – this may involve explaining things in plain English or in their own language through an interpreter
  • Asking them what they want and don’t tell them what to do
  • Listening to them and respecting their choices even if you don’t agree.

If it seems that an older person is not able to make a particular decision it may be necessary to arrange a formal assessment to determine their capacity. See ‘Supporting someone who may have decision making problems’ for more information.

Communicating with older people

Common age-related conditions that affect communication can include hearing difficulties and vision changes. When working with older people it is important to ensure that you can be heard and understood.

The following may help when communicating with an older person:

  • Ask the person how you can best communicate with them
  • Reduce background noise
  • Visit in person rather than speaking on the phone
  • Speak clearly and at a moderate pace
  • Avoid shouting
  • Use body language such as gestures
  • Take the time to ensure the person has heard and understood you
  • Ask them to repeat the information back to you so you can feel confident they have understood
  • Provide written information in large print if necessary and in the person’s own language where possible
  • Encourage the older person to obtain and use relevant aids, such as hearing aids
  • Consider purchasing a hearing amplifier for your organisation. For more information contact an Independent Living Centre

Research by Seniors Rights Victoria found the following practices had a positive impact for older people contacting the service:

  • Home visits
  • Warm referrals, meaning that the worker contacted services to introduce a client to avoid the client having to navigate unfamiliar systems and doesn’t have to tell their entire story twice.
  • Care coordination, assisting the client to navigate the service system.
What services may older people need and how can we get them icon

What services may older people need and how can we get them?

There are a range of services available to help older people maintain their safety, dignity and independence. These include help to stay living at home, such as help with housework, meals, personal care, transport and social activities. They also include help with nursing care, allied health such as physiotherapy or podiatry, home modifications and aids. Support and assistance for carers is also available.

Older people who need more help with day-to-day tasks or health care may find the best way to receive the help and support they need is by living in an aged care home, either on a permanent basis or for a short stay (called ‘residential respite’).

Many services require an older person to undergo an assessment before they can access their services. Some assessments are conducted by the organisation providing the service. The Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS) conduct holistic in-home assessments for older people to access community aged care packages and residential care. Waiting lists often apply after the assessment.

Find out more about aged care services at My Aged Care. The website provides up-to-date information about Australia’s aged care system and services. The National Contact Centre on 1800 200 422 provides prompt, reliable and confidential services, information in other languages and other formats for those with hearing difficulties or a vision impairment and help to find Government-funded aged care services.

My Aged Care can help you:

  • Learn more about aged care assessment eligibility and processes
  • Understand the type of care available, how to get it and costs
  • Find services in a local area
  • Get information about a range of health conditions and healthy living
  • Access information in other languages
What should I know about working respectfully with older men icon

What should I know about working respectfully with older men?

Abuse of older men tends to be a hidden problem, yet men make up a significant proportion of older people who are being abused. One in four callers to the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline is male and in our experience, older men can suffer the same level of intensity of elder abuse as older women.

Heath researchers have found that older men (and men generally) are less likely to seek help for their problems and only do so when things become critical. This is borne out by our experiences at Seniors Rights Victoria, where older men tend to contact us only as a last resort.

Traditional beliefs about masculinity cause this reluctance and delay in men talking about elder abuse. Older men have lived through a period in which masculinity is strongly associated with strength, independence and being a provider. This has often set a benchmark of the “real man”. As a result older men will strive to live up to this benchmark by maintaining their sense of masculinity and their autonomy. This can lead to older men thinking they need to continue to be self-reliant, strong, a provider for the family and able to resolve their own and others’ problems.

Because society continues to reinforce what it is to be a “real man”, older men might think that they have to resolve any forms of abuse, unassisted and unsupported. Yet ageing may result in older men not being able to maintain these benchmarks. This may inhibit them from talking about elder abuse as it implies an admission that they are no longer ‘real men’.

Education targeting older men and breaking down these ideas of masculinity can assist older men to be more open about issues of concern. This should include print campaigns and resources as well as forums which look at the issue of elder abuse within the context of improving health. Some men’s health initiatives in Australia have been successful in delivering forums attracting hard-to-reach men by including a well-known male identity who promotes the importance of talking about concerns early. This can provide a model for similar activities in elder abuse.

In Australia there is very little discussion of elder abuse of men in men’s health programs and men’s health policy. For there to be real change in addressing the invisibility of men as victims of elder abuse, there needs to be a demonstration at the policy and program level that older men matter.

Suggestions for how service providers may engage with older men:

  • Identify the needs of older men in the local community by talking with them directly and including them in any community consultations
  • Develop positive strategies and approaches to addressing elder abuse of men. This can be done by raising awareness of elder abuse through activities, campaigns and events, which are combined with positive outcomes (e.g. men’s health week.)
  • Create opportunities for men to socialise over tea/coffee in your service and combine this with talks on future planning for seniors
  • Review your own service to assess whether it’s inviting to older men. Are there positive images of older men in the service’s waiting areas, clinical rooms, meeting rooms and other areas?
  • Identify male staff members who will be the first point of contact for older men when they approach your service/agency
  • Think about outreaching some of your service or/agency’s activities and programs to where men get together such as men’s sheds, bowling clubs etc
  • Consider volunteer opportunities which can be specifically targeted at older men
  • Design and deliver activities and events that speak directly to older men and are held at times when they are most likely to attend.
What should I know about working respectfully with older women Icon

What should I know about working respectfully with older women?

Abuse of older men tends to be a hidden problem, yet men make up a significant proportion of older people who are being abused. One in four callers to the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline is male and in our experience, older men can suffer the same level of intensity of elder abuse as older women.

Heath researchers have found that older men (and men generally) are less likely to seek help for their problems and only do so when things become critical. This is borne out by our experiences at Seniors Rights Victoria, where older men tend to contact us only as a last resort.

Traditional beliefs about masculinity cause this reluctance and delay in men talking about elder abuse. Older men have lived through a period in which masculinity is strongly associated with strength, independence and being a provider. This has often set a benchmark of the “real man”. As a result older men will strive to live up to this benchmark by maintaining their sense of masculinity and their autonomy. This can lead to older men thinking they need to continue to be self-reliant, strong, a provider for the family and able to resolve their own and others’ problems.

Because society continues to reinforce what it is to be a “real man”, older men might think that they have to resolve any forms of abuse, unassisted and unsupported. Yet ageing may result in older men not being able to maintain these benchmarks. This may inhibit them from talking about elder abuse as it implies an admission that they are no longer ‘real men’.

Education targeting older men and breaking down these ideas of masculinity can assist older men to be more open about issues of concern. This should include print campaigns and resources as well as forums which look at the issue of elder abuse within the context of improving health. Some men’s health initiatives in Australia have been successful in delivering forums attracting hard-to-reach men by including a well-known male identity who promotes the importance of talking about concerns early. This can provide a model for similar activities in elder abuse.

In Australia there is very little discussion of elder abuse of men in men’s health programs and men’s health policy. For there to be real change in addressing the invisibility of men as victims of elder abuse, there needs to be a demonstration at the policy and program level that older men matter.

Suggestions for how service providers may engage with older men:

  • Identify the needs of older men in the local community by talking with them directly and including them in any community consultations
  • Develop positive strategies and approaches to addressing elder abuse of men. This can be done by raising awareness of elder abuse through activities, campaigns and events, which are combined with positive outcomes (e.g. men’s health week.)
  • Create opportunities for men to socialise over tea/coffee in your service and combine this with talks on future planning for seniors
  • Review your own service to assess whether it’s inviting to older men. Are there positive images of older men in the service’s waiting areas, clinical rooms, meeting rooms and other areas?
  • Identify male staff members who will be the first point of contact for older men when they approach your service/agency
  • Think about outreaching some of your service or/agency’s activities and programs to where men get together such as men’s sheds, bowling clubs etc
  • Consider volunteer opportunities which can be specifically targeted at older men
  • Design and deliver activities and events that speak directly to older men and are held at times when they are most likely to attend.
What should I know about working respectfully with older gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) people Icon

What should I know about working respectfully with older GLBTI people?

Abuse of older men tends to be a hidden problem, yet men make up a significant proportion of older people who are being abused. One in four callers to the Seniors Rights Victoria Helpline is male and in our experience, older men can suffer the same level of intensity of elder abuse as older women.

Heath researchers have found that older men (and men generally) are less likely to seek help for their problems and only do so when things become critical. This is borne out by our experiences at Seniors Rights Victoria, where older men tend to contact us only as a last resort.

Traditional beliefs about masculinity cause this reluctance and delay in men talking about elder abuse. Older men have lived through a period in which masculinity is strongly associated with strength, independence and being a provider. This has often set a benchmark of the “real man”. As a result older men will strive to live up to this benchmark by maintaining their sense of masculinity and their autonomy. This can lead to older men thinking they need to continue to be self-reliant, strong, a provider for the family and able to resolve their own and others’ problems.

Because society continues to reinforce what it is to be a “real man”, older men might think that they have to resolve any forms of abuse, unassisted and unsupported. Yet ageing may result in older men not being able to maintain these benchmarks. This may inhibit them from talking about elder abuse as it implies an admission that they are no longer ‘real men’.

Education targeting older men and breaking down these ideas of masculinity can assist older men to be more open about issues of concern. This should include print campaigns and resources as well as forums which look at the issue of elder abuse within the context of improving health. Some men’s health initiatives in Australia have been successful in delivering forums attracting hard-to-reach men by including a well-known male identity who promotes the importance of talking about concerns early. This can provide a model for similar activities in elder abuse.

In Australia there is very little discussion of elder abuse of men in men’s health programs and men’s health policy. For there to be real change in addressing the invisibility of men as victims of elder abuse, there needs to be a demonstration at the policy and program level that older men matter.

Suggestions for how service providers may engage with older men:

  • Identify the needs of older men in the local community by talking with them directly and including them in any community consultations
  • Develop positive strategies and approaches to addressing elder abuse of men. This can be done by raising awareness of elder abuse through activities, campaigns and events, which are combined with positive outcomes (e.g. men’s health week.)
  • Create opportunities for men to socialise over tea/coffee in your service and combine this with talks on future planning for seniors
  • Review your own service to assess whether it’s inviting to older men. Are there positive images of older men in the service’s waiting areas, clinical rooms, meeting rooms and other areas?
  • Identify male staff members who will be the first point of contact for older men when they approach your service/agency
  • Think about outreaching some of your service or/agency’s activities and programs to where men get together such as men’s sheds, bowling clubs etc
  • Consider volunteer opportunities which can be specifically targeted at older men
  • Design and deliver activities and events that speak directly to older men and are held at times when they are most likely to attend.
Call
If you, or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, help is available through our confidential helpline on 1300 368 821. If it is an emergency, call 000.
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