The Big Shift towards Dignity

The Big Shift towards Dignity

The right to take risks when engaging in life experiences means that the excitement of those life experiences is not extinguished.  This applies to all adults. Even older adults.  There’s not a magic, cut-off age date for losing lifestyle just because an individual shifts into a “senior” phase of life. It’s not as if they’ve passed some sort of use-by date and need the mothball treatment.

In some cases, the right to take risks does end up diminishing with age. It may not be a case of ageism playing out. We all want to protect our seniors don’t we? They are more frail perhaps than they used to be. They may have more health issues than ever.  We feel we must carry out our duty of care. But even if we are all agog with our notions of duty of care no matter what, we could still be causing harm to that older person.  Harm to emotional wellbeing, that is.

For instance, how can a retired, ageing dairy farmer be told that that he’s over his farming lifestyle? His family want to ensure his safety. They argue that now he’s in his “twilight years” he might fall in the milking shed. He would reply that he worked the milking shed all his life; he hasn’t slipped yet. The plain truth is that he lived a lifetime of this experience. When he last checked, he was still a human being with an identity that very much involved the farm.

At MACS, we strive to support our consumers’ choices in both residential and home services. We support the consumers as human beings who have the right to make their own choices. Even though others feel these decisions are simply unsafe or unwise. Our consumers also have the right to have a different tolerance for the risks associated with their decisions. When others, including our care team at MACS, are involved in decision-making with a consumer, the consumer’s aspirations and wellbeing take the lead in their lifestyle choices.

At MACS, then, we aim to respect individual basic rights and freedoms. What  would you expect from an organisation like MACS that has Diversity, Dignity & Integrity as its values? And this has gone on for decades.

We take the view that adults are assumed to have capacity unless this is appropriately deemed otherwise. It’s not a case of care staff knowing best.

MACS resident Janelle grabbed the opportunity to ride a horse recently.

The new government standards now steer aged care provision far away from a helicoptering approach. We have all heard about “helicopter” parents, also known as cosseting parents.  Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they “hover overhead”, overseeing every aspect of their child’s life constantly. Overbearing attention is paid to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems in a high sensing of endangerment or failure. It’s the old mothball treatment in action, no matter how good intentions may be.

Helicoptering older consumers comes at a price. Even if overstepping their boundaries isn’t always straightforward. The older person could feel disrespected offended, discouraged by their own lack of control and independence. 

Howard Gleckman reminds us of the number of different cultural views that promote the respecting of elders. Hindus are to “serve” their parents, especially in old age; Buddhist children are to respect ageing parents, including listening to their advice.

Then there’s The Huffington Post which astutely states that ageing isn’t just a biological process, it’s also very much a cultural one. First Nation American elders pass down their knowledge. In Korea, elders are highly respected. In India, elders are the head of the family; even in ancient Rome, elders were a precious resource.

Here in Australia, we are aware that in Australian indigenous and aboriginal culture, respect for elderly family members is instilled in children from a young age. As a result, those children and grandparents often form strong bonds.

So the jury’s in on that hackneyed view that older people become children as they age. No they haven’t.  Respect and honouring the choices older consumers make is where it’s at now.  Even if it’s a goal of sky-diving, scaling Annapurna, or checking out the milk shed. Having the goal in the first place is only the beginning.

If we find ourselves helicoptering older individuals, then perhaps it’s high time we make a landing on the dignity planet. That would keep us on course. And keep us in alignment with the new paradigms of expected care outcomes reflected in the new aged care standards.

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