Aging with dignity and independence

Aging can come with a range of challenges and opportunities. This article outlines how older adults can be encouraged to maintain their independence during their old age. With quality support and plenty of chances to make their own decisions, older adults can feel they are navigating their journey of aging with dignity and independence.

Challenges associated with aging

Some people experience challenges associated with aging and describe the experience as a loss of dignity and independence.

These challenges may be practical, like mobility issues, increased falls or difficulty managing the tasks of day to day life. Challenges may also be emotional, such as the sadness that some people feel when they are no longer able to do the things they used to. Social challenges, such as a loss of friendships and peer networks as well as fewer opportunities for community interactions, can also be problematic.

Friends, family members and support services can provide older adults with both emotional and practical support during later life. Every older person is unique, and will have their own opinions about and hopes for their life. The best way to help ensure a loved one is aging with dignity is to be there for the aging person and let them know that they are not alone.

My Aged Care standards and objectives

The My Aged Care scheme is a federal government initiative that provides help at home, short term elderly care and nursing home access for older people. Services are designed to promote independence and focus on collaborative health, social and domestic care.

Eligibility for My Aged Care is based on many factors, such as overall health, age, and availability of support from caregivers.

The My Aged Care website outlines how participants “have the right to receive safe, high quality care and services and to always be treated with dignity and respect. Good quality care requires respect, honest communication, and teamwork from everyone involved.”

The Charter of Aged Care Rights sets out the 14 rights that protect people receiving aged care. Anyone receiving aged care services has the same rights to quality, regardless the type of care they receive.

Emotional support for navigating aging

There are many ways you can provide emotional support to older adults through their ageing journey. Some tips for providing emotional support to an older adult include:

  • practicing active listening – this means taking the time to hear what an older individual is saying and asking them questions which help them explore how they are feeling

  • being patient- this means allowing time for conversations, not hurrying them along and not scolding them if they repeat themselves or become confused

  • showing empathy- by demonstrating that you understand what they are saying and by validating their feelings

  • offering practical support- when a person faces challenges associated with ageing, they may really appreciate assistance with the practical tasks that have become difficult

The importance of maintaining dignity in care settings

Dignity through care promotes an older person’s feelings of self worth and values. Dignity is one of our human rights – we all have the right to a dignified life regardless of age, gender, background or social status.

When elderly patients feel valued, recognised, visible and appreciated they are more likely to describe a sense of autonomy and self respect. Patients who can maintain their independence are happier and have greater levels of well being overall.

Older adults sense of dignity can be maintained by being:

  • communicated with in a respectful and compassionate way

  • involved in decisions that impact their own lives

  • encouraged to focus on what they can do, rather than limitations

  • able to access specialised services in relation to their language, culture, beliefs and sexuality

  • kept informed about their service delivery, care plan and any changes

  • invited to review and provide feedback about the services they receive

  • able to involve an advocate to help them make decisions and describe their wishes

  • able to make a complaint without fear

Social support for older adults

Ensuring that an older person has good access to a range of social supports and opportunities is another way you can help them age with dignity. Maintaining social and community connections is extremely important for older people and positive relationships contribute to a person’s overall wellbeing.

One study called The meaning of dignity for older adults: A meta-synthesis was published in Nursing Ethics. It provided a research review of other studies into the lives of older people and their perceptions about dignity. The research found that being socially invisible is a genuine threat to older adults’ dignity. Older patients in the study associated dignity with having both quality relationships with nursing staff and access to a healthy social network.

How to help and older adult maintain social connections

You can help an older adult in long term care maintain connections by:

  • regularly visiting them, and spending quality time talking or enjoying activities. Ideas for visits including playing card games, eating out or taking a drive or a walk through a scenic area.

  • helping them access local groups and clubs. Many older people enjoy attending seniors clubs, while community volunteering may be an option for other older people as well.

  • offering to help with transport. Older people who have stopped driving may really appreciate being driven to health care appointments, events or activities.

  • supporting them to use technology. With a bit of help many older adults enjoy using technology like Skype or Zoom for video calls to stay in touch with families and friends.

Mobility and home modifications for older adults

Falls become a greater risk to older adults, and unfortunately falls can seriously impact a person’s capabilities and independence. A serious fall can cause long term injury and lead to a significant and permanent reduction in mobility.

Considering falls prevention planning is another way your loved one can help ensure their independence. Falls prevention planning can include:

  • an assessment of age related falls risks and trip hazards at home

  • reduction of falls risks in the home environment through improvements to the physical environment

  • the installation of home safety modifications like grab rails

  • the use of mobility aids such as walkers, walking sticks, scooters, wheelchairs or gophers

Driver safety for older adults

Driving is one way in many people preserve dignity and independence. However, older people often need to make a decision to cease driving. This can be one of the most challenging experiences for older persons, who often describe feeling stuck or limited when they can no longer drive.

Research has found the importance of involving older people in the decision to cease driving. When proper supports are put in places, such as referral to local transport services or applying for taxi subsidies, the loss of a license doesn’t have to be a negative. In fact, in some cases, giving up driving can have a positive effect. Older people may benefit from accessing transport and social support services and feel more confident and connected that before.

Maintaining independence in nursing homes

When older persons move into a nursing care facility, they may notice quite a change from their life at home. Patients’ lives may feel comprised or overly influenced, or they may report that have lost some dignity and independence. Most commonly, older people may find challenges with:

  • the food that is served

  • scheduling and the timing for waking up and going to bed

  • more frequent visits from nurses and healthcare staff

  • getting to know other residents

Although it can take time to adjust, moving to a nursing home can actually improve the lives of older people. Many care facilities provide outstanding physical care, community connections and an inclusive environment.

How aged care staff can promote independence

Caregivers play a part in helping aging with dignity and independence and support workers must ensure they respect the wishes of their clients and patients. This means respecting older people and where possible, encouraging them to carry out activities they still feel confident with.

In some cases, this involves supervising certain activities like personal care, cooking or domestic duties, rather than doing everything for the older person.

These decisions need to be discussed and negotiated with caregivers in a respectful way. It means that the individual can be independent while ensuring they are safe and not at increased risk. Efforts to create self determination and independence should be encouraged and respected.

How nurses can ensure they are maintaining dignity and independence

Nurses must ensure they respect the privacy of aging patients. This can be done by:

  • ensuring privacy curtains and room dividers are used

  • being responsive to a patient’s request for decency or modesty

  • thoughtful placement of surveillance technologies

  • carrying out conversations in private rather then shared or public spaces

  • seeking permission before discussing medical matters with a loved one or family member

Dignity in care for people with dementia

Older adults with dementia often require specialised care and support. As the condition develops, people with dementia may undergo changes in their usual behaviours. They may become anxious, restless, aggressive or agitated. Special supports may need to be put in place to ensure the person with dementia can experience aging with dignity.

To ensure dignity and care of a person with dementia, it is important to ensure that they:

  • connect with the right healthcare professionals and support agencies

  • continue to manage any daily activities they can carry out, such as showering or dressing

  • are supported with other tasks that have become too difficult, such as household tasks, shopping, and preparing meals,

  • have help with managing finances and organising financial support

  • have assistance with appointments, health care and taking medicines, if required

  • have continued opportunities to participate in hobbies and interests that support health and well being

  • stay socially connected to their families and friends and involved in their community

  • have access to physical activity and exercise

The National Dementia Helpline is an excellent resource and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and on every day of the year.

Well being in healthcare settings and nursing homes

Establishing a caring environment in long term care facilities can promote trust and provide feelings of control for aging residents.

Many providers offer opportunities for community engagement, and for clients and residents to provide feedback and ideas. Older people can be involved in service delivery planning by:

  • discussing their experiences with nurses and other health care staff

  • completing annual interview study service reviews, research or assessment

  • joining focus groups or panels

  • contributing to education sessions for students, on the topic of independence and aging with dignity

Involving a loved one in care planning and service delivery can help an older person:

  • understand their choices and responsibilities

  • feel supported through decision making

  • ask for additional help or information

  • raise concerns or complaints

  • establish the key issues that need to be addressed

  • have a sense of safety and feel secure in their environment

  • maintain independence wherever possible for as long as possible

Involving family members in aged care

Many older adults appreciate the opportunity to involve their families or a loved one in their care planning and care delivery. They may place great importance on the perspectives and opinions of their closely related family members.

However, it is important that the older adult is not pushed into decisions they are not comfortable with.

Nursed Care for aged care services

Nursed Care is a quality community services provider in New South Wales. We support the older population, people with disabilities and mental health patients to participate in community life.

We work to ensure our clients are aging with dignity and independence. Our staff work within a culture of respect. We are passionate about helping older people hold onto their self respect and autonomy through the compassionate care delivery.

Our services for older people include:

  • domestic assistance and home care

  • personal care

  • social support and community participation

  • home maintenance

  • transport assistance

  • carer respite

  • medical treatments during illness or for injury

Contact Nursed Care to learn more about our high quality care, health, community and home services for older adults.

Related questions

A great deal of research about aging with dignity and independence has recently been undertaken.

The following points are provided in education and summary of some of the most relevant recent research.

  • The increasing use of technology in aged and health care settings may create opportunity for enhancements to a person’s sense of dignity, but, care should be taken to ensure technology does not violate aging with dignity.

  • More research is needed into the impact and importance of culture, gender, sexuality, illness and disability on a person’s experience of aging with dignity. Focus groups with diverse participants may improve our understanding about identity, aged and dignity.

  • Dignity in nursing care is a complex issue. How nurses perceive dignity in patient care may be influenced by the organisational context and culture in which they work.

  • The United Nations (UN) have determined 2021-2023 to be the Decade of Healthy Aging. Health promotion strategies to enable human rights and improve the lives of older people are being implemented all over the world.

  • A qualitative study called Maintaining the dignity and autonomy of older people in the healthcare setting found that many nurses and healthcare professionals hold stereotypical and negative attitudes towards older people in their care. Tackling these negative attitudes through exposure and education can help to preserve a patients’ dignity and autonomy.

Good mental attitude is an important part of aging with dignity and independence. Our recent blog outlines Mental Health Support in Aged Care.

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