Dignity counts when caring for older people

February 3, 2012

Older people feel that their health problems pose a challenge to their sense of independence, dignity and identity and sometimes the health care they are given makes things worse.

According to research funded by UK Research Councils' New Dynamics of Ageing programme (NDA), must avoid taking a 'blanket view' of how to help older people cope with the .

The study carried out by Dr Liz Lloyd and her colleagues found that people were often surprised by the impact that and growing old had on their lives. Their sense of 'self' was affected by the limitations imposed by their age and illnesses. "Growing old and coming to terms with illnesses is complex and demanding at times - physically, mentally and emotionally," Dr Lloyd said. "When health goes, it can come as quite a shock."

The research shows that older people work hard at maintaining their health and independence, while coming to terms with becoming dependent on others. The participants' views show how, with the struggle to maintain day-to-day activities, their dignity can quickly and easily be lost. One participant, Mary, told researchers: "Inside I feel as though I ought to be able to do things. But I'm not and it's hard to accept."

While some were positive about making changes, others found it harder to adjust their day-to-day routines. All made great efforts to find new activities or adapt old ones. For example several learnt to use computers and others took art classes at day centres. All tried to maintain their health in a variety of ways.

Dr Lloyd believes the research shows there are significant differences in the way that people define dignity and independence, and that these are influenced by their relationships, abilities and . She states, "You can't impose a blanket view of what dignified care is. Of course, there are certain standards that should apply in all circumstances but enhancing dignity needs a lot more than guaranteeing minimum standards."

"In old age when your fails, it affects your sense of self. Understanding that from an older person's perspective is crucially important. Care and support can enhance dignity or it can worsen the loss of it if not given in the right way. Good support is essential in terms of how people make the adjustments they need to make."

Dr Lloyd highlights that the relationship between dignity, identity and independence is complex. "Loss of independence involves a change in your identity and is a challenge to your dignity," she states. "It is through the support of others that individuals are able to rebuild their sense of identity in their changed circumstances."

Support and care need to be responsive to what people are going through and to see things from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of care. " are going through enormous changes and the people who are helping them need to be aware of these."

Explore further: Spousal death key link to loss of independent living for seniors

Related Stories

Spousal death key link to loss of independent living for seniors

October 24, 2011
The death of a spouse is always a tragedy, but for seniors, that tragedy can spur some significant life changes. And one University of Alberta researcher says the choices they make are something policymakers need to pay attention ...

Refugee trauma worse than war trauma

November 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress)—The trauma of being a refugee can be worse than the trauma of war, according to a new Victoria University study.

Under 16s make up less than one percent of NHS patient surveys

September 20, 2011
Children under 16 make up less than 1% of participants in national NHS patient surveys, finds research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.