We must work harder for our loved ones

As Americans, we have many rights not afforded to others in this world. Yet, we’d be foolish to think that every American has access to all the freedoms that many of us take for granted. Our elderly loved ones are no exception—and in fact, it’s possible that they may experience a loss of freedoms and certainly their sense of independence, as they age.

How can we truly help them to maintain their rights and their feeling of control over their own lives?

The first thing is to understand what kind of challenges our elderly might face:

Discrimination. Ageism is not uncommon around the world. This is when someone experiences prejudice/mistreatment from someone else, because of his or her age. Of course, it isn’t right, but it is something that we need to be aware of and work to change.

Poverty or financial distress. A person can work hard for a lifetime and still not live comfortably or even get their most basic needs met. This becomes even more difficult to handle in elderly persons, for homelessness, malnutrition, untreated illness and lack of access to clean water, medicine, etc. are harder for an older person to handle and survive. Additionally, that elderly person may still be responsible for others.

Violence or abuse. Physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse can and does occur worldwide. Our elderly loved ones are vulnerable to this, particularly from those who are supposed to be in a trusted position to help care for them.

Lack of needed services or facilities. As the elderly population grows and we live longer, access to the care and services that would help us be comfortable in our later years is limited.

Two steps to begin

This is not uplifting news. However, it all boils down to one simple thing that we can help with: freedom of expression. If we can work to help make sure our elderly loved ones continue to have a voice in their future, we can help combat all of these things.

Let’s talk about what this really means. It means:

Taking the time to listen to our loved ones. Listening isn’t just about words in a conversation. It’s also about how those words are said and what isn’t said. Does your elderly loved one seem sad, or stressed or angry? Do they seem withdrawn? Do you get the sense that they want to tell you something but are struggling for some reason? Are you giving them enough time to really talk to you?

Creating a safe environment of trust. Often, when we lose our sense of power or independence, we don’t feel very safe. You may be someone who spends a lot of time with your elderly loved one, but is that time spent in a way that gives them space or room to talk about what they are feeling? We often get caught up in the busy-ness of life and forget to stop and pay attention. This relates to listening, too, but it’s important to look at what is happening in the life of your elderly loved one and try to find ways to help them feel safe through all the changes.

If we can work on these two things, we will find ways to help our elderly maintain their freedom of expression.

Kevin Turkington is the president and founder of Midnight Sun Home Care, serving vulnerable adults and their families in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, and a member of the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission.