Did you know the health and wellbeing of older people is being put at risk by the use of terms associated with old age?
It might not surprise you that people don’t like being called old – but you may not know how important it is to use the right words. That’s why Better Health North East Melbourne has been researching older adults’ perceptions of terms associated with age, in order to better understand the words they prefer. This will help health professionals provide better care and enable clients to take a more active role in their own health care planning, in partnership with their health service providers.
The research, conducted by the Health Issues Centre, found that older people are less likely to use health and wellbeing services that are labelled with terms such as ‘frail’ and ‘geriatric’ because of the stigma associated with them. The use of these terms reduces the self-confidence of older people and discourages them from accessing health care they may need.
Many people in the study felt that their health conditions were dismissed as just being part of old age and therefore appropriate help wasn’t given. Having a negative perception of ageing can shorten an older person’s life by seven and a half years, which makes it a bigger health risk than smoking or lack of exercise.
The study found that it is most important for older adults to be defined as individuals rather than by their conditions or a label associated with age. If labels are required people preferred the terms ‘elder’, ‘older adult’ or ‘senior’.
Whilst most health professionals do not use these terms to personally address older people, there is a stigma attached to any association with the terms.
The report recommends reframing health care interventions to use positive and optimistic language that builds upon older adults’ own positive attitude and resilience which they draw upon to face the challenges of ageing positively. This includes considering renaming the ‘Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment’ to the ‘Retaining Independence Plan’ and ‘Living well plan’.
We are proud that our services for older adults carefully consider how to actively engage clients in their health care planning and management. We also take care not to use words that may have negative connotations. But we will still be using the findings of this research to further inform our work and to advocate to other service providers to adapt the language they use.
You can read the full report here.
You can read the media release here.