How to empower older people

Last updated on 20 September 2023

It is important to remember that just because you turn 65 doesn’t mean you no longer have rights to make decisions. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Older Australians have the same rights as any Australian, especially when receiving aged care services
  • More people are educating themselves about their rights in aged care and speaking up for themselves and others
  • Families and friends should be making the effort to empower you to live your life to the fullest

These days, older people are more empowered than ever to receive services how they want and when they want.

Geoff Rowe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), says that the future of aged care and how it will be delivered is something everyone should be looking forward to.

“Aged care has been moving away from its traditional health care basis to a social model of care. With that has come the rhetoric around putting the person at the centre of the care model,” says Mr Rowe.

However, for some, it can still be scary or nerve-wracking to speak up if the services they are receiving are not what they wanted or isn’t meeting their needs.

So, how can you help empower an older loved one when receiving aged care services?

Rights in aged care

Aged care regulations have changed over the years to provide empowerment to older Australians when accessing home care or moving into nursing homes.

Mr Rowe says it is important for everyone to remember that just because you turn 65, it doesn’t mean you no longer have rights to make decisions that impact on your life.

“All older people have rights and those rights aren’t diminished by their age or their cognitive ability,” explains Mr Rowe.

“They should expect quality aged care that is responsive to their needs and they should expect to be listened to and their concerns heard. And if they feel like that is not occurring for them, they need to get support.”

When you move into a nursing home, you should receive a copy of the Charter of Aged Care Rights from your provider. This outlines what your rights are as a consumer of aged care services in Australia. To learn more, read our article ‘Your rights in aged care‘.

The Charter is part of the current Aged Care Act and provides you with the right to receive quality and safe care and services and be treated with dignity and respect.

You should reference the copy of your rights if you are concerned about the care you are receiving.

Supporting the Charter are the Aged Care Quality Standards, which are eight standards that all aged care providers need to meet to be providing quality aged care and services to their consumers. To learn more about the Standards, read our article ‘Aged Care Quality Standards explained‘.

These changes to the way aged care manages itself has also created a real change in the balance of power in favour of older Australians.

Education is key

Mr Rowe explains that a lot of older Australians receiving aged care are a part of ‘The Grateful Generation’, people who lived through wars and the Great Depression, and they’re a generation of people who don’t tend to complain.

But the next cohort coming through aged care, the ‘Baby Boomers’, are happier to speak up when they don’t like something and have it changed. He believes this group will assist with the reform push in aged care.

Unlike older generations, more and more people are educating themselves about their rights in aged care and speaking up for themselves and others.

For all people in aged care, it is important that you understand what your rights are in aged care, including what providers need to be doing to provide you with quality care and services.

Being across your rights while accessing aged care can be really beneficial to make sure you are being treated correctly and are getting the most out of the services you receive.

Proper education about the aged care system and how it should function is a big empowerment tool for older Australians.

Research and homework

Mr Rowe says before accepting any aged care service or provider, you should be doing your research into the facility.

He often hears of advocates being told that a facility looked beautiful, however, just because a nursing home looks nice doesn’t mean it always translates to the quality of care.

People should be doing research on what services and facilities can meet their needs, as well as checking an organisation for their quality and safety track record.

“Usually when we make a major life decision about where we live or what sort of job we want to do or a major investment, we will do our research. We look at our homework, we will talk to people who have been involved, who have had some experience,” says Mr Rowe.

“But with aged care often it occurs during a crisis, so we don’t necessarily do that due diligence.

“It is about looking beyond that initial ‘what is it I see’ to ‘what does the care look like’? What is the experience of others that use it?”

He recommends using tools on the Aged Care Quality and Safety website that can assist you to look at the quality and safety standards of a provider in the past.

Other good avenues for learning about quality services include talking to members of the community and those who have had firsthand experience with a particular service. Word of mouth can be a really trustworthy and important review to have of a service.

Once you have that knowledge, you can make an informed decision about whether a provider or service is right for you.

“Knowledge is power, information is power. We really encourage people to pick that up and run with it to be informed,” says Mr Rowe.

Know your avenues

If you come across issues with a provider, it can be difficult to know where to turn or who can help.

There are lots of free advocacy services available that can empower you by supporting you and making sure your voice is heard when you do have an issue with a provider.

An aged care advocate’s main aim is to make sure you can come to an appropriate agreement with your provider around the care and services you receive.

“It’s important that people know that they don’t have to battle some of those systems themselves,” explains Mr Rowe.

If you ever need extra assistance or advocacy support, contact the Older Persons Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600.

Support from family and friends

It used to be quite common for older people to appoint a substitute decision maker who would take over the responsibility of any decisions that would need to be made around finance, care and health.

There has been a recent shift away from the substitute decision making model to a support decision making model so the older person stays in control.

Advocates can assist to educate family and friends on ways they should be empowering their older loved ones to remain engaged and involved in decisions about their life.

Mr Rowe says that even if a person has lost the capacity to make decisions, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be empowered and involved.

This includes conversations with older loved ones about what they want when it comes to decisions about services, where they live, or how they live.

Additionally, Mr Rowe stresses that decision makers really need to think about whether their decisions are in line with how the older loved one thinks or wants to live their life.

For instance, if your mother has dementia and was able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not make the decision based on your own personal views. If your mother has always been proactive at getting vaccines and getting her children vaccinated, then that would be a clear indication that she would have likely decided to get the vaccine.

This mentality should also be included throughout the whole life of a person who can no longer make decisions for themselves. So for example if you find great joy from going fishing or camping, your friends and family should help facilitate that so you are still engaged with hobbies and things that are important to you.

The best way to feel empowered is to live life how you see fit. If you have started receiving home care services or have been moved into aged care, the best way to feel empowered is to know your family, friends, and provider is going to do all they can to make sure you continue living the best life possible.

When do you feel the most empowered when receiving aged care? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

The role of advocacy in aged care
What is an aged care advocate?
Diversity standards and initiatives in aged care
Inclusive aged care: What are special needs groups?