Washington, Feb uary 28: A University of Alberta researcher has found that terms such as “normal,” “healthy” or “successful” ageing can affect how society views older generations, especially seniors living with chronic diseases.
These terms are commonly used by health-care professionals to describe or influence how seniors should age. Often they emphasize personal lifestyle choices in staying healthy, such as eating well, staying active and not smoking, said Hannah O’Rourke, a PhD student and Vanier scholar in the Faculty of Nursing at UAlberta.
But those terms can fall short of the experiences of most older Canadians, and how they’re used affects how a society views older generations-especially seniors living with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, stated O’Rourke.
“Normal ageing is not something we can easily define. There are many older adults with chronic disease who report they still enjoy life. When ageing is just defined as ‘healthy’ and ‘devoid of disease,’ it doesn’t leave a place for what to do with all of these older adults who are still ageing with chronic illnesses,” she said.
“Cures for chronic illnesses are not always around the corner, and health-care teams have patients to care for now. We need to find ways to support older adults with chronic disease to live well according to their own definitions of health and normality,” she added.
O’Rourke, a registered nurse whose research focuses on quality of life for people with dementia, points out that many Canadian seniors are well enough to live at home, yet 80 per cent have some form of chronic disease. With that large a majority, putting the onus on individual choices to age successfully sends the wrong message.
“The implication is that if you have a chronic illness as an older adult, you’ve somehow failed in this goal of ageing without chronic disease, which is perhaps not that realistic a goal,” she noted.
O’Rourke pointed out that much of the policy work, research and teaching about ageing also relies on statistics to describe Canada’s greying population, such as estimates that, by 2026, one-fifth of the country will be over the age of 65. But those statistics frame ageing as a problem to be fixed, she said, and that affects how we view seniors.
McIntyre feels these implications, and not in a positive way.
“When people think of seniors, they think of their limitations instead of their capabilities. The huge majority of us are doing very well on our own, thank you,” she said.
O’Rourke indicated that an ageing society can also be viewed as a success story because it means the majority of us are living well into our older years.
The findings will be published in the March issue of Nursing Inquiry. (ANI)