A couple of days into my physiotherapy career, I complimented one of my clients for his determination and persistence. He smiled and told me to always remember this – don’t stop living until the day you die. But after varied experiences in my role as an aged care physiotherapist, I’ve seen so many of my older adults excuse themselves from doing tasks they deep down would love to do.
They sometimes comment on how much they wish they could walk independently so they could take themselves to the toilet without the help of a carer. They may admire another resident’s ability to walk or dance and say “Oh I can’t do that anymore. That’s something I could only do if I was x years younger.” Other times, they (or their loved ones too) might make comments like “Oh well, that’s just old age”, or “What can you expect at 92? 75? or even 65” or “You can’t make a difference now, I’m too old”. Ageism was so abundant in my residents’ conversations that it got to a point where I stopped noticing it.
The perception of “old” or “aged” is a social construct that can vary significantly between cultures and social groups. We will all die—that is just part of the human continuum – but until we get there, we are all living. Along the way, we have the choice to redefine our quality of life and have different experiences of quality. When it comes to physical abilities, physiotherapists can play an instrumental role in supporting an individual in the reforming of their unique quality of life – whether that’s for a child, pregnant lady, middle-aged man with an odd ache, someone living with a disability in their own home, someone in hospital with pneumonia, or an older adult in aged care. I am well acquainted with the aged care side of it.
We are all made of the same stuff – no matter your gender, race, sex, diagnosed condition, religious beliefs, or even age – everyone deserves respect and equality. Just like that equality doesn’t change because of an individual’s social status or diagnosis, it doesn’t change because of someone ages. In fact, some ageing means they possess a library of knowledge and experience. We all can learn by offering respect and dignity to anyone who is ageing.
If you’re unsure on whether physiotherapy works or want to see some of my older adults who embrace the idea of ageing well, watch this video:
Ageism was so abundant in my residents’ conversations that it got to a point where I stopped noticing it. Then I realised I am a physiotherapist and I can do something about it. Now I just say, “You may be old, but not weak”, and encourage them to not stop living till the day they die.
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