No disrespect. Writing about older people

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Four years ago I started editing a website offering advice and shared experience for the family and friends of older people.

The content was a mile away from my usual diet of B2B and B2C marketing communications. And here was the problem. It required a completely different approach in the voice that we use.

Most of my “day-job” B2B clients want to appear professional and approachable without being over-friendly. They want to be enthusiastic without being over-zealous. And the B2C clients want a tone that defines their brand and appeals to consumer aspirations.

This project is quite different. There are plenty of topics here that come under the label of “eurgh”. We believe we can’t ignore them, so we approach at least some of them with a  dollop of humour. After all, it’s the grimaced smiles that get us through some of the darker days.

The trouble with the humour is that it has to sit alongside pieces that are just truly heart-rending, and we never want to offend or belittle the traumatic stories that some of our readers have to tell.

So we take it gently. We need to show respect to our readers who have volunteered to tell their stories of life with ageing and frail parents.

We always aim to be useful. We want our content to be  illuminating, enlightening and offer an opportunity to talk. We treat people’s stories and their pain with the honour they deserve. But when we have permission to smile and turn on the humour to get us through, we do.

Older people and the natural world

How people experience the natural world changes as they age. Sensory perceptions, such as sight and smell, can alter over time. So how important is getting outside into nature for older people – including those living with dementia – and how can we deliver better experiences?

According to a review of available research amongst the over 60s, being outdoors and experiencing nature, plants and wildlife offers real physical, social and mental benefits for older people. How much they can benefit, however, depends on how they are limited by their own capabilities. And the research suggests that these limits are hindering people from spending as much time outside as they would like.

Studies suggest that being outdoors, in gardens or landscapes, is of great therapeutic value. The UK government itself has asserted that everyone should have fair access to a good quality natural environment. That access can play a key role in a further government priority of enabling people to live well with dementia.

The research suggests that beautiful views from a window enable many to connect with the natural world regardless of mobility. For those able to travel, access to a car opened up opportunities to get outside in different landscapes. Even in cities, being able to track the changing face of nature through community areas or even watching the detail of trees through the seasons brings pleasure.

In sensory terms, feeling the wind, hearing birdsong and taking in countryside or seaside fresh air and associated scents helped people to connect with nature, enjoy a sense of peace and tranquility, and raise the feeling of well-being.

For those who live in residential settings the ability to get outside in some way is important. As well as contributing to a sense of well-being, it helps people to feel less trapped in their surroundings.

And for older people still living at home, the garden or the allotment can still hold great attraction, although changing needs may mean a re-think of how the space works safely and can be maintained easily.

Those who can access transport or join community groups can benefit from tours across landscapes or visits to gardens and historic homes. Older people are core to memberships of organisations such as the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, and while they continue to work to attract young families, it would be nice to think that they recognise the importance of their offerings to their more mature members.

 

 

Mature consumers are a huge growth market

The latest Global AgeWatch Index gives us some insights into how the world population is ageing. The numbers demonstrate not just how much we need to focus on providing health and care for older people, but also how many older people will be tomorrow’s consumers.

Globally 12.3% of the world’s population is over 60 today. By 2030 that figure will rise to 16.5% and by 2050 it will be over a fifth – 21.5%.

Mostly figures like these are considered in terms of what an ageing population will bring to the government and society. Recently though there has been more focus on what generations of older people can contribute themselves. Retirement ages are rising. More people are starting a second, more entrepreneurial career in their 50s. Further education and voluntary work are becoming more population.

Longer working years suggests more disposable income on a long-term basis. Recent changes to pension rules in the UK mean some are choosing to spend at least some of their pension pots on high-value acquisitions.

This growing population of post-60 consumers are intent wherever possible in maintaining an enjoyable quality of life, rather than just getting by. Travel and cruises in particular are seeing a surge in popularity. Technology is no longer a mystery – Skyping the family or playing games on an iPad is a way of life for many.

And so it goes on. The savvy providers of products and services will tap into this growth generation both with new offerings and with a fresh approach to what’s already available. There’s more to life than millennials.

How much do labels matter?

hands-typing-6In the three years that I’ve been writing in the “eldercare” community the thought behind use of language has changed significantly.

Perhaps the biggest change is that people who talk about “suffering from” a condition are chastised. We don’t suffer any more apparently – we live with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and other diagnoses. This is part of a bigger trend to be more positive in our use of language. That’s a good thing, as long as we don’t use language to pretend a problem doesn’t really exist.

Take the issue of older people feeling that sometimes they are a burden to their family as their challenges grow. I’ve been castigated for the use of the word “burden”. That’s one I would argue about. We can’t stop using a term that people feel for themselves. It’s not really helpful.

On the other hand I was at a meeting of professionals in the care industry where someone suggested that it’s time we re-thought the word “care”. Why? Because it fills people with fear. They don’t want to see themselves as someone who needs care at home or even might have to retire into a care home at some stage. Much better I agree is to talk about providing people with “support” to continue living their lives as much as they can where and how they prefer.

Another one that makes sense is differentiating between “carers” and “caregivers”. The word carer tends to be used to cover all possibilities but professionally carers are people who are paid to provide services at home or in a care home. Caregivers can be thought of as all those family members and friends who provide support and help without payment.

Describing this population can be fraught with difficulty too, especially in a marketing sense. Want to be found? You probably need to use words like “old”, “elderly” and “eldercare”. Want to turn off your audience? Use those same words.

A good read: Words to use and avoid around dementia. Written by people living with the disease.