Advocating for our Elders

Posted on29/11/13 by admin

I recently had the chance to present at the Ohio Chapter of The National Association of Social Workers on the topic of the importance of identifying and managing dementia. While this is largely a health care delivery issue, I realized that it may be even more of an advocacy issue which can be applied to many different areas of health and wellness. Education is one of the strongest advocacy tools we have so I was inspired to write a post about it.

As an occupational therapist, my primary concern is to promote the function quality of life and independence of my patients. That is paramount regardless of disease process or injury. However, I routinely witness situations in my encounters, where I know more should have been done along some point to help someone with an obvious medical problem. It may be a shoulder injury, a pain that won’t go away, or their continual downward trend in cognitive skills but so many times it gets simply ignored.


“Well, they ARE 84 years old, that just happens.” Is an answer I get far too often.

Sure, there are things that degrade as we age. We aren’t as strong, fast, flexible or quick with the tongue. But pain, loss of mobility, or loss of cognitive function are not normal aspects of aging. Especially when they are limiting a person from being as independent as they can be.

I once worked with an older woman in her 80′s and she complained to me that should could no longer raise her arm over her head since five weeks prior . She had spoken to her doctor which prescribed her a pain reliever. She had spoken to her children, who told her they could increase the housework they do to help her. Everyone was willing to accept this as the new normal that she was to live with. Aside from a recent fall the woman was previously in pretty good health.

Now, I pose the question what would happen if a 40, 50 or even 60 year old person went to their doctor with the same complaints. I cannot say for certain but I am pretty sure X-Rays, physical therapy and possibly surgery would be at least discussed.  I am not advocating that we operate and fix on every torn rotator muscle in our elderly population. But I am advocating for people to receive the care they deserve and have the options discussed.

Imagine that for the first time in the spring that elderly woman had to give up gardening outside or cleaning her own home. That may very well be the first steps that woman took towards depending on others and she is facing a likely decrease in her quality of life. This would also lead to increased family burden for her care, increased health costs, further pain and potential injury.

As people who care for the elderly (child, health care provider, physician, or friend), we need to advocate for them to get their questions answered. It may take more time out of our day now but we are likely adding time to their future days. Lets face it, everyone is busy these days and stretched further than they should be. The less anyone speaks up the easier it is to move on to our next important thing. Take the time to listen to and ask questions of of elders. Let’s not accept dependence when it can be avoided.

By not doing these things one is essentially saying. “My 15 minutes are worth more than your happiness and health.”  I choose to work at RBA Therapy because I have the opportunity to see people taking the extra 15 minutes to possibly make large improvements in an elder’s life everyday, and we challenge you to do the same.


That patient who is assumed to have dementia may just have a vitamin deficiency or be depressed.

Your mother who now needs to use a walker may be able to use a cane.

Your friend who gave up their passion due to pain may not need to suffer any more.


Their generation were the ones who won two world wars, reached the moon, and were never underestimated. Lets not start now.


Thanks for Reading

This post was written by:



Joseph Gross OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist

Adult Cognitive and Memory Disorders Specialist

RBA Therapy

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