See ageing as a source of power instead of as a sign of decline and vulnerability, is the message of the newly published book “Silver Empowerment”, in which scientists from various disciplines discuss ways of improving self-reliance of elderly people. Promoting an age-friendly society is the main topic. The book covers a wide range of topics, such as resilience, loneliness, interaction between formal and informal care and how to involve older people in research and care.
The chapter with contributions from Elena Bendien, Tineke Abma and Susan Woelders, is about participation and empowerment of older people in research. In this chapter they highlight a case study on research into social participation of older people in Zeeland. It is often thought that participatory research contributes to the empowerment of participants, in this case the elderly. Empowerment then refers to gaining more control over your life, but also to collective action, and therefore has a political component. However, we saw in our research that despite wonderful ideals, moments of dis-empowerment can occur.
One of the participants: ‘I am 85 years old. I have always been busy, and even when I had a job I always did volunteer work. But as years go by, especially when you are over 80, people seem to think you no longer want to do volunteer work or that you are no longer able to. They don’t ask you anymore and that’s a pity.’
Another example of dis-empowerment arose in the interaction between older participants in the study. This had to do with a few men dominating the conversation, which caused women to withdraw from the conversation, feeling that there was no room for them to participate. Thus democratic decision-making was not possible. Situations like this require intervention from the researchers.
Participatory research is not merely a technical process and application of the right methods. It is about standing for the underlying principles and values and standing up for participants to prevent dis-empowerment. This requires what we call work ethics.
Silver Empowerment strives to offer every person the opportunity to grow old in a dignified and meaningful way, whilst being warmly connected to an inviting society.
The book is an Open Access ebook and is also available in paperback. It is published by Leuven University press.