Meaning Maker: Are Aging Policies Effective for Older Adults’ Meaningful Participation?

A recent study aims to shed light on common themes of aging policies that may be counterproductive.

The investigators analyzed 11 policies on meaningful participation for older adults, including international policies and policies from New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. They identified four main themes of the policies: addressing the challenge of an aging population, suggesting active aging should be a goal for older adults, advocating for specific types of participation, and valuing input from older adults on aging policy.

Many of the policies referred to the aging population as a challenge or issue for policy makers to address. This might serve as a call to action for policy makers, but it also diminishes older adults as a whole and continues an ageist narrative.

The goal of active aging suggests that older adults have a responsibility to remain independent and maintain participation in society in order to age successfully. Policies tended to frame active aging as a personal responsibility for older adults, but the investigators pointed out that this perspective does not account for socioeconomic and aging-related factors that are outside of older adults’ control. This could also lead to placing blame on older adults who do not meet the active aging standard.

In the third theme, policies encouraged specific types of meaningful participation for older adults, such as involving older adults in decision-making processes and research, volunteering, creating age-friendly work environments, and remaining active through leisure activities.

In the final theme, some policies advocated for incorporating older adults’ input, but these tended not to describe the older adults who offered input. This could mean a very select group of individuals were speaking for all older adults, which wouldn’t account for diversity in the population.

Based on these findings, the investigators suggested that policy makers need to be more transparent with older adults on the input they seek and how their input will affect decision-making. They should also consider how diverse groups of older adults would be affected and how framing expectations for active aging may contribute to ageist narratives.


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Dizon L, Wiles J, and Peiris-John R. What is meaningful participation for older people? An analysis of aging policies. The Gerontologist. (2019). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnz060


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