Advocacy Organizations for Older Adults
Advocacy organizations for older adults refer to groups of individuals with similar political and social interests who advocate for the social and economic well-being of senior citizens. The main missions of advocacy organizations for older people are: (1) to address various challenges resulting from population aging, and (2) to improve the lives of older adults. Advocacy organizations for older adults consist of individuals with similar aims who advocate for an older individual as well as groups of older adults who are impacted by decisions or practices which affect them socially and/or economically. Quite notably, the work of advocacy organizations for older people is usually premised on the notion that older adults often lack the ability to advocate on their own behalf and this necessitates assistance from advocacy groups for older adults.
Globally, older people in societies are important for a plethora of reasons, including, but not limited to, the transfer of their wealth of knowledge and experiences. Importantly, older adults do not lack the physical, mental, and material resources to be socially included in community and state activities; rather, by process of marginalization by the state, culture, and market, they often suffer from social and cultural invisibility or “social exclusion” (Aronson and Neysmith 2001) as well as social injustice (Gilleard and Higgs 2009). It is for these and other reasons that advocacy organizations provide essential services for older people globally. Importantly, Blundell (2012) points out that “While there is a wide range of literature available about advocacy in general and advocacy for specific groups, such as people with disabilities and mental illness, literature focusing specifically on older people’s advocacy is not extensive” (p. 3). In this regard, support for Blundell (2012) comes from a range of sources, but notably from Kitchen (2010) and Scourfield (2007). Due to the lack of academic literature with a focus on older people’s advocacy, this entry is aimed at closing the current lacuna while seeking to add to the body of literature on advocacy for older adults. Further, while the term “advocacy organizations” has long been used in an extensive range of settings (Drage 2012) and associated with a range of professions such as mental health, law, social work, health practice, and nursing (Morgan 2017), this entry delivers a unique perspective of “advocacy organizations” through the lens of advocacy for older people.
The Development of Advocacy Organizations for Older Adults
Advocating for older adults can be viewed through the lens of what Wolfensberger and Thomas (1983) refer to as the concept of “heightened vulnerability.” According to Baker et al. (2000), heightened vulnerability” points to the situation whereby members of certain groups, particularly those who are stigmatized, suffer a double disadvantage as they are disadvantaged through: (1) being a member of a stigmatized group, and (2) due to their membership in that stigmatized group; they are usually reliant on other people to have their primary care needs to be met. Instructively, older people are included in the category of stigmatized individuals mentioned by Baker et al. (2000). As a result of this double disadvantage, advocacy services for older adults were developed due to recognition that older people (as well as other people) who are reliant on others for care are not always in the best position to assert their own rights and that this dependent relationship is often the genesis for abuse and exploitation.
Examples of Advocacy Organizations for Older People
Advocacy organizations are not the sole province of any one country or jurisdiction and are global in nature and scope. These groups also provide and perform a diverse range of advocacy to a similarly diverse range of individuals. Indeed, advocacy organizations can be found in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, North America, and South America. It should be noted that individuals and groups who advocate for individuals or issues, do so voluntarily (generally) and may focus on a single issue or in some instances, a range of issues including, but not limited to issues surrounding older people.
Hicks (2017) has identified numerous organizations that are involved in advocating for seniors. These organizations are identified below, and a brief synopsis is provided for readers. It should be noted that this list is not an exhaustive one and is merely an amalgam of the more popular older adults’ advocacy organizations as there are many others that did not find space in this entry due to constraints of space. Some organizations that advocate for older people are: the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), the International Federation of Little Brothers of the Poor (French: Fédération internationale des petits frères des Pauvres or Les petits frères des Pauvres), the HelpAge International, the Grey Power, the Health Advocates for Older People Inc., the Age Concern, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the Older Person’s Advocacy Alliance, and the Advocare Inc.
By advocating for and on behalf of senior citizens, advocacy organizations such as the Grey Power, the Advocare Inc., the AARP, and many other advocacy organizations for older people seek to address the injustices and power imbalances that affect older adults by seeking to effect changes aimed at improving their lives. Such advocacy by older people advocacy groups is viewed as the exercise of citizen power in the face of governmental power. By undertaking these actions, these advocacy organizations seek to positively influence those with power and/or responsibility in order to secure the rights of older people who are often cast aside and uncared for.
Approaches to Advocating for Older Adults
Organizations that advocate on behalf of older adults utilize a multiplicity of methods all aimed at influencing public opinion and political decision making. In order to achieve their stated aims and objectives, advocates for older people often utilize methods including, but not limited to, lobbying, media campaigns, vigils, speeches, and policy briefings. The task of advocacy and advocating for seniors is essential as well as unashamedly purposive in intent as advocates do not merely place their objectives on the public table, retreat, and wait expectantly for a decision (Chapman 2001). Instructively, Chapman (2001) points out that advocates for older people place their objectives in the public domain, and then set about maximizing support for their cause, conducting strategic planning, and paying particular attention to counteracting the strengths of their opponent’s arguments. It is submitted that this is no easy feat for these committed individuals as many advocates for older adults are unpaid volunteers. Cognizance must also be taken of the fact that some advocacy organizations for senior citizens are powerful and frequently sought after by governments, while others are supported by powerful businesses, wealthy conglomerates, established and upcoming legislators, philanthropists, and individuals with political interests. Despite the demand for organizations to advocate on behalf of older adults, it is essential to understand that advocacy organizations for older persons also face significant challenges and obstacles in attempting to effectuate their goals (Chapman 2001).
The Importance of Advocating for Older Adults
Throughout history, older people with disability have been hidden away or subjected to abuse, discrimination, ignorance, and prejudice. Older people’s issues are often a low priority for governments at a time when older adults are increasingly marginalized for a variety of reasons (HelpAge International 2007, p. 2). However, older people have the same political concerns as other age groups and some issues affect them directly as well as specifically. In light of this, there is a need to promote changes to the public, service providers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government’s attitudes, policies, and actions by advocating for older adults (HelpAge International 2007, p. 2).
As a result of the inattentiveness given to senior citizens and increasing calls for attention to be paid to this vulnerable group of individuals, starting possibly in the 1990s, advocacy with and for older people increases due to perceptions of harsh and oppressive legislative and policy agendas. Importantly, the rise of the advocacy movement was an expression of the demands of older adults themselves for equal treatment. In the words of Dunning (2010, p. 6), “Older people might need advocacy for several compelling reasons, including: protection from abuse; combating age discrimination; obtaining and changing services; securing and exercising rights; and being involved in decision making and being heard, particularly at points of transition in care and living arrangements.” Quite notably, advocacy organizations are essential to a host of underprivileged groups and marginalized individuals such as women, minority ethnic groups, impoverished, and indigent people, but importantly, advocacy organizations are crucial to the well-being of older people.
The importance of advocacy organizations for older adults is premised on a slew of rationales. For instance, advocacy organizations around the world are advocating for the protection of older people from all forms of abuse and discrimination. Additionally, older adults advocacy groups are advancing arguments for the inclusion of older people in the mainstream activities of communities and government, raising aging issues for governments, empowering and developing a coordinated voice for older people’s issues, disseminating information on older adults that raise awareness of their capacities and contributions, as a means of challenging stereotypes of older people as disabled, unproductive, and dependent (HelpAge International 2007). For Sorensen and Black (2001), advocacy plays a critical role in redressing the imbalance of power that may exist in relationships where there is stigmatization of an individual or group, for example, senior citizens, as well as when one party is reliant on another to have their needs met. In a similar vein, Craig (1998) cogitates that advocacy assists in fulfilling common personal needs and empowers people in their struggle for human rights and this includes the aging population. Finally, advocacy organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), the Grey Power, the Age Concern, and the Advocare Inc. use their tools of advocacy to increase awareness and understanding of aging issues and the aging process across global communities as a means of reducing discrimination, prejudice, bias, misunderstanding, and misconceived notions regarding the nature of support required by older people (HelpAge International 2007).
As it relates to the nature and scope of the tasks performed by groups advocating for older adults, it must be understood that though these groups vary in size, influence, and motive, they have played and continue to play an essential role in the development of social, political, and economic systems on a global scale, especially in advocating for older adults. Instructively, several organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals and groups have developed into important social, political institutions and/or social movements. Instructively, the importance of advocating for older people cannot be undervalued as this advocacy facilitates social change through a process of redefinition of attitudes, social relationships, and power relations, which strengthens civil society and opens up democratic spaces for older adults. Importantly, advocacy for older people over the past century has radically shifted the way contemporary society think, conceptualize, treat, and legislate for this key group of individuals – senior citizens.
Without a doubt, advocacy organizations and their members perform an important task in advocating for vulnerable individuals such as older adults. Importantly, groups that advocate for older people usually work in tandem with local businesses, international organizations, local and state governments, service organizations, family members, caregivers, and their organizations, as well as older adults, in an attempt to gather information on the challenges facing the aging population. This information is then used to propose viable solutions and alternatives aimed at enhancing the lives of older people. Movements for older adults and their membership also work assiduously towards overcoming the challenges and obstacles faced by the senior population by encouraging the involvement of older persons in community activities and decision-making that impact their well-being as well as by emphasizing the need for positive attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, and value-systems towards older adults. These movements that advocate for older adults also strive for the development of age-friendly communities and cities in keeping with Goal 11 of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
Future Directions of Research
The current research effort on organizations that perform advocacy functions for older people is constrained by space as well as by scope, and this provides the impetus for research in the future on this crucial aspect of gerontology. For example, future research on advocacy groups for older adults should consider utilizing a longitudinal approach based on actual populations in the Global North and the Global South. Further, this research should aim to empirically measure the perceptions of older people regarding the successes and challenges of all forms of advocacy by and on behalf of older adults. At another level, more research is required on this topical area to determine whether older people are satisfied with the work of advocacy groups or whether they desire control over the support services that they receive from these groups. There should be increased research aimed at a deeper and broader appreciation of the history of advocacy for older persons.
Areas for further research should specifically focus on the prevalence of advocacy organizations that advocate on behalf of older adults who suffer from abuse at the hands of family members and caregivers as well as on groups advocating on behalf of seniors who are mentally ill in order to help identify any health and support needs. Future research should focus on the role of religion and faith-based advocacy organizations, as religion is an important facet in the lives of older people. Finally, a comparative approach should be utilized to afford the readership insights into the functioning of groups that advocate for the well-being of older persons in various parts of the globe.
In the context of advocating for older adults, advocacy consists of specialized actions designed to draw attention to specific issues affecting the aging population and to direct policy-makers to solutions by using social, legal, and political activities that influence the shape and common practices. For older people, advocacy organizations act as a check and balance on the arbitrary actions of governments that may be mindful to treat older people and their specific issues with contempt and disdain. Irrespective of the actions taken by members of advocacy organizations on behalf of older adults, their orientation and work are directed towards addressing the situation of their constituents, alleviating their concerns and acting as a buffer against the arbitrary action of governments when dealing with the older population.
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