We all need certainty and security in life. Psychological safety, in particular, is the pillar on which our emotional well-being rests and one of the axes around which our mental health revolves. In old age, a stage that is often marked by losses, security is of special relevance to preserve quality of life and feel better about oneself.
The golden shield that provides psychological security
With an increasingly long life expectancy, the population over 65 years of age is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the population. In fact, the United Nations estimates that by 2050 one in six people in the world will be over 65 years of age. This means that, at a social and family level, we must be concerned about their well-being, facilitating the necessary conditions so that they can have a better quality of life.
With that goal in mind, psychological safety is a key, though often overlooked, factor in old age. It refers to that feeling of tranquility and confidence that removes the perception of extreme vulnerability and uncertainty. In fact, feeling psychologically safe does not imply the absence of risks, but the confidence that we will be able to face those problems.
In this sense, psychologists from the University of Jönköping analyzed almost 500 elderly people and concluded that “Safe relationships, the feeling of control and perceived health have a significant relationship with the feeling of security”.
Another larger study conducted at Buskerud University College with more than 3,000 older people confirmed those results. These researchers found that “Older people who report feeling ‘very secure’ are more likely to see life as meaningful and are better able to cope with various life crises.”
On the other hand, “The little trust in family, friends or neighbors and the decrease in functional capacity generate a subjective feeling of insecurity” that ends up taking its toll. That means that security and tranquility become a kind of protective shield during the aging process.
How to promote the safety of the elderly?
Home as a security anchor
Psychological security must begin with physical security. It is difficult for an older person to feel calm in an environment where they feel vulnerable. To guarantee the physical safety of the elderly, there are options such as telecare, a comprehensive care service that provides them with support in their day-to-day activities intervening in any need or emergency.
In this way, they not only receive immediate help, but also their quality of life is improved and autonomy is promoted. In addition, by promoting staying at home, it also provides peace of mind, which ends up having a positive impact on the health and well-being of the elderly.
In fact, we perceive the home as a reflection of our identity, so it is not surprising that other research carried out at the University of Örebro discovered that staying in their own home helps older people to maintain their habits and routines, which confirmed their self-image and self-determination, creating the conditions for them to feel more secure and calm.
Researchers from The Hague University of Applied Sciences also found that older people “Felt less unsafe in their own neighborhood than the average citizen.” Social cohesion, knowing many of the neighbors and the relationships that have been established over the years can make a difference in the aging process, contributing to these people having a greater perception of control over their environment, which it will make them feel more protected and serene.
It should be noted that many older adults find it difficult to maintain an active social life, especially with other significant people due to the loss of friends or their own partner, so maintaining the social ties they have established in their community is very important to preserve a positive attitude that encourages them to stay active.
Deciding and anticipating, essential capabilities to preserve control
We can’t feel safe if we can’t make our own decisions. Security goes hand in hand with decision-making power. For this reason, the possibility of maintaining self-determination is essential for older adults to feel calm and confident.
Unfortunately, due to the prevailing ageism in society, many older people are beginning to notice that others, including their own children, treat them like little children and exclude them from decision-making, which can make them feel deeply insecure.
However, older people have accumulated a lot of experience and life wisdom, so although they may have lost some skills or are not up to date with technological developments, they deserve to be treated with respect. This means respecting their ability to choose, especially when the decisions affect them directly.
Older adults have the right to receive information about their health status and participate in decision-making about changes that may affect their day-to-day life. In this way they will also be able to continue to trust themselves and they will know that they have the reins of their lives.
Obviously, older people also need to have someone to trust in. However, that support network should be more discreet and patient accompaniment. Most seniors prefer to ask for what they need when they need it in order to preserve as much self-determination and autonomy as possible. Helping them can sometimes mean becoming their hands and feet or in contact with the outside world, but without supplanting them.
In fact, those who help older people must also understand that they need to be one step ahead. Older adults are aware that they need more time to deal with day-to-day challenges and that sometimes small tasks become difficult, so they try to anticipate the unexpected.
Many prefer to make plans and follow strict schedules that provide some order to their lives and surroundings. They also recognize that unforeseen events alter the rhythm of their habits and routines, which is why they end up generating anxiety, fear and insecurity. Respecting that desire for structure, rather than ignoring it or minimizing its importance, will instill confidence in them and make them feel understood.
Finally, it is important to understand that those persons who do not feel safe can neglect their health because they think that nothing depends on them or that they have lost control over their life. Psychological security is essential to maintain a sense of control over the environment, which will end up reflecting positively on their emotional well-being and health. We must remember that caring for our elderly as they deserve – with love, understanding, respect and patience – is our responsibility.
Van Hoof, J. et. Al. (2022) Towards a Better Understanding of the Sense of Safety and Security of Community-Dwelling Older Adults. The Case of the Age-Friendly City of The Hague. Int J Environ Res Public Health; 19(7): 3960.
James, I. et. Al. (2019) Creating conditions for a sense of security during the evenings and nights among older persons receiving home health care in ordinary housing: a participatory appreciative action and reflection study. BMC Geriatr; 19(1):351.
Boström, M. et. Al. (2013) Promoting sense of security in old-age care. Scientific Research; 5(6B): 56-63.
Fagerström L. et. Al. (2011) Sense of security amongst people aged 65 and 75: external and inner sources of security. Journal of Advanced Nursing; 67(6): 1305–1316.