The Ombudsman for the Elderly promotes age-related decision-making

About three months ago, I moved from being the director of our Age Institute to Finland’s first Ombudsman for the Elderly. The position is new and is based on the Act of the same name. For years, many organizations representing the interests of the elderly had been raising the call for the creation of an ombudsman for the elderly, so it has been a pleasure to launch this long-awaited task.

Ombudswomen Päivi Topo
Päivi Topo

As Ombudsman for the Elderly, I serve a five-year term in the same way as the Ombudsman for Children. In addition, the powers of action are quite similar between the two independent authorities. Influencing decision-making and legislation is a key task. I can’t promote the affairs of an individual, but I can tell them what to contact. All contacts to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Elderly will be used to promote the status and rights of the elderly towards decision-makers and others, as they contain important considerations on how society should be developed.

A lot has already happened in the first few months. The office’s work is now in full swing, as the last employee of our small team was able to start their work. Awareness is an essential part of the effectiveness of a councillor’s work, and increasing it is a daily job, because without being known, it is difficult to influence decision-making. Hopefully, readers of this blog will also follow the social media channels of the Ombudsman for the Elderly and website vanhusasia.fi. There we provide information about our work, such as the statements we make to legislation and various programs, and our other outputs can also be easily found.

As director of the Age Institute, I worked on promoting the well-being and health of the elderly. Development went in a good direction throughout the country in those years, and it was a pleasure to be part of building it. The coronavirus, the future problems of organizational funding and the health and social services reform all together changed and continue to change the functioning of the well-being and health promotion of the elderly and shake up its rationale. Without the well-established activities of organizations and the long history of the welfare state, we would have taken a much more vigorous backward step in the health and well-being of people of different ages in this turmoil of change. Overall, the well-being of the elderly has deteriorated by various indicators, and this period has affected those whose starting point was already more difficult.

The Ombudsman for the Elderly must take this exceptional time into account when setting targets for the first five-year activity. I will work to bring the opportunities and activity of the well-being and health promotion of the elderly to a pre-corona level. My other five-year objectives relate to improving access to health and social services, building a more equal digital society and, above all, the systematic involvement of the elderly in social decision-making.

As the new Ombudsman for the Elderly, I invite you all to join us in working together to improve the status and rights of the elderly. Ageism runs deep in our society and culture. There are also old-fashioned and paternalistic notions associated with ageing and older people. This needs to be deliberately dismantled and perceptions changed to better reflect the diversity and experiences of older people in their lives.

The studies show how important it is just to pay positive attention to another person with a look and a greeting. At the end of the day, this is also the question of good decision-making: considering how people in different situations are affected by each decision and, on this basis, constitute decisions as fair as possible. We need more age-old decisions.

Päivi Topo – Ombudsman for the Elderly

Topo is an Adjunct Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Helsinki and an Adjunct Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology at the University of Jyväskylä. Her latest publications discuss research ethics, the contribution of the elderly in the society, as well as social exclusion and age discrimination. She can be reached through her website: Ombudsman | Vanhusasiavaltuutettu or by E-Mail: vanhusasia(at)oikeus.fi 

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