Dignity in Old Age: Diversity in Wellbeing – Arvokas Vanhuus II: Moninaisuudella Hyvinvointia

On November 4th, 2015, the seminar ”Dignified Old Age: Diversity in Wellbeing” took place at the National Museum in Helsinki, in which the topic of diversity in elderly care was taken up by various speakers. The seminar opened with a speech by Finland’s former President, Tarja Halonen, and included presentations from Utsjoki Health Centre and The Sámi National Centre for Mental Health and Substance Use (SANKS), a national LGBTI Rights NGO (SETA ry), and Käpyrinne ry Jade Project. There was also a question hour from the ombudsmen for equality and diversity, a practical forum-theatre, and a panel discussion.

What comes to mind when we think about the aging population in Finland? Do we consider those who are of immigrant background? What about older people within the Sámi community? Same-sex couples? The NGOs featured in this seminar, although representing different groups, share the same concerns for the communities they are advocating for. These communities are vulnerable to social exclusion in Finland, and are also, at times, not visible within the Finnish society.

”The principle of ’giving everyone the same equally’ can pose a risk to the patient’s safety. Another perspective to take in account is everyone’s individuality.” Meri Kangasniemi, Itä-Suomen Yliopistonlehtori

How service providers understand a client’s situation, including background and identity, is an important factor influencing their capability to effectively meet their needs. Older people within diverse communities should feel that it is possible for them to receive support and services without the fear of being discriminated against.

Diversity training, educational videos, information packages and toolkits are some of the ways in which NGOs are promoting diversity in elderly care in Finland, and at the same time, combatting discrimination. Seminars and meetings are also effective channels for building networks and communication between social and healthcare centres, NGOs and congregations. Peer support based groups organized by NGOs are also a very important and valuable resource for service users within the older diverse communities.

If there is a message that can be taken from this seminar, it is that attention and efforts must be consistently applied in opening up the discussion about diversity in elderly care, and to recognizing that those belonging to diverse communities who are at risk of social exclusion are not only part of these groups, but that they are also individuals, with individual needs, and each with their own unique story.

Michelle Kaila