Productive Aging: Enablement Versus Empowerment

Productive Aging: Enablement Versus Empowerment

Staying active is important at all ages

Many challenges of aging are related to decreased activity. We simply move less. Activity can decline because of the aches and pains of normal aging, but unheralded causes include decreases in social engagement and intellectual stimulation. Functional decline from decreased activity significantly worsens the loss that is actually caused by aging.

One example is sarcopenia, the “age-related, progressive loss of muscle mass and strength.” This definition attributes sarcopenia solely to age. The article goes on to clarify “Sarcopenia is a type of muscle atrophy primarily caused by the natural aging process. Scientists believe being physically inactive and eating an unhealthy diet can contribute to the disease.” Source:

Maybe you have heard of a sedentary older adult who became a body builder, seeming to halt the slide into decreased activity. But sarcopenia still progresses. Let me use another example: myself. I’m extraordinarily active, regularly gardening, cycling, running and going to the gym. Yet I am attuned enough to perceive the effects of sarcopenia! The ladder I carry for yard work seems significantly heavier!

As a caregiver to aging people, my objective is to help people do certain tasks that are difficult for them, rather than doing those tasks for them. Engaging our patients/aging loved ones in doing as much for themselves as possible reduces their rate of decline. The process of self-care, dressing, bathing, are in effect strengthening and stretching activities/exercises.

You have likely heard the sayings, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it,” or my favorite, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man how to fish, he never goes hungry.” Help people help themselves. Doing for them because it is difficult for them only enables them to decrease activity. Giving them the opportunity to help you can give them some sense of being helpful or useful.

Activity is imperative at all ages. Helping aging people stay active and engaged in their normal activities is a gift to them.


By Paul Zulak. Learn more about the Beaverton Committee on Aging at