A study exploring older people's participation in their care in acute hospital settings reveals both consumers' and nurses' views of participation. Using a critical ethnographic design, data were collected through participant observation and interviews from consumers in acute care settings who were over 70 years old and nurses who were caring from them. Thematic analysis identified that older people equated participation with being independent. Importantly, consumers highlighted the complexity of the notion of participation when describing situations where they were unable to participate in their own care. The difficulties in communicating with health professionals and an inability to administer their own medications in inpatient settings were identified as barriers to participation. Understanding what consumers believe participation means provides a starting point for developing meaningful partnerships between health professionals and people receiving care.