Odds are, you have someone whom you love a great deal and who has gotten older and less independent. It’s a fact that as we age, we go from gaining more and more independence in our youth and adulthood, to losing it little by little as we become older adults.
Whether they live in their own homes, or use home health care or live in assisted housing, there are things that seniors can do to keep as much of their independence as possible.
In this article we’ll be discussing the following:
- Defining what a loss of independence means
- Why it is important for an elderly person to maintain independence
- The relationship between dependence and mental health
- How to promote independence in the elderly
- How to promote independence in a person with dementia
- Promoting independence in hospital settings
Knowing and understanding these things will help family members and caregivers guide their elderly loved one so they can maintain the highest quality of life for as long as possible.
Take the time to thoroughly assess each section to see what applies to your senior’s particular situation.
The Importance of Senior Independence
Losing independence can be incredibly disheartening for our beloved seniors. After a lifetime of forging their own paths, working hard, raising families, and making important decisions, it’s understandable that they cherish their autonomy.
Unfortunately, the natural effects of aging can sometimes throw obstacles in the way of independent living.
Struggles with mobility, behavioral health issues like isolation and loneliness, and financial pressures are just a few factors that can chip away at a senior’s independence.
But don’t worry. While we can’t eliminate every barrier to independence, we can certainly appreciate just how vital it is for our seniors to maintain their autonomy.
By understanding the significance of independence and actively seeking ways to enhance their opportunities for independent living, we can unlock a world of benefits that come with senior independence.
Here are some benefits that seniors can experience by maintaining their independence:
- Sense of Dignity: Independence allows seniors to retain their dignity and self-worth. It affirms their capabilities and affords them the respect they deserve as individuals with a lifetime of experience.
- Emotional Well-being: Independent living helps combat feelings of helplessness, depression, and anxiety often associated with a loss of autonomy. Seniors who maintain independence have a greater sense of control over their lives, leading to improved emotional well-being.
- Physical Health: Remaining independent encourages seniors to stay active and engaged in physical activities. This promotes better overall health, increased strength, flexibility, and improved balance, reducing the risk of falls and injuries.
- Mental Stimulation: Independence encourages seniors to continue making decisions, solving problems, and engaging in stimulating activities. This ongoing mental engagement helps keep their cognitive abilities sharp and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Social Connections: Independent seniors have the freedom to nurture and maintain social connections. They can actively participate in social activities, spend time with loved ones, join clubs or organizations, and form new friendships, which contribute to their overall happiness and well-being.
- Personalized Lifestyle: Independence allows seniors to shape their lives according to their own preferences, routines, and values. They have the freedom to make choices about their daily activities, hobbies, and lifestyle, leading to a greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.
- Continued Personal Growth: By maintaining independence, seniors have the opportunity to pursue personal interests, hobbies, and goals. This continued personal growth and learning contribute to their overall sense of purpose and fulfillment in life.
- Reduced Burden on Others: Independent seniors are less reliant on others for day-to-day tasks, reducing the burden on their families, caregivers, and healthcare systems. This promotes a sense of self-reliance and lessens the strain on support networks.
- Increased Life Satisfaction: Overall, maintaining independence allows seniors to live life on their terms, fostering a sense of accomplishment, happiness, and satisfaction. It empowers them to maintain their identity and enjoy a fulfilling and meaningful life.
- Inspiring Role Models: Independent seniors serve as role models for future generations, demonstrating the importance of self-sufficiency, resilience, and embracing life’s challenges. Their independence can inspire others to value and prioritize their own autonomy as they age.
Remember, promoting and supporting senior independence is crucial for their well-being and quality of life.
The Relationship Between Independence And Mental Health
It’s important for family caregivers to understand how devastating losing one’s independence can be, especially for seniors.
Maintaining independence is important for seniors as it directly relates to their sense of self worth.
After all, they have spent years working, paying bills, driving to medical appointments and taking care of themselves – not to mention raising children and sometimes even grandchildren. To suddenly lose that independence can be a crushing experience.
For example, when my father lost his driver’s license, he fretted about it for the rest of his life.
Even though he didn’t drive very often or very far, to him having a license meant he was still “capable” and in control.
He told me that losing it was just another thing that had been taken away from him (he had lost my mom and moved out of their home in the two years prior to losing his driver’s license).
Some of the mental health benefits of independence in the elderly are:
- A feeling of accomplishment that they can still contribute to the family or help out in a volunteer capacity (my 93 year old aunt just told me yesterday that I can’t call her on Tuesdays any more because that’s her “work day” volunteering in the hospital gift shop!)
- Being better able to maintain physical health and strength because of staying active (Aunt Mary can attest to this)
- A sense of purpose in fulfilling even small goals
- Helping to retain cognitive and recollective (memory) skills
How To Promote Independence In The Elderly
Ensuring that your elderly loved one has the best quality of life might mean taking a few extra measures to ensure that they are enjoying their independence at home.
Maintaining certain things, such as keeping to the schedule they are used to, helps to keep them in their comfort zone.
However, it can be a juggling act to do this while ensuring their needs are being met.
Here are a few tips to help with promoting independence in your senior loved one:
- Encourage them to perform daily tasks: This is important if the senior still has the ability to perform day to day tasks. When you visit them (or if the senior lives with you), encourage them to do things like folding clothes, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, writing a grocery list, and helping to prepare meals. They may not be able to help much when it comes to such things as lifting heavier objects, but being able to perform regular household tasks will provide a sense of reassurance.
- Use professionals: Consider hiring an Occupational Therapist to work with your senior loved one to help train them to perform their ADL’s in a different way or with tools to help them keep their independence.
- Use third party services: If they are willing and able to prepare their own meals consider using a home delivery service such as Purple Carrot to deliver fresh food that’s ready for meal preparation. It’s a great and convenient service that can ensure they are getting fresh and nutritious food without the hassle of shopping for it and assembling the ingredients.
- Promote engagement of physical activity: Exercise is important, especially for the elderly. It is a stress reducer and it helps to lower blood pressure. Another benefit of exercise for seniors is that it helps promote balance and strength, which reduces risk of falling. Making them accountable (i.e., telling you how far they walked or how many steps they took with their exercise tracker, etc) will help keep them motivated.
- Focus on what they are still capable of doing: Seniors can become frustrated at the increased difficulty or inability to perform tasks that once were second nature to them. You can foster independence by helping them focus on the things they can still accomplish.
- Make the home safe: Make sure that their home is equipped with the appropriate safety devices: As we get older, navigating around the surroundings within the home becomes more dangerous due to things like throw rugs or slippery floors, or when performing tasks such as getting into and out of bathtubs. Adding pieces of equipment to the home, such as grab bars and non-slip rugs and mats will make it safer for them to get around in the home.
- Make tasks easier: There’s usually some resistance to changing the way things have always been done but if you can encourage your senior loved one to do things in an easier and safer way, that can go a long way in helping them to be as independent as possible.
- Encourage the use of aides: Hiring a senior care professional is not just for an individual who is not capable of taking care of themselves. They actually can allow an active elder to maintain their independence by helping with tasks that are now a little more difficult, such as picking up heavier objects and house cleaning. Senior care professionals are also a great resource for transporting the elderly to help them complete their errands and get to any necessary appointments (Read our articles about how Uber and Lyft can help with this, as well).
- Look at mobility devices: Many older adults that I know consider mobility devices as a sign of weakness, disability and just getting old. But the truth is, mobility devices like canes, walkers and scooters can greatly help older adults to be as independent as they possibly can.
Most importantly, shift your perspective for positive aging.
As our beloved seniors enter the golden years, it’s natural for family caregivers to transition from sharing activities together to taking charge of tasks on their behalf.
However, it’s crucial to remember that our loved ones still deserve our unwavering love and respect.
By adjusting our mindset and actively choosing to engage in activities with our seniors, we can help them feel less dependent and more empowered to maintain their independence.
Instead of perceiving their needs as burdensome, let’s embrace a mindset that emphasizes shared experiences and companionship.
By making this mental shift, we can foster an environment where our loved ones feel valued and included, rather than feeling like they are solely relying on us for everything.
Remember, our seniors deserve to be active participants in their own lives. Let’s choose to be their companions, supporting and encouraging them to live independently while cherishing the time we spend together.
Together, we can create a positive and empowering environment that celebrates their individuality and preserves their dignity.
How Can You Promote Independence In A Person With Dementia?
Dementia is a difficult disease to deal with. Anyone who has had a family member diagnosed with dementia knows the toll it takes on their loved one and the challenges it brings to both the person and their caregivers.
Here are the top two things you can do to help promote independence in a person with dementia:
- Promote exercise: Exercise is important as it can help an individual with dementia perform their tasks longer. Going for a walk with the person gets them out in the fresh air; stretching exercise helps them maintain flexibility. Studies have shown that exercise may help a person with dementia extend their ability to perform tasks for a longer period of time as their condition progresses.
- Keep to a routine: Routines and patterns help to aid memory and give a sense of security.
- Focus on what they can do even in the later stages of the disorder: There are tasks that an individual with dementia can still perform, despite their condition. For example, they may not be able to cook a meal, but they can wash the vegetables or set the dinner table.
- Use bulletin boards and wall calendars: This can help the person can see upcoming appointments and activities, which will help their memory.
- Promote social engagement according to the person’s ability: This stimulates brain function, can trigger memory, and provides a sense of purpose. Be aware, however, that some people with dementia can become overwhelmed and agitated in crowds or by loud noises or bright lights, so plan a social activity with the person’s preferences in mind.
You must remember, though, that some days are going to be much more difficult than others. If the senior struggles with a task of activity one day, it is possible that they can do it another day.
How To Nurture Older People’s Sense of Independence
- Encourage Decision-Making: Involve older adults in decision-making processes regarding their daily lives, such as healthcare choices, household matters, or social activities. Respect their opinions and provide support as they make their own decisions, promoting a sense of control and autonomy.
- Promote Active Engagement: Encourage older adults to participate in activities that stimulate their minds, bodies, and emotions. This could include hobbies, volunteer work, joining clubs or organizations, or pursuing lifelong learning. Engaging in meaningful activities fosters a sense of purpose and independence.
- Support Physical Well-being: Help older adults maintain their physical health by encouraging regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and appropriate medical care. Assist them in accessing resources and services that promote mobility, such as assistive devices, transportation options, or physical therapy if needed.
- Foster Social Connections: Recognize the importance of social connections for older adults and facilitate opportunities for social interaction. Encourage them to join community groups, attend social events, or connect with friends and family. Social engagement reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation while promoting independence.
- Adapt Living Spaces: Make modifications to living spaces to enhance safety and accessibility. Install grab bars, improve lighting, remove tripping hazards, or consider assistive devices that support independence in daily activities. Adapting the environment can enable older adults to navigate their homes with confidence.
- Provide Technology Education: Offer guidance on using technology devices and applications that can enhance independence. Teach older adults how to use smartphones, tablets, a streaming device or service for television, or computers for communication, online shopping, accessing information, or connecting with healthcare providers. Technological literacy can broaden their independence and access to resources.
- Foster Emotional Well-being: Support older adults in maintaining their emotional well-being by actively listening to their concerns, providing emotional support, and connecting them with counseling or therapy if needed. Addressing mental health concerns helps preserve their independence and overall quality of life.
- Maintain Respectful Communication: Treat older adults with respect and dignity in all interactions. Avoid talking down to them or making assumptions about their abilities. Engage in open and empathetic communication, actively listening and valuing their perspectives.
- Provide Resources and Education: Share information about community resources, support services, and educational opportunities available to older adults. Empower them with knowledge and provide guidance on accessing assistance when needed, enabling them to make informed decisions and maintain their independence.
- Foster a Supportive Environment: Create an environment that values and promotes independence. Encourage family members, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to recognize and respect the autonomy of older adults. Celebrate their achievements and encourage self-sufficiency while offering assistance when necessary.
Remember, nurturing the sense of independence in older adults requires a person-centered approach that acknowledges their unique needs, preferences, and capabilities.
By fostering a supportive and empowering environment, we can help older adults maintain their independence, dignity, and overall well-being.
In summary, it’s important for older adults to maintain as much independence as possible but only if it’s safe to do so.
Even if a senior person requires help from home caregivers or other family members, given the chance to do what they can do is vital for self worth.