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Four Things to Avoid When Encouraging Senior Independence

Sunday March 15, 2015 - Jennifer Prell
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Four Things to Avoid When Encouraging Senior Independence


Aging people are often faced with a dilemma: how can they go about living an independent life when factors related to their age or health challenge their abilities to be as self-reliant as they are accustomed to?

While many older adults are trying their best to live as independently as possible, their family and loved ones often unintentionally discourage these independence-seeking seniors from living as self-sufficiently as they could. Here are a few things to avoid when encouraging senior independence.

1.         Not allowing them to do things on their own

Loved ones will often take on many daily tasks for their aging family member or friend, including simple personal care responsibilities, in an effort to make their daily lives easier. However, sometimes the tasks caregivers take on are ones that the older adult is still fully able to do. While the intentions are pure, it often causes seniors to feel less capable and self-reliant than they truly are. If your loved one can safely complete a task on their own, you should continue to let them do so, but simply offer your help should they ever need assistance in the future.

2.         Doing things for our aging loved ones, instead of with them

When older adults can’t accomplish tasks completely by themselves, caregivers may try to complete the chore for them and take them out of the picture entirely. However, if a senior can help in any way – whether it’s with personal hygiene, cooking or balancing a checkbook – taking away their opportunity to participate could make them feel helpless. Whenever possible, work together to accomplish chores that your loved one needs assistance with, instead of taking on the task entirely by yourself.

3.         Refusing to modify their environment

In its current state, your loved one’s home may be challenging their abilities to live comfortably and without major assistance. Instead of immediately assuming they need your help, consider what modifications can be made and what adaptive equipment can be added to help them accomplish their daily tasks. For example, adding a chair to a shower can make it easier for an older adult to bathe. If they are still able to walk but aren’t as confident on their feet as they used to be, handrails can be added to the walls to help your loved ones stabilize themselves when walking.

4.         Not supporting their desire to maintain an active schedule

Just because a loved one is aging doesn’t mean they should have to sit at home all day. While it’s not unusual to worry about an aging person overexerting themself, remember that having an active social life and schedule can help seniors stay healthy and happy longer than if they were isolated.

Whether they enjoy playing card games with friends, going bowling or going out to eat, older adults are most happy - and feel self-sufficient – when they are able to choose and participate in the activities they enjoy the most.

What are you doing to encourage independence among your older loved ones?

Written by Bill Lowe, Chief Executive Officer of Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services

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