The circumstances for older Americans are changing as people live longer and an influx of baby boomers are now becoming elderly. Older people need an environment where they have control and input into their living situations, lifestyles, communities, home settings, and care givers. Senior independence is important for the well-being of older adults – to be able to continue contributing to their community and for their role to be valued by the larger community.
Attitudes about older adults are beginning to shift away from them as dependent and frail consumers of resources, and moving toward seeing them as individuals with rights and important contributors to society. Like everyone else, older adults need comfortable and safe homes, safe neighborhoods, friendship and access to learning and leisure, mobility, adequate income, and the ability to stay active and healthy. When elderly parents stay active physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally, they actually maintain higher cognitive functioning as well as live longer, healthier, independent, and happier lives.
For aging adults, independence is about exercising choice and control. It is natural to want to maintain control over the choices that affect our lives. Older adults still have that need for autonomy. The challenge for care givers is how to encourage and empower our loved ones to maintain a high level of independence, while still acknowledging and addressing real challenges and barriers.
Senior Independence Vs. Lending A Hand
It is important to remember that though it may be faster and easier for us to do things for seniors that they can do for themselves, it is not helpful to deny them their independence. Aging affects the body and mind in ways that sometimes make it challenging to carry out tasks and functions that used to be easy. They may need some help with certain activities, but doing it for them rather than encouraging and supporting them to do as much as they can themselves actually undermines their sense of self and encourages false helplessness.
When considering how to foster greater independence, think in terms of caregiving as an interactive function. Do activities and events with your loved one, helping where needed, but not overdoing the support. It is always good to ask the individual what they want or need. If you notice them relying more on you than they really need, have a conversation with them and explain that you want to be as helpful as you can, which means encouraging them to do as much for themselves as possible. This transition towards helping them more will likely increase as the aging process continues.
Sometimes older adults want to do more for themselves and others than they should. In this case, it is important to explain your role as support and help for the things they can’t do for themselves, but only those things. For example, if it isn’t safe for elderly parents to drive a car anymore, this is an activity that they need someone else to provide for them. This does not mean they can’t walk or function in other ways that encourage independence.