Maintaining independence for seniors is one of the biggest concerns aging adults face. By acknowledging and respecting a senior’s need for independence, caregivers can offer better quality care and foster healthy, productive relationships.
Being a caregiver to a senior is a delicate task. Whether you’re a close family member or a hired health aide, you’ll have to navigate a fine line between doing too much and too little. Though caretakers need to provide support, they often end up babying seniors or pushing what they think is best.
When interacting with seniors, try to be sensitive to their need for independence and autonomy. After all, the purpose of providing care is to help our elders maintain their independence and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.
Wellbeing and Maintaining Independence for Seniors
Everyone values the ability to be independent. Although age-related barriers can get in the way of maintaining independence for seniors, the need for a sense of self is always going to be there. Independence promotes a sense of achievement and is closely tied to our self-worth. For seniors facing debilitating illness or injury, independence may be one of the few things they still feel some control over.
Respecting Seniors’ Boundaries
Just as you want people to respect your boundaries, respect those of your elders. This mutual respect is the key to strong relationships in which both parties can communicate their concerns and feel heard. When a senior’s wishes are respected, they feel much more in control of their life.
It’s easy to assert our own opinions on our loved ones when we’re concerned about them. For example, people often treat their aging parents like children, telling them what they can and cannot do. Likewise, caregivers tend to use pet names like “sweetie” or “honey” to convey sympathy or concern. Both of these actions can be perceived as demeaning.
Try to have open conversations with your loved one or resident about what they want. This is the only way to be sure you’re providing an appropriate level of care. During these conversations, you’ll discover practical ways for maintaining independence for seniors, such as bringing in adaptive equipment or finding alternative modes of transportation for them.
Providing Appropriate Support to Seniors During Change
Many seniors go through periods of significant change, like moving into a nursing home or beginning home care assistance. To make these difficult transitions a little easier on seniors, caregivers must communicate clearly and carefully about their need for increased care.
Caregivers can have more productive conversations with seniors about their care needs by following these tips:
- Try to view the situation from the senior’s perceptive
- Avoid expressing sorrow or pity for them
- Allow them time to think over their options and make their own decisions
- Ask the senior to express their ideas and explain how they’re feeling
If you’re worried about your senior loved one, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. They may share some of the same fears as you. For example, seniors often worry about driving, having an accident at home, paying the bills and being lonely. To find the best solutions for your mutual concerns, ask your loved one open-ended questions and encourage them to talk.
Practicing Encouragement and Patience
As seniors adjust to their changing abilities and care needs, be encouraging rather than pushy or impatient. Many family members jump on every opportunity to help their senior loved ones. Though they mean well, this often makes seniors feel incapable and can hurt their self-esteem. Avoid doing everything yourself just because you can do it faster or more efficiently.
Encourage seniors to do the things they’re able to, like walking across the room unaided or grabbing something from the cupboard. If a senior is getting on just fine on their own, let them continue at their own pace instead of intervening to help.
You can also encourage seniors to participate in healthy behaviors that promote greater independence, like strength, flexibility and endurance exercises. Just be careful not to push them into things they don’t feel comfortable doing. Gentle encouragement is good—force is not.
Caring for seniors and offering meaningful support can be extremely rewarding. When you take the time to listen to your elders and respect their needs for independence, you can develop great relationships and have fulfilling conversations.
Make sure your senior loved one finds a good nursing home that fosters the independence of the residents living there. Keep an eye out for signs of neglect or abuse and ensure your loved one feels respected by staff.