Female Right at Home caregiver helping a senior female client garden in her backyard Female Right at Home caregiver helping a senior female client garden in her backyard

Senior Independence Beneficial to Health for Older Adults

Anyone caring for a senior should understand that just because someone requires assistance doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel a degree of independence. The basic human desire for this doesn’t go away with age. It starts in adolescence, continues through childhood and adulthood, and evolves in one’s later years. Aging can chip away at it, but fostering a sense of independence in the older adult you help can promote a sense of empowerment and self-worth for them.

The Benefits of Autonomy

Experts say seniors under the care of a professional or family member are best served when encouraged to maintain whatever degree of autonomy they assert for themselves and can safely manage. That feeling of autonomy and decision-making can have great health benefits. A sense of empowerment can lower the risk of isolation and depression and keep folks physically active and mentally engaged. And, the more independent someone feels, the more likely they are to interact socially with peers, loved ones, and neighbors and take better care of themselves; in that way, independence begets good health.

Technology and Home Adaptations Can Help

Professional caregivers know how important independence is, which is why they listen to what seniors in their care want and need. It may not be practical or safe for a senior to get all the independence they crave, but that’s where adaptive compromise comes in. The senior and their caregiver should work together to ensure what the older adult asks for can be reasonably met. How that looks is determined by the senior’s own physical and mental capabilities as well as how conducive their residence is to independent living.

There are simple home adaptations that can help seniors maintain independence while aging in place. In the case of fall prevention, falls at home account for most injuries to seniors. If a senior falls, it can be debilitating enough to rob one of their independence. Preventing falls can be as basic as decluttering living spaces and removing or stowing away hazards on floors and stairs. At the very least, one can secure throw rugs and electrical cords. Adding anti-slip mats, handrails, and specially built chairs for bathtubs and shower stalls is important for any senior, especially one with poor balance. If any balance or mobility issue is involved, moving about with a cane or walker is a must inside and outside the home.

Balancing Dependence With Independence

Pride can get in the way of a senior acknowledging they need to make changes. That’s where a caregiver, in collaboration with a physician or other trusted person, can encourage the senior to make the changes themselves. In some cases, the caregiver can take those action steps or find someone to do so. And there are adaptive tools, technology, and other services that can help. For example:

  • A senior may not see the need for a medical alert device or may object to its cost, but being able to inform loved ones and paramedics of an emergency can avert a life-changing, even fatal, result. Knowing that first responders are only an alert away can give peace of mind that medical assistance is going to arrive promptly.
  • If the only thing keeping a senior from being more socially engaged is a lack of knowledge of or access to technology, such as FaceTime, then the caregiver might be able to set them up with the software or app they need to connect.
  • If it’s a transportation issue, the caregiver may be able to take an older adult to a senior center, mall, or event space to interact with others. It’s worth checking with area aging agencies to see if free or discounted medical alerts, computers, and transportation services are available.
  • A caregiver can sometimes be the companion the older adult needs, whether just talking, playing cards or board games, exercising, cooking, or sharing meals.
  • If a senior has hobbies they can still enjoy, the caregiver should facilitate participation in them. These simple but meaningful activities can promote overall well-being and help the older adult stay healthier and more independent for longer.
  • If a senior has professional help in the home, the family caregiver can be an advocate for their loved one and work hand-in-hand with the care provider to ensure the best outcome and that the senior’s individual needs are met.

Let a Senior Loved One Speak

Because empowerment is a state of mind, the caregiver must remember that the only way they can know what the senior wants is by asking. Affording someone the dignity to speak for themselves is empowering and will help build trust. The feeling of independence that follows, no matter how small or large, can boost mood, self-esteem, and confidence. Experts say having a sense of purpose and worth is a key to healthy aging, and a caregiver can provide the support or nudge that helps give an older adult their best life.

How Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home offers a wide variety of in-home care services for seniors and adults with disabilities, including respite care services so a family caregiver can get a much-needed break to recharge and take time for self-care. Our caregivers are trained and insured/bonded, so you can rest assured that older loved ones are being cared for properly. To find out more, use our office locator to contact the office closest to you and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

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