As our nation prepares to celebrate the historic event of the creation of our independence, I can’t help but be encouraged and cautiously optimistic by the difference a year has made. Although COVID is still considered a pandemic, the reopening of indoor dining, the lifting of capacity limits, and the ability to safely visit in person again gives me hope that normalcy is within our reach.
But I can’t forget about the devastation and death that became all too common. And the hardest hit population—our seniors—were especially lonely, isolated, and medically and psychologically vulnerable and invisible. This experience has given me renewed appreciation for the precious inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Understanding the importance of senior independence
I have often felt that what we value most in life are personal, fluid, and ever evolving. Certainly, the yearning for freedom from a 17-year-old boy is quite different than the meaning of independence and the pursuit of happiness of an 84-year-old man. And yet, these two disparate age groups do share one thing in common: the desire to have and maintain control over their own lives.
As we age, we experience multiple layers of losses—some big and others seemingly less consequential, although, just as devastating. For years, researchers have concluded that the single greatest loss in the elderly is the fear of losing their senior independence.
There are, of course, several types of losses that the elderly experience. They can be emotional, physical, financial, or any combination of these factors. Additionally, the sense of no longer feeling relevant, valued or needed, whether it's to one’s family, work, or community, can be a major contributor to the depression and sense of loss that the independent senior may feel. No less impactful, are coming to terms with the loss of one's physical abilities—hearing, eyesight, mobility, and loss of energy. Elderly independence can mean different things to different people, and as a caring, well-intentioned loved one, we can unintentionally threaten or erode their feelings of independence and confidence.
To illustrate this point, I have a poignant memory of a mother-daughter whom I counseled several years ago. Mom moved in with her daughter and family three months prior, but with the best of affection and intentions, they did not have any concrete discussions of expectations and boundaries prior to this move. When I asked the mom what seemed to be bothering her about the living arrangements, she replied, “My daughter treats me like a guest in her house—I hate it.” When I separately asked the daughter why she thought her mom seemed so unhappy, her frustrated response was, “I have no clue as to why she’s so unhappy. She is treated like a guest in a hotel every day!”
5 reasons why fostering independence in your elderly loved one is so important
- When making their own choices on a daily basis, it enables them to feel in control, especially when it's no longer possible in other areas of their lives.
- Being independent gives them a sense of purpose, dignity and respect—not for what they have lost, but for what they still have to offer.
- Encouraging your elderly loved one to participate in physical activity, not only improves their mental acuity, but provides a sense of accomplishment.
- Encouraging them to engage in social interactions will help them to stay connected, care about others, and to share of themselves.
- Making sure your elderly parent or loved one has access to durable medical equipment— walkers, wheelchairs, or other home modifications, such as grab bars, chair lifts, can make the difference between a senior living independently at home with perhaps some home care assistance, as opposed to arranging for long-term care placement.
A clinician at your local BAYADA Personal Care Office may be helpful in assessing for and referring to the many ways we can foster a quality of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in the spirit of independence.