How to Promote Elderly Independence

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One of the most important desires of seniors is to maintain independence in their lives as they grow older.

Even though there may be changes and possible restrictions required in a senior’s life, there are many ways to continue to retain independence. As we mature from infants to adults, our independence increases. Unfortunately, as we age, illness or mental decline may cause the reverse to happen and many seniors find themselves becoming increasingly dependent on others.

The common goal for many seniors is to find ways to preserve their independence as much as possible. There are many recommendations that the senior or a loved one can incorporate to promote independence.

Take Control

Take ownership of your schedule instead of delegating this responsibility to a friend or family member. There is a greater chance of attending activities and following through with activities when you take ownership in the decision making of your schedule.

If you are a caregiver of an older loved one, encourage them to have a schedule in order to maintain a feeling of independence in their lives. When a senior develops a daily or weekly schedule this is a helpful way of having a sense of purpose in their lives.

Don’t schedule too many doctors’ appointments in one week. Many seniors feel that their lives are dictated by doctors’ appointments and other medical issues, including scheduling and follow-up. It is important to balance medical issues with other areas of life including social, relaxation and personal interests.

Thoughts and Attitude

A part of aging is how we think about making changes. These changes may not directly reduce our independence but they may require us to live our lives differently.

We may need to modify our homes so that we can continue to live independently. This may involve safety proofing our bathrooms with nonslip floors, handrails in our showers and the consideration of wearing a safety alarm in case we fall. We may consider downsizing and moving to a community that will reduce our responsibilities or modify our existing home.

Consider adding meditation and mindfulness into your life. Life is stressful at all ages, and can be especially so during the senior years. A commitment to a regular practice of mindfulness, including meditation and relaxation exercises, can promote a reduction of anxiety and depressed mood.

Don’t let age define your life. Many seniors often feel much younger than their chronological age. By incorporating socialization, mindfulness, exercise and decision making, many seniors feel much younger than their birth year.

Planning

Plan now for future living arrangements as opposed to having others make these decisions. By deciding where you want to live as you age and/or what changes you would like made to your home, you promote a sense of independence.

Make financial, legal and health decisions in advance so that this decision is not delegated later to a loved one. It is helpful for the elderly to make decisions earlier in their lives concerning what type of health care to receive, power of attorney, health care proxy and the types of homecare and assistance he or she would like to receive if needed. This decision-making process also reduces a great deal of pressure on loved ones while promoting independence.

Exercise, Learning and Education

Incorporating some form of exercise into your life based on your physician’s advice is an important step in maintaining independence. Since falls can be a major deterrent in the lives of the elderly, incorporating medically approved exercise in your life is an important step.

Stay social so that your free time is not dependent on family members.

Add hobbies that you previously enjoyed or new interests to enrich your life or the life of an elderly loved one. Incorporate computers into your life to simplify tasks and stay in touch with others and as a way to learn something new so your mind stays active.

Independence as we age is achievable. It takes planning and a new mindset.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” — Charlotte Bronte. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a psychologist at Abramson Center.

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