Maintaining independence seems to be one of the more commonly stated desires (or worries) people have as they age. Elders often express the desire to remain in their own homes, be able to continue driving and operate as usual with no outside help. What this really boils down to is the natural desire to maintain choices and control over one’s life. In our years of working with elders and families, we have begun to see this issue more clearly and think that it might make sense to change some of the terminology and reframe the conversation.
As social animals, we are all in some sense connected to others, and reliant on each other for various needs. It is widely acknowledged that isolation is not healthy for the human psyche. As we age (or have health problems or mobility issues), the type of dependence we have on others may change. Some of the things we once did ourselves, we may now need others to do (or help with). The nature of relationships sometimes change.
Interdependence is the type of mutual give and take that shapes most human relationships. We think it might make sense to start valuing this interdependence more (or at least changing the language to more accurately reflect what we value). As we age and need help with certain tasks, this does not negate the value we bring to others.
This is not to underestimate the emotions of having to rely on someone else for something (especially something physical/intimate or something you have done for yourself since you’ve been an adult), but isn’t relying upon each other a part of us being human?
We wrote about changing relationships in senior care recently and explored the language of “parenting my parent” or “role reversal” in caregiving. While this all may seem like semantics, the words we use have strong emotional ties. They frame the conversation and the way we approach things.
In our experience, many of the things most feared (or stated) by people as they grow old, turn out much more positively than portrayed. Of course, dealing with illness and loss is not easy…but people don’t actually talk much about those fears. It seems to be more the ideas of “giving up independence”, getting help or moving to an assisted living people that get people talking about the negatives of getting older.
Time and time again we see that what is really scary is the isolation and fear of someone living alone and refusing help. The dangers that some people expose themselves to in the name of remaining independent often take away just that choice. On the other hand, many elders we work with grow to enjoy their home caregivers…for both the relief of having help and the company. Similarly, after some adjustment, many elders find a lot to like about living in a care community. If someone has been isolated at home and maybe even fearful about safety, the group setting brings a lot of positive change. Not only are basic needs such as nutrition and safety covered, but socialization and activity do a lot for health and well-being also.
Our mission at Aging Wisely is to enable every individual we work with to live the most fulfilling life possible, with utmost dignity, focusing on their physical, mental, spiritual, family and financial wellbeing. The essence of what we do as care managers is to help find solutions that work for the person, holistically. A big part of that work is in the approach we take. Families often comment about how something they expected to be negative (“giving up the car keys”, bringing help in to the home, moving to assisted living) turned out to be a totally different experience with the guidance of their care manager.
If we can help (or if you just want to talk about how we might be able to)…give us a call at 727-447-5845. When you are approaching some of these issues and concerns, thinking about things from a different perspective can help. Taking time to consider the approach and wording you use in talking to your loved one can make all the difference. Working with someone who can not only help with the approach, but maximize the options available, can make it a whole different experience.
For further reading, we offer some book suggestions in our “Recommended Reading for Caregivers” and the David Solie and Mary Pipher books are especially good on this topic.