It’s a universal truth that everyone, regardless of age, wants to feel a sense of purpose. We all desire to feel like we’re a crucial part of our community, and that we contribute meaningfully. And most often, those feelings stem from living a life of independence. Helping seniors maintain independence and self-sufficiency is good for mental health. Living independently fosters our personal identity. When we can make our own choices, that influences how we perceive our significance to the world around us.
As we get older, we face many barriers to keeping that sense of independence. Conditions like dementia might impact our cognitive abilities, or we might lose our mobility from a chronic illness. Living in an unsuitable environment for our needs might also affect our independence. When faced with these barriers, we can start to feel listless and unmotivated. It may start to feel impossible to control our own fate, so we stop trying.
Not only does poor mental health affect our mood, it can also impact our ability to stay physically healthier longer. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, depression in seniors can lead to a loss of function and reduce a person’s ability to recover from illnesses, among other consequences.
With deteriorating physical health, we’re less likely to be able to remain in our homes. It’s a cycle. A lack of independence can lead to depression, and poor mental health can lead to less independence.
Here’s the good news. Fostering a sense of independence can decrease rates of depression in older people. And with the right resources, we can still feel independent, despite our life circumstances. It is possible to find creative solutions to work within our limitations.
In this article, we’ll explore some of our top tips for maintaining independence for seniors, so that you or your loved one can reap the benefits
1. Shift your focus to fostering abilities
To help a senior stay independent, it’s crucial that they and their caregivers embrace a “glass half-full” perspective.
What does that mean? We need to focus our mindset on prioritizing a person’s current abilities, rather than their limitations. Rather than concentrating on what they can’t do, it’s important to think about how they can continue to be an active participant in their own life..
Social worker Lisa M. Petsche suggests that caregivers provide options to an aging senior whenever possible. When it comes to making daily decisions, having choices can help us feel like we have more freedom.
She also encourages caregivers to help their family members discover which tasks they can complete by themselves. When supporting an aging adult, Petsche notes that we should only offer as much help as required. Some people might need hands-on assistance, whereas others can complete an activity if you provide basic cues. In other cases, someone might need a demonstration or you might just simply need to set up the tools for the task in advance. Whenever possible, we should encourage seniors to participate in their own care.
Seniors can also foster their abilities by taking a skills training course. There are programs to help people learn how to navigate the world with their disabilities. For example, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) offers virtual and in-person resources to help blind Canadians build the skills necessary to break down barriers to independence. Additionally, organizations like Connected Canadians exist to help seniors get technology training.
2. Focus on injury prevention
We must adopt a safety-first mindset in every decision we make if we want to maintain our independence as seniors.
In our recent article, “Why You Need To Focus On Injury Prevention”, we shared information on how injuries and falls can negatively impact a person’s ability to remain independent as they age.
Why? After an injury, seniors often can’t function as they did before and need help carrying out the daily tasks associated with living – like getting dressed, eating, bathing, or more.
Setting yourself up for success early on is key to reducing our risk of injuries that will directly impact our independence. You’ll need to make changes to your lifestyle, like incorporating more exercise and improving your sleep quality. You can get more in-depth ideas in our article Five Lifestyle Changes You Can Make To Reduce Your Risk Of Falling.
Injury prevention also requires making changes to your external environment. At Bath Access Ontario, we specifically help people increase their bathroom safety to reduce falls that take place while bathing. With our services and products, we transform their tubs into accessible walk-in tubs. You can learn more about our products here. For other home renovation ideas, check out our article How to Make a Comfortable and Safe Home for Seniors.
3. Embrace using mobility aids
Mobility aids can be life-changing for people with disabilities and seniors.
According to Health Canada, assistive devices make it easier to keep up with our daily activities and feel more independent.
Too often, people avoid using a mobility aid because they worry it will make them appear weak. They also might worry that others will see it as a sign they need help, losing their independence. This puts them at a greater risk for injury.
So which mobility aids can help you or a loved one with independence? Most often, when people picture a mobility aid, the devices that come to mind include wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and canes. While these are important tools for moving around safely, there are many options for items that make the world more accessible.
Let’s take the kitchen, for example. We could use mobility aids like easy grip utensils to help us eat on our own. We could also use cooking appliances like microwaves or slow cookers to easily cook without much physical exertion.
Using online delivery services can help you order your own groceries and other essentials without leaving the home. Updating your wardrobe with accessible clothing can make it easier to get dressed on your own too.
Smart devices can help us stay organized and remember important tasks and appointments. You can even install smart home products so you don’t have to use your body to turn on your lights or your air conditioner.
Want to keep reading, but you struggle with your eyes or holding a book in the right position? Switch it up and try audiobooks! There are so many options created for convenience that can be a game-changer for people with limitations.
4. Plan ahead
Advance care planning can help us control our life outcomes. We can make decisions now for our future selves, who may not have the capacity to do so. That way, the choices our substitute decision-makers make for us accurately reflect our values and beliefs. Yes, we might be less independent in a scenario where we need someone to speak on our behalf. However, we will still maintain independence by pre-planning and making our wishes formal.
Advanced Care Planning Canada (ACP) offers useful and simple resources to help get you started.
Creating an advanced care plan requires conducting research into your options. It’s crucial that you understand your potential choices, especially when it comes to medical procedures.
You can consult experts, like healthcare providers, lawyers, and financial professionals. That way, you’ll be ensuring that your plan is well-suited to providing you with the best possible future. ‘
As part of advance care planning, you’ll want to prepare both a will and living will. You’ll also need to determine who will be your official power of attorney when it comes to your finances and your healthcare.
Remember, an advanced care plan doesn’t need to be set in stone. If you have the capacity, you can regularly update its contents if you change your thoughts on what you want to happen in your future.
As we discussed earlier, planning ahead also means preparing your home so you can age in place. Visit Bath Access FAQ page to learn more about how you can plan for a more accessible bathroom.