In the twenty years I have spent working with seniors, I have noticed that the most familiar theme between all of the people we assist is the fear of losing independence. No matter our age, we can all identify on some level with that fear. We don’t want to need help. We often fight the changes our body goes through as we age. We lament that we don’t heal as fast as we did in our 20’s.
For our senior loved ones, preserving independence can seem like an uphill battle. At Senior Helpers, instead of focusing on independence, we focus on autonomy, and we see a better and more positive result from both the seniors we care for and their families.
The words “independence” and “autonomy” seem almost interchangeable to those who have not been introduced to the concepts behind the Senior Helpers LIFE Profile assessment and care methodology. To describe why it is important to focus care efforts on preserving autonomy, I like to use the “reading glasses” analogy. As I sit and type this article, I am wearing a pair of reading glasses. If I wasn’t, I would be holding the computer 3 feet from my face while wishing my arms were just a bit longer. What I am saying is that I cannot see up close, independently. The Miriam-Webster definition of independent is “not requiring or relying on something else.” There you have it–I cannot see up close without readers so I am not independently seeing my computer screen. However, I have readers. I have my needs met. I can see because I have what I need to see. I have autonomy of sight, with my reading glasses. Reading glasses are one tool in my autonomy toolkit.
Just like I need my readers to see, our senior clients each have a unique set of needs, some of which they require a “tool” to assist them in meeting. As we age, we need more assistance to do the things we need to and want to do. For our clients, this might include things like having healthy and delicious meals made. Many of our clients used to cook wonderful meals for themselves and their families. As it becomes harder to do that, having someone help shop for groceries and cook meals can give seniors back autonomy. They may not be able to shop and cook independently but their needs are being met and they can still enjoy food that they love. That is autonomy at work.
As seniors become older, more frail, and live with more chronic conditions that prevent them from doing what they enjoy, the idea of chasing independence becomes an uphill battle that can never be won. However, focusing on keeping our clients living with a great deal of autonomy will lead to a high quality of life as they navigate their own aging journey.
Next time your senior loved one, neighbor, or friend is telling you about their struggles, say, “it sounds like you are having a tough go of it. When was the last time you got to enjoy yourself and do something you wanted to do?” Let that question open the door to ideas of how you may be able to help improve their quality of life. Could you go with them to a movie? Could you drop by leftovers from a meal you made and enjoy a bit of time with them? Could you encourage them to set up an assessment meeting with Senior Helpers so they could have a professional help them do some things they enjoy?