Aging and Maintaining Independence
While there are a number of ways to stay active and fit as we age, there comes a time when we see our loved one needing additional assistance. Fall prevention is an even more pressing matter when you aren’t always there to help. Aging and maintaining independence requires acute planning and attention to overall wellbeing.
“No”. It’s every two-year-old’s favorite word as they experiment with independence in a safe environment. As long as a parent knows when to override the child’s resistance for safety or health reasons, allowing the developing person to explore is generally a good idea.
What about when it’s the parent who says “no”?
A senior accustomed to lifelong independence — especially if they’ve been the family provider, or are continuing to work when others their age are retired — may not take kindly to a child stepping in and attempting to “control” a situation, even if it’s in the parent’s best interest — and even if that child is 50 years old.
Seeing Patterns and Possibilities
Our mindsets, like our arteries, often become more rigid with age. Certain ways of doing things wear a groove that works. While our brains are more than capable of change, many people find it easier to maintain the status quo.
Dr. Anadi Sahoo, psychologist, and motivational trainer offered this insight: “The world you see is created by what you focus on. It is never too late to adjust your lens. A particular way of doing things may be fruitful in one era but may turn out to be absolutely useless in the changing times.
“We tend to lose awareness in routine tasks as these are carried out habitually, almost mechanically. The fact is that we don’t see things in total perspective. Our inputs are different but partial.
“As we grow old, our whole attention is engaged in fulfilling the routine. We feel satisfied if we are able to carry out the routine tasks successfully. Even a small item of work assumes big importance.
“Whatever we do, whether something new or old, awareness must always be there. We cannot bring about the same results by repeating actions that were effective in the past.”
Not About You
Sometimes a senior’s behavior is not about routine, or about you, but about feelings of powerlessness and frustration. Sometimes it’s simply about pain.
One soft-spoken woman in her nineties, always the soul of kindness and caring, once spoke sharply to a young friend, saying she had to hang up the phone now. The young woman was so shocked that tears stung her eyes. She apologized profusely and ended the call, assuming she had tired her older friend by talking too long.
However, the next day the senior called back to explain: her hip was very painful and she needed to lie down, but the corded landline phone didn’t reach to the bedroom. Her behavior had nothing to do with her young friend; she simply needed to get off the phone and take care of herself.
Similarly, one senior living professional relates how, when he was just starting out, a woman with whom he was discussing later life options “suddenly got mad and told me to get out of her house. She was yelling at me. I thought I had really offended her.
“A week later she called and apologized, stating that her stomach pain from recent surgery was so severe she just couldn’t listen any longer and needed to get to bed to try to get some relief. She was much better now, and wanted to continue our discussion.”
Finding the Middle Ground
What’s most crucial in helping seniors maintain their independence as they age is getting to the root of resistance, and finding a way to approach the senior that is respectful, non-patronizing, and addresses the underlying concerns that can prompt someone to dig in their heels.
Usually, if there is no mental cause (such as memory loss) or physical cause (such as pain, or hearing loss), the resistance likely stems from perceived loss: of autonomy, a sense of usefulness, and purpose.
Esteemed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in 2018, pulls no punches in her last book, No Time To Spare, a collection of essays, subtitled, “Thinking About What Matters”:
“Old age isn’t a state of mind. It’s an existential situation. Encouragement by denial, however well-meaning, backfires. Fear is seldom wise and never kind. Who is it you’re cheering up, anyhow?
“To tell me my old age doesn’t exist is to tell me I don’t exist. Erase my age, you erase my life — me.”
Paying Attention Pays Off in Improved Health
Clearly, one of the biggest keys to successful aging is simply being able to talk about their lives with someone who actively listens and cares, says Harvard Medical School professor and surgeon Atul Gawande.
In one study, patients who saw a geriatrician for eighteen months versus a general practitioner were “a quarter less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression. They were 40 percent less likely to require home health services.” These are stunning results.
Just as Le Guin maintains that old age is not simply a state of mind, Gawande argues it’s not a state of illness, either — although modern medicine has been treating it as one. Medicine has misunderstood its primary purpose in elders’ lives, he says.
In his compelling book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Gawande writes: “We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think it is to ensure health and survival. But really it…is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”
Our Role In Maintaining Your Independence
At The Kensington White Plains, helping your loved one remain as independent as possible for as long as possible is our highest goal.
Our residents enjoy active social lives. We offer events seven days a week, from morning until evening. Regular activities create friendships and help to foster engagement and preserve wellness. We have full-time Life Enrichment coordinators who work to keep your loved one’s schedule as full as he or she wants it to be. We even have a life coach on staff for both residents and their families. As Dr. Gawande states, listening to elders is key, and we know how to listen deeply.
Come visit us soon at our centrally located senior community in the heart of White Plains, where we’re committed to helping our residents feel comfortable, secure, happy, and dignified.